J K Tripathi
Pakistan, a country with more than 220 million people, is suffering from insurmountable problems under the leadership of Imran Khan. often called Taliban Khan due to his proclivity with the Taliban. Khan had promised to usher in a new era in Pakistan. When he took over as a Prime Minister “selected by the Military,” he also tried to project himself as the champion of the cause of Kashmir and vowed to get the “Ghulam Kashmir” freed from India.
However, after three years, the ex-cricketer is still on the back foot and not able to achieve the right direction for his ball for many reasons - dominance by his wicketkeeper partner (the Army)or non-cooperation from his other team members like the fundamentalists, industry barons and, of course, the political opponents and even some loud-mouths in his cabinet. However, the problems faced by Pakistan are mostly generated by systemic malfunctions.
First is the economy. Though Pakistan’s GDP that stands at US$ 299 billion, is likely to rebound in the current fiscal with an expected growth of 3.5% (World Bank), high inflation and continued depreciation of currency have resulted in a steep rise in prices. Pakistan’s Rupee has registered a fall from Rs. 152 to a dollar on 31st March to 174.6 as of today. Total foreign debt stands at a whopping $122.3 bn (40% of the GDP), almost one-fifth of which is from China! Forex reserve depleted from US$18.5 bn to 17.6 bn in a year adversely affecting the import of key items.
Despite the tall claims of the government that the country’s economy is in pink, the Finance Minister is again at the doorsteps of IMF trying to renegotiate the debt. The new Pakistan is faring worse than the old one!
On another domestic front, Imran’s performance has been far from satisfactory. While the BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army) has been a constant headache for Imran, TTP has added to his chagrin. Targeted attacks on the Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects in Pakistan have upset the “all-weather friend” China that has expressed its displeasure in many ways including flat rejection of any further loans. Pakistan’s leaders are so obsessed with its bete noire India that recently one of the ministers cheekily blamed the latter for delays in CPEC projects.
The recent abject surrender of the government to the TLP protesters at the outskirts of Islamabad by freeing 350 odd incarcerated workers is an example the helplessness of the government. Though the Army had always been dominant in Pakistan and has ruled directly or through proxy throughout its history, the relationship had now deteriorated to such an extent that the Army chief blatantly appointed new ISI chief without seeking approval of the Prime Minister. Though Imran Khan protested, at the end he signed on the dotted line by simply approving the choice made by the Army chief General Bajwa.
The interference of sorcery-minded Pinky Peerni aka Bushra Begum, Imran’s third and current wife, in matters political is also now the talk of the town as it is reported that the Wazir-e-Azam acts invariably on her advice.
FATF has been another Achilles Heel for Khan. FATF again decided this month to extend Pakistan’s stay in the “Grey List” till February by observing that “though Pakistan has shown progress on 30 out of 34 points, it is yet to continue to make in addressing as soon as possible the remaining CFT related item of investigation and prosecution” of terrorist outfits and their leaders as listed by the UN. As usual, Pakistan has blamed India for engineering this too. To add to its wows, Turkey, Pakistan’s friend, and staunch supporter in FATF has also been placed in the Grey List.
The New Education Policy (NEP) of the government, scripted under the influence of fundamentalists, has also come under criticism. The history books, that taught distorted and selective history of the country are being re-written to make them more “Islamic” by deleting any pre-Islamic references. As if the de facto regulations of not teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, considered contrary to “Islamic beliefs”, were not enough, the NEP has some very absurd new amendments.
According to an article in Dawn dated 15th June this year by Prof Farookh Dodabhoy, a physicist and a well-known writer, the new policy has removed some essential features from anatomy books. Now, in the illustrations explaining the digestive system and human reproduction system, the entry and exit points of food and reproductive organs cannot be shown. Instead, these systems are explained with illustrative diagrams of Rabbit, there too blurring its reproductive organs.
The veteran physicist has aptly observed “We add one Israel to our population every two years. It is okay to breed like rabbits but it is not okay to know how rabbits breed!” The words ovary, cervix, and even breast have become taboo in medical colleges of Pakistan, a country with the highest number of breast cancer deaths in South Asia.
Coming to Foreign relations, again Pakistan is slowly losing ground due to its shortsighted policies. Once the “blue-eyed boy” of the USA, which was instrumental in brokering US-China relations and later in the ignominious exit of the then USSR from Afghanistan, Pakistan lost all the favour come to the 9/11 attack but continued to covertly support the Taliban with training, money, and material. Initially hailing the recapture of Kabul by the Taliban as “breaking the shackles of slavery,” Pakistan expected to encash its earlier support of the Taliban and went on a spree to advocate, even beg for recognition of the new regime in Kabul.
However, the world’s cautious approach on this issue boomeranged on Pakistan and none of its friends including China and Russia recognised the Taliban government nor could even Pakistan dare to do so. The initial enthusiasm of the Taliban government towards Pakistan has also weaned.
Pakistan could have immensely gained from the situation and filled the vacuum created by the departure of the USA, had there been no delay in recognition of the Taliban 2 by the world. But more the delay, the futility of Pakistan’s attempt to take credit for brokering it is more manifest.
Pakistan seems to be lost in its relations with the US as its leaders keep on changing their stand. Just a few weeks ago, while deposing before the senate, Foreign Minister Qureshi vehemently refused to let the USA use Pak soil for military purposes especially related to Afghan operations. Now when the US Senate is considering a bill on Pakistan, the same Qureshi has told a journalist that “our cabinet will take a considered decision on the issue” thus signifying that, irrespective of Pakistan’s perception of decline in its power, the US can still influence Pakistan’s policies.
After the initial overtures on Afghanistan, Iran also has dragged its feet from there. Russia too, despite the initial optimism, gave a cold shoulder to Pakistan by not recognising the Taliban government in its current avatar, sensing danger to its security.
The root cause of the malaise of Pakistan is certainly the interference of its army in civilian administration. What General Zia-ul-Haque planted, has flourished as a nexus between the army and the fundamentalist/terrorist organisations and it overrules the decisions of all the three vital organs of the democracy-executive, legislature, and even the judiciary with ease and without any pretensions. While other democratic countries have an army, Pakistan is an army that has a country. Unless the role of armed forces is well defined and limited to the territorial integrity of the country, Pakistan, with its past imperfect and present tense, will continue to have a future indefinite.
(The author is a former diplomat)