Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in public meetings and Finance Minister Ishaq in cabinet meetings and at other fora say that everything is hunky-dory. The government has achieved reasonable economic growth, highest-ever foreign exchange reserves and that Pakistan is a paradise for investors. But the ground realities are: Pakistan’s imports from July 2016 to April 2017 (10 months) were $45 bn and exports $22.5 bn with the result that trade deficit is $22.5 bn. If this trend continues, which most likely will, the trade deficit for the fiscal year according to State Bank of Pakistan would be $26bn. Remittances from Pakistan expatriates for 10 months are $15 bn, and for the year the figure would be around $18 bn; thus Current Account deficit for 2016-17would be $8 bn. One wonders as to how the government would manage when foreign investment is not forthcoming?
After military decimated the infrastructure and network of terrorists, terrorism is no more major challenge. Though India and Afghanistan have coalesced to destabilize Pakistan, yet it is not a threat, as Pakistan is capable of frustrating the designs of its enemies. However, dismal economic situation is a major challenge, as the government may have to fall back on IMF loans with the conditionalities attached. It should be borne in mind that secure borders and improved law and order situation can attract the investors; hence reasonable allocation for defence is imperative. It is unfortunate that a resourceful country has been brought to the present pass due to the inept leadership Pakistan has had for the last six decades. CPEC has somewhat contributed towards revival of economy, but certain projects have long gestation period and it would take some time to materialize.
The government claims that GDP has increased from 2 per cent to more than 4 percent, but it is not reflected neither in the realm of increase in production and job opportunities nor in exports. Pakistan’s problem is growing public debt, which on one hand limits the capacity to build strong defence and on the other limits fiscal space to invest in human development and infrastructure. Unfortunately, Pakistan faces major challenges of income, gender, health and educational inequalities in extreme forms. Over 25 million school-age children are estimated to be out of school; more than 3.7 million of our labor force is unemployed; and about half of total population is victim of food insecurity. In fact, no aspect of life merits urgent attention and greater investment of resources than improvement in the quality of education, which can help produce visionaries, engineers and scientists to boost production and generate revenues.
The threats faced by Pakistan have to be understood in the light of fast changing regional and international situation, which add urgency to revive the economy so that adequate resources could be allocated to counter them. Pakistan has public debt of more than 65 per cent of the GDP, which is indeed alarming and against the provisions of the Constitution. The fact remains that Pakistan has to follow the instructions of the IMF for increasing the rates of utilities and privatization of national assets to meet the shortfall in budget and trade deficit respectively. But increase in utilities’ tariff leads to cost-push inflation and our industries are unable to compete in the world market. Direct Foreign Investment is also declining as compared with previous year, which was already meager. Let us see how the government would manage when it would be obliged to start paying the installments next year?
But there are other problems and civil and military leadership should put their heads together to counter machinations of so-called friends and enemy countries. Unfortunately, the US and England have been pampering the dissidents who continue propaganda against Pakistan. A handful of US Congressmen have more than once raised the issue of the Baloch sub-nationalists. However, there is a redeeming feature that situation in Balochistan has improved a lot, and many Ferrari commanders have handed over their arms to military and agreed to join the mainstream. But the MQM-London head-honcho Altaf Hussain has been let off the hook despite evidence of involvement in money laundering and hate speeches. Recently, MQM USA Washington DC chapter and Chicago chapter held press conferences, whereby the thrust was that “ISI and Pakistan military is supporting jihad in the region, and Pakistan is the base for terrorism.
The MQM spokesmen said that “US funding of $20 billion was utilized by ISI and military; and Ehsanullah Ehsan, a terrorist, is kept in luxurious safe house of ISI. Mohajirs are facing extra judicial killings, forced disappearances and genocide, illegal ban on Altaf Hussain’s speech is violation of freedom of expression, and that the world knows that OBL was killed in Abbottabad; Mulla Akhter Mansoor killed in Pakistan, and Taliban leader Ayman Al- Zawahiri is also in safe custody of ISI.” Anti- Pakistan elements are trying to sell the narrative that with Ehasan-ullah-Ehsan (Liaquat Ali) appearance, the Pakistani Army is sending this massage that “you can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven”. Our foreign office should be pro-active and take up the matter with British government.
Pakistan had another setback on Thursday when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said that Pakistan cannot hang Kulbhushan Jadhav for now. The world court ordered Islamabad to give consular access to Jadhav. ICJ judge Ronny Abraham said: “Pakistan shall take all measures to ensure that Jadhav is not hanged until a final decision by the court. The circumstances of his arrest are in dispute… India should have been given consular access as per Vienna Convention”. A new debate is raging in the media and questions are being raised as to why Pakistan did not refuse to attend the ICJ when it believed that the matter was beyond its jurisdiction. It appears that Pakistan will have to attend the further proceedings, otherwise Pakistan will face problems. Therefore, Pakistan’s legal team should prepare the case, and Pakistan’s lobbyists should use their clout in the US to advance Pakistan’s position and narrative.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.