By Ashok Bhan
After its dismemberment in 1971, Pakistan faces political and economic crises that could threaten its very existence. With the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the army and the incumbent government bringing out all guns against him, the country’s problems have become complicated. Kashmiri youth, who have been entranced and led to believe that honey and milk flow across the border, now realize that there is no point in dreaming of a failed state.
With the Pakistani rupee plummeting in value and foreign exchange reserves dwindling, the country is struggling to import vital products such as food, leading to deadly stampedes at distribution centres. Fears that Pakistan will be unable to service its debt have persisted for months.
Protesters turned on the Pakistan military after Imran Khan’s arrest. Violent clashes erupted in the country following Khan’s dramatic arrest on corruption charges. The country’s ability to receive much-needed financial aid remains in question.
Paramilitary troops entered a courthouse in Islamabad to arrest Khan, who was ousted from power last year. His arrest-which the Supreme Court later ruled unlawful-has sparked a storm of outrage. Supporters have stormed buildings and clashed with security forces.
Inflation reached an annual rate of 36.4% in April, with the cost of food rising nearly 47% in urban areas and more than 52% in rural areas, according to CNN. People line up outside a flour distribution centre in Islamabad to receive free flour from the government.
According to Tahir Abbas, research director at Arif Habib, a financial firm in Karachi, the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves of about $4.4 billion are enough to cover about a month’s worth of imports.
According to US network TV, the “balance of payments” crisis is undermining living standards in a country still reeling from last year’s devastating floods. It could “reverse poverty gains made over the past two decades and further reduce incomes for already poor households,” the World Bank warned last month.
Widespread protests have added to the pain. With the government’s credibility at a new low and public anger growing, investors believe it is unlikely that reforms called for by the IMF to improve the country’s fiscal situation will be adopted, as they would contribute to economic difficulties shortly.
Moody estimates Pakistan’s external financing needs for the fiscal year 2024, which begins in July and runs through June next year, at $35 billion to $36 billion.
Pakistan is beset by one crisis after another
In February, the rating agency said that about 50% of government revenues “in the next few years” will have to go toward paying interest on debt,” exacerbating economic woes and fueling political discontent. “A significant share of revenues devoted to interest payments will increasingly constrain the government’s ability to service its debt while meeting the population’s basic social spending needs,” Moody’s wrote in its report.
Pakistan’s problems did not begin with the fall of Imran Khan. The country has been in deep crisis since its inception. At a time when the idea of India is growing stronger by the day, Pakistan is still struggling with an identity crisis: the country was created as a dream home for South Asian Muslims. But instead of following Jinnahism and the teachings of its founder, it has chosen jihadism.
It has made terrorism and radical terror part of its state policy. Instead of building on the common pluralistic heritage of India, to which Muslims also contributed and distinguished themselves, successive Pakistani regimes and intelligentsia preferred to build the idea of Pakistan on the pillars of Islam and enmity against India. Hatred against India was made a national narrative. Time has proved that Pakistan’s paranoia against India is unfounded.
The use of terrorist groups as part of its security and foreign policy demonstrates its obsession with India, which it perceives as an existential threat. Pakistan’s ideology is based on the twin pillars of Islam and hostility toward India. Pakistan never understood that as a nation-state it should shape its history and move forward, but lived with historical appropriation and distortions of the past. “India-Pakistan relations have been shaped by partition in 1947, the Kashmir problem, and military conflicts between the two South Asian neighbours. Relations have always been marked by conflict, hostility and mistrust, although the two countries share common linguistic, cultural, geographic and economic ties.
Not only with India but also with the eastern part of Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh, the western part could not make peace. A mass genocide of the Bengali population was instigated by the Pakistani army, which is now dealing with a popular civilian leader in much the same way it dealt with the strong Bengali man Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman, which eventually led to the dismemberment of the country. The way the army and Khan are pitted against each other, further dismemberment of the country does not seem far away. Even staunchly pro-Pakistan forces in Kashmir are looking for answers, wondering if it is still practical or feasible to turn to Islamabad.
India has always offered an olive branch to amicably resolve some of the pressing issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. From Prime Minister Nehru to the present Prime Minister Narinder Modi, India has pursued a policy of constructive diplomacy and people-to-people engagement to strengthen bilateral relations.
The India-Pakistan border ceasefire is one such measure that has alleviated the hardships of people living near LOC and has led to a significant reduction in cross-border infiltration and terrorist activities.
Rogue elements patronising terrorists
The rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment have patronised the terrorists who have become fully armed militias everywhere and they are indulging in and sustaining the violence. These rogue elements equip the militants with sophisticated weapons and commission them to use them on Indian soil The recent terrorist attack in Rajouri is a real case in point.
It is the first time that the Pakistan Army has been rocked by attacks by the public on Army installations to guard against the Army’s use of draconian laws. No one is in control, it is free for all, there is extreme lawlessness and the political struggle has reached the streets.
It is time for Pakistan to focus on its affairs to overcome the economic crisis and deep political turmoil. Kashmiris have given up on Pakistan as a failed nation and now believe that Pakistan has only brought death and destruction first to Bangladesh and then to Kashmir and now to itself.
There is no need to rant any further about Kashmir. Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cut a poor figure and betrayed his naivety and incompetence by ranting about Kashmir and isolating himself.
Back home, Khan has waged an unprecedented campaign against Pakistan’s powerful military, accusing it of conspiring against him to oust him from power and then plotting to assassinate him.
Strategy experts have warned that the political unrest could exacerbate a severe economic crisis and increase insecurity not only in Pakistan but throughout South Asia. “Pakistan is now facing a major systemic crisis,” political experts say. Pakistan is no stranger to crises, but the scale and simultaneity of this crisis have magnified their magnitude. “According to experts, nuclear-armed Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, has long been considered too big to fail. But that view may be changing due to deeper turmoil and vulnerabilities in the system.
The political turmoil is likely to exacerbate the deepening economic crisis in Pakistan, which is struggling with rising inflation and increasing poverty and unemployment. The cash-strapped country faces the threat of default. The International Monetary Fund has delayed granting a loan to Islamabad for months because it is demanding immediate reforms.
Pakistan is also struggling to contain attacks by militant and separatist groups. The extremist group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has intensified its insurgency against Islamabad in recent years, carrying out deadly attacks in major cities. On May 12, two Pakistani soldiers were killed and three wounded when suspected militants attacked a security post in the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan, underscoring the deteriorating security situation. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had to call in the army to restore order.
Pakistan’s army, which plays an outsized role in the country’s domestic and foreign policy, had issued a warning on May 11, saying it would take action against those who wanted to push the country into a “civil war” Since Khan lost a vote to reject a conference in April 2022, he has called for early elections, which the incumbent government has rejected. The 70-year-old was ousted after falling out with the military, which was widely accused of putting Khan in power through a rigged parliamentary election in 2018, a charge denied by both parties.
Observers say the army has since rallied behind Sharif and his coalition government, which includes representatives of the main political parties. Sharif is known as an effective administrator and pragmatist and maintains friendly relations with the military.
Senior government officials have accused the judiciary of siding with Khan, who still enjoys strong support in the country. “All institutions are divided, and divided institutions will weaken Pakistan,” There is an imminent danger of collapse due to the foreseeable political instability caused by invalidation.
There has been speculation that the military may impose martial law. In the country’s 76-year history, the army has already carried out three coups. Even during civilian rule, the military has often assumed the role of ruler. However, according to observers, the current army chief, General Asim Munir, is unlikely to impose military law given the disunity within the institution. Some members of the military are believed to support Khan. Pakistan is currently ruled by a weak civilian government that is overshadowed by the military. In the future, the army could take full control, in an arrangement described as a “hybrid regime on steroids” Given the fractured political landscape, further unrest in the country is likely. The future is bleak: Experts say Pakistan is not “growing together”
The deadliest attack in 2023 occurred in Peshawar police stations, where a suicide bomber killed more than 80 people and injured more than a hundred. The attack occurred at a mosque in a high-security zone of Peshawar, where the police headquarters is also located.
Tehreek-e-Talibban Pakistan, a banned organization, has expanded its attacks since negotiations with it ended last November, focusing mainly on KP police and regions bordering Afghanistan.
Since the Afghan Taliban took power across the border, there have been countless reports of terrorist groups, particularly the TTP, organizing and carrying out attacks.
Given the profound political turmoil in Pakistan, policymakers should focus on addressing the precarious situation in Pakistan rather than on a tirade against India’s G-20 chairmanship. The G-20 is not only a watershed event for India, but holding the meeting in Kashmir should showcase to the world the full flowering of tourism potential and the extent of development of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. It is one of the rare opportunities for the youth of Kashmir valley to tell the world that India is the land of modern, scientific and peaceful life while Pakistan means death and destruction for Kashmiris.
—Ashok Bhan is a Senior Advocate,
Supreme Court of India and a