Pakistan is facing serious external policy and national security challenges with the fast-changing regional geopolitics. But there seems to be no realisation in the government about the seriousness of the situation.
The Afghan Crisis and refugee impact on Pakistan:
The turmoil in Afghanistan has generated important economic and security spillovers into Pakistan, fueling a surge in Afghan refugees. Since the fall of the Afghan government in August, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 90000 new refugees have arrived in Pakistan, till late September and more entering everyday. There was a chaos at the Torkham border a few days back when thousands of Afghans wanted to enter Pakistan but were denied entry by Pakistani forces.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that a possible refugee crisis in Afghanistan is likely to increase the burden of refugees on Pakistan and other countries and Islamabad will have to bear a burden of 500 million dollars annually. With non-humanitarian aid halted and foreign assets largely frozen after the Taliban seized power in August, Afghanistan’s aid-reliant economy “faces severe fiscal and balance-of-payments crises”, it said in its regional economic outlook update.Pakistan currently hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, according to UNHCR data, with another two million estimated to be living in the country without formal documentation. Afghan populace in Pakistan felt betrayed by Pakistan where, after four decades, they remain as “outsiders” when it comes to civic rights, legal protection and social acceptance. Repeated promises by Imran Khan to grant Afghan refugees full citizenship, remain unfulfilled. Previously, as a U.S. ally, Pakistan did have all strategic leverage to seek funds to house Afghan refugees. However, Pakistan is aware that any further influx of afghans, may not yield anything material, economic or political advantage. So Pakistan has now declared that it is unable to take any more refugees and has begun deporting new arrivals back to Afghanistan. But it will continue to try cashing on the case of hosting Afghan refugees to gain international aid.
Rising Crime and militancy in Pakistan:
The instability in Afghanistan has led to an increase in militancy and crime in Pakistan. There is speculation that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants, operating from the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, have entered Pakistan disguised as refugees. Since the TTP regrouped last year, it has increasingly mounted attacks on Pakistani forces, particularly in Balochistan and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Karachi city is facing an alarming increase in the menace of street crime, by terrorists, banned outfits and militant wings of political and religious parties. kidnapping for ransom has been on the increase. Street crimes, including mobile-snatching and muggings, have become a routine and are on the rise on a daily basis even in the upmarket areas of Clifton and Defense Housing authority (DHA).According to the data compiled by the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), total 4,593 cases of snatching and theft — 212 cars and 4,381 motorbikes — of vehicles were reported from different parts of the metropolis in September this year.
The new Taliban government in Afghanistan is unable to control the threat from Islamic State militants who have launched a series of deadly attacks in recent weeks. Islamic State-Khorasan represents a direct challenge to the Taliban and Pakistan. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in the grip of an unfolding nightmare. A spate of militant attacks in the province, mostly in the tribal districts contiguous with Afghanistan, have taken place since August when the Afghan Taliban came to power in the neighbouring country. Of the nine terrorist attacks reported in September, eight were claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban reportedly remain in control of the areas bordering Pakistan that have provided a sanctuary for the TTP and from where it is launching attacks. It is obvious that Afghanistan’s new regime, contrary to its international commitments, continues to be reluctant for ideological and strategic reasons to exert pressure on transnational terrorist outfits to cease their operations inside Pakistan.
Pakistan’s economy faces twin deficits — fiscal and current account. COVID-19 has dealt another challenge as Pakistan struggles to revive its economy. With the suspension of program loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), Pakistan is at risk of a monumental economic crisis. The WB and ADB will continue lending project loans but keeping in view the capacity to implement projects, the disbursement becomes dismally low.
Continued devaluation and the consequent inflation have eroded the common man’s ability to even have one, what to talk of two square meals a day, public anger is mounting. The Pakistani Rupee is trading at a record low of 174 to a dollar. Economic and political uncertainties along with devaluation of the Pakistani Rupee have led to a rise in hoarding of dollars by private citizens in the country. A large chunk of dollars is also being routed to cash starved Afghanistan through informal and Hawala routes. Several Afghan refugees who are now settled in Pakistan have also been sending hard cash through informal channels as remittance for their families who continue to live in Afghanistan. While hoarding of dollars is nothing new in Pakistan but due to the current economic uncertainties under the Imran Khan government, the practice has further intensified. Khan’s government reportedly requires gross external financing of $51.6 billion within a two-year period (2021-2023) in order to continue functioning.
Pakistani authorities are now reportedly trying to make a last-ditch effort to strike a staff-level agreement with the IMF to bridge the gap of external financing requirements. In a recent report, the World Bank noted that Pakistan has joined the list of top ten nations with the largest foreign debts.
Meanwhile, for the last two years food inflation in Pakistan has skyrocketed. In Pakistan’s context, high inflation has occurred mainly due to factors like poor quality of governance, half-hearted implementation of competition laws, the existence of a large informal economy and the lack of political will to ensure enforcement of officially fixed prices of essential goods and services.
Rifts between Military and Civilian Leadership:
A standoff between the military establishment and the civilian PTI government led by PM Imran Khan over the appointment of a new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate has become a bone of contention between the major power wielders/players in Pakistan. The impasse was triggered by the Oct 6 announcement by the ISPR that the current Director-General of the ISI Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed was being posted as Corps Commander XI Corps (Peshawar) and would be replaced by Lt-Gen Nadeem Anjum currently Corps Commander V Corps (Karachi). The imbalance of power between the security establishment and the civilian side has led to a breakdown of the political structure. Civilian control by Imran Khan is a misnomer given the heavy shadow cast by security agencies over the country’s political landscape. The standoff is clearly not good for the fragile economy and will most likely spell the end of the hybrid power-sharing arrangement between the army and PTI, which was so meticulously put in place a mere three years ago.
There are some other issues too making things more complicated. According to political observers, the two sides are not seen to be on the same page in the handling of critical foreign and security matters. How to deal with the TTP has become a contentious issue too with Imran Khan appearing too eager to reconcile with the outlawed militant group that is responsible for the death of thousands of Pakistanis.
In the face of such daunting challenges, prime minister Imran Khan’s lectures on morality and Islamic history have become more frequent and persistent. Populist rhetoric has been taken as a substitute for clear policy direction. As a leader Imran Khan tends to flit from one vague idea to another, and to distract the public he resorts to invoking Islamic faith to use as a crutch rather than look for performance and good governance. PTI government’s ineptitude is accompanied by a vicious witch-hunt where political opponents were hounded and hunted with inexplicable ferocity.PTI government is destroying civilian state institutions in a systematic manner. Lacking in governance the government is increasingly resorting to authoritarian practices. Instead of sitting with the opposition for reforming election rules to make the polls free and fair, the PTI government is trying to impose unilateral changes in the electoral process. Ignoring the ECP’s objections, the prime minister is adamant on using electronic voting machines in the next polls. Instead of focusing on more pressing problems eg economic downturn and skyrocketing inflation, the government is continuing on a divisive path.Further as the latest standoff over ISI Chief appointment has revealed, as the leader of an unstable coalition administration with a very thin majority, with weak democratic credentials Imran Khan cannot afford to take on the military establishment.