From Army to America

Pakistan army chief reaches out to the US for funds, move fraught with serious consequences
Pakistan Flag [Image for representational purpose only]
Pakistan Flag [Image for representational purpose only] File/ GK

Pakistan is in dire straits is a well-known fact across the globe. But when its army chief seeks financial aid for the country from IMF, by invoking good offices of the US administration, it depicts a sorry picture of the nation experiencing turbulence of all sorts.

It is unique; the army boss seeking financial help for economic security of the country, and this uniqueness opens many other issues about the state of affairs of Pakistan.

India should be concerned the way Pakistan is falling into a bottomless pit, because whatever happens in the neighbouring country impacts the geo-strategic and geo-political calculus of the country. Pakistan is not just a neighbour with which India shares its border.

It was born out of the womb of India, and now it is a nuclear power. This is reality. The problem arises when the neighbour is unstable politically, economically, and socially.

These problems can be tackled, but what cannot be tackled is the growing space the terrorism and narco-terrorism is occupying in Pakistan which is repeatedly walking into one trap after another.

The spill over effect of the problems faced by Pakistan should worry India. The destabilisation of Pakistan, which is near complete, will not leave the region untouched. India being a big power in the region cannot ignore the pitfalls of the economic distress in the neighbouring country.

India will have to keep a close watch over the political and economic turbulences rocking Pakistan. And when Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa approached the US to prevail upon the International Monetary Fund to help Pakistan in releasing the loan money, it reflects more connotations than mere request for the financial aid for the country to survive.

It’s a firm evidence of the changing equations in Islamabad, and also presents a very unpalatable picture, in which economic distress captures what all is happening in the country- political bull fight in streets, disregard for the institutions, corruption, the rule of the elite, and misery for the rest of the population.

Added to this in the picture is the growth of radicalism where faith is misinterpreted and misrepresented – Jihadis are on march with the wheels provided by the establishment. Tehreek-e-Labbaik and now the talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are virtually holding Pakistan by neck. The people have no say in what’s happening.

Japan’s influential newspaper Nikkei Asia reported on July 29 that Pakistan’s army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa reached out to Washington to “request help in securing an early loan disbursal from the International Monetary Fund.”

This was confirmed by Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar, who while replying to a question about the conversation between Gen. Bajwa and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said, “Well, I understand conversation has taken place,” though he refused to dwell on the contents of the same.

There are two points at stake – First, whey did Gen. Bajwa feel the need to talk to the US officials for the $1.2 bn loan that Pakistan has sought to save its economy lost in the quagmire of the political upheavals. Second, what does it mean for Pakistan itself.

It becomes clearer by a look at the current political battles over there. The civilian political leadership of the country is incapable of negotiating big deals with the international financial institutions because of the poor track record of the country to live up to its repeated promises to bring in structural reforms.

Gen. Bajwa, as it is evident now, was trying to fill the gaps of trust deficit between his country and the western world that holds considerable share and sway over the global financial institutions.

He is in a better position to do so, because the army alone is left with some credibility, though there has been a massive erosion in it in the recent months after it played “neutral” in the ongoing political turmoil.

Now the economic turmoil has further deteriorated stability of the country that boasts of its nuclear power every now and then. The internal turmoil doesn’t get compensated by the nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons don’t rain dollars, they consume dollars.

For Pakistan there are grave portents – it undermines, in all respects, the civilian leadership and its capability to deal with the tough situations. It has itself to blame for loss of its standing and deep doubts over its powers to pull the country out of the tight corner in which it finds itself.

The public has lost faith, so have the institutions – military, judiciary and above all the international organisations. Some observers have noted that the institutions are locked in a power struggle.

The assumption is that Gen. Bajwa spoke to the US official without the knowledge of the civilian leadership. It is the civilian leadership under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, despite its desperate efforts to secure loan from the IMF and after having reached the staff level agreement, that is nowhere close to getting it.

Gen. Bajwa represents the most powerful institution in his country- the army, that is everywhere in all the affairs of Pakistan. It handles the internal issues as also the foreign policy.

So, therefore, it is unsurprising that the army chief set his own protocol of doing things in the interests of his country. When others fail in Pakistan, army steps in.

This has happened in the past, too, though there is a difference. Earlier, the army when it was not in power, and it has been in power in Pakistan for a substantial number of years, used to deal with the foreign governments on defence cooperation, its direct full blown involvement in the financial and foreign policy issues was never so brazen.

The IMF has already granted Pakistan “staff-level approval” for the loan in question on July 13. But the transaction -- part of the IMF’s $6 billion Extended Fund Facility for Pakistan -- will only be processed after the multilateral lender’s executive board grants final approval, the newspaper reported stating the protocol and the procedures involved in sanctioning of the loan.

It has been pointed out that “there is a major difference between staff-level approval and board approval.”

“Our stakeholders, the countries that take the vote as to whether they are supporting this or not, make the final decision,” said the official. “This is a difference. So the legally binding step is a board approval, not the staff level agreement,”.

Within Pakistan anxieties are deepening about the high rate of inflation, ever increasing economic distress as the economy is getting twisted and the goal posts are being shifted too frequently.

Had the country been having the strength of its institutions, it could have pulled through the crisis. But, unfortunately, it lacks the same.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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