Pak has been in dire financial state in the last few months. Oil and gas prices continue to be beyond affordable levels of the local public. During Eid, the Pak PM was forced to regulate the prices of ‘Nan and Roti’. In anger, the association of Naan and Roti producers proceeded on strike, adding to the woes of the local public.
Despite appeals to friends and allies, hardly any financial funding came through. Pak’s foreign exchange reserves remain low, barely catering for two months of imports. China which was meant to be Pak’s backbone and developer began moving slower on its CPEC projects. Security of CPEC projects remain a major worry, especially in restive Baluchistan.
The Pak leadership also had a misplaced belief on its strategic location, which made it assume that it would have international support. This was compounded by its leverage over the Taliban. However, it received a jolt, even from countries expected to be impacted by its strategic location, including the US and Russia.
The Baluchistan liberation forces, collectively termed as BRA,is challenging Pak authority and causing losses to security forces daily. In North Waziristan, the Pak Taliban (TTP) is issuing its own diktats and PTM protests are on the rise. Media and communication blackout in these regions have not subdued the flow of information on Pak military losses. Along the LoC, Pak was facing Indian retaliation and losing soldiers whenever it attempted to violate the ceasefire.
A glance at the Pak economy would indicate its dire condition. Years of massive debts, rampant corruption, unemployment, inflation and widening fiscal deficit forced Imran Khan to turn around from his promise of not approaching the IMF. He tried to justify his decision but faced internal flak. The only way his government and his backers, the army, could subdue the criticism was to place all opposition leaders and critics under arrest on fake charges.
Pak’s current budgetoutlay of 6 Lakh Crore has earmarked 42% for interest payments on loan and 17% for defence. Simply put, there is nothing for social schemes and development.
As per Moody’s, ‘In just the first year of the Imran Khan led government, the budget deficit soared to a record Rs3.45 trillion or 8.9% of size of nation’s economy. Also, for the first time in 19 years, Pakistan’s debt and liabilities exceeded the size of its economy and peaked to a record Rs40.2 trillion.’ It added, ‘the rupee lost 32% to 160.05 to the US dollar in the past fiscal year which ended June 30, and foreign direct investment (FDI) fared no better.’
In addition, is the continuous threat of the FATF sword. In case Pak does not act, the Blacklist is likely, while continuation on the Grey List is a certainty. This will impact its loan discussions and even possibly stop the flow of the ongoing IMF loans. It is clearly a failing state, heading into a debt trap. Its people are suffering but being made to believe differently.
Such is the internal state of the country that the Islamabad Electric Company is threatening to cut electric supply to the PM’s office for non-payment of dues amounting to Rs 41 Lakhs. To safeguard Chinese investments and protect its workers, the Pak army is raising a force of two divisions. Insecurity and financial shortcoming are rising within the country.
Within Pak, twisted history taught to children over decades has projected that Kashmir is the reason for the survival of the state, India is an enemy which seeks to break the entity of Pak and the army is its only saviour. In every war, Pak sought to claim Kashmir and lost each time. Yet it twisted history to convey victory. In 48, it claims to be successful as it captured a part of J and K. In 65, it claims victory, despite losing Haji Pir to India and losses in tank battles leading to creation of tourist sites like Patton Nagar in India. To fool its public, it celebrates defence day on 06 Sep as a victory celebration of the 65 war.
It beats around the bush on the 71 war, not granting India victory and hardly any mention of its mass surrender, the highest since the second world war. On Kargil it claims victory and blames the US influencing Nawaz Sharif for the withdrawal. In every case, the reality is vastly different.
Its hesitation to announce its true losses in Indian retaliatory strikes is to continue befooling its public. It hid the surgical and Balakote strike from its populace. Thus, despite all losses, it has convinced its population that its army is invincible and would be able to respond to Indian aggression. This gives the army its desired budget and power of governance in the country.Simultaneously, its army leadership has outsourced defence of the country to terrorist groups against India and Afghanistan, while it fattens itself by running its Fauji Foundation and deciding its own salaries.
Within Pak, the binding factors for the national population remain Kashmir, enmity with India and the Pak army. In addition, is its belief in the superiority of its religion.
These, when combined make the public forget their internal woes and shift anger towards its only enemy, India. When the nation faces multiple internal threats and the population cannot afford to even eat two meals a day, there is a need to divert minds and push frustration and anger from within to the outside.
The announcement of Article 370 gave Pak the opportunity. It is aware that legally it has no grounds and the international community refuses to back it on Indian decisions. The Pak leadership had to act,or its own population and opposition would have revolted. It knew there were no military options, hence officially announced the diplomatic avenue. With time having lapsed, international support fading and the valley remaining peaceful, it began realizing that its policy is failing. It needed to reignite passions within the population, failing which anger on domestic failures would raise their ugly head.
The valley remaining quiet and continued curb on internet has hurt the Pak leadership the most. Press reports in Pak regularly state violence and protests in the valley, however they only quote Pak government sources, which play to enhancing domestic diversion. Imran crying daily on the communication lockdown indicates the frustration within Pak of being unable to fuel unrest. Pak is being forced to resort to pushing in terrorists, only to create violence and satisfy its masses of local resistance.
The recent televised address by Imran, asking every Pak national to devote 30 mins every Friday to Kashmir was aimed at shifting internal worries to the background and bringing forth religion and Kashmir. This lasted just one Friday, as public response was lacking. To back him, his ministers have continued international outreach, twisting realistic statements, indicating they are receiving global support.
Pak’s international propaganda machinery included twisted and fake reports in the BBC and Al Jazeera, articles by Imran Khan in the New York Times and the Pak Ambassador in the Washington Post. These were only to make its public believe that its narrative on Kashmir is influencing the world. Its ill-informed ministers like Sheikh Rashid even warn of a war in Oct, all aimed at hyping internal anger. Imran desperate for some pressure on India has continuously been threatening of a nuclear war.
Imran’s promise to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN is expected. For a failing nation, with nothing to show at the global stage, their only option is to talk Kashmir. They have been doing so for seventy years and would do so for decades more. India, which has outgrown Pakistan and is at the centre stage of the globe with its growing economy has far more important issues to convey in the allotted 15 mins that a leader gets.
The reality remains that Amit Shah’s action of abrogating Article 370 came as a life saver to Imran and his army chief. It enabled those ruling Pak to shift internal focus towards Kashmir, diverting possible law and order situations, due to a deteriorating economy and increasing unemployment. Pak would continue moving economically downhill, its populace struggling to survive, while the nation faces FATF strictures. At the same time, the minds of its population would remain focussed on Kashmir and India, saving its leadership from internal wrath.
(The author is Major General (Retd)