COAS reflects people’s aspirations
Addressing the second Yaum-e-Shuhada ceremony in General Headquarters Rawalpindi, the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani asserted that Pakistan was destined to move towards prosperity but the nation’s honor and integrity will not be compromised to achieve this objectives. He was candid in stating that “Pakistan was today going through the most tumultuous times in its history but we should not let ourselves overcome by frustration and pessimism”. His firm resolve would frustrate those who, day in and day out, try to create fear in the minds of the people that if America and the IMF stop their aid and loans, Pakistan could default bringing the economy to grinding halt. But the collapse is not imminent as is being projected by them. With foreign exchange reserves more than $17 billion, and remittances from expatriate Pakistanis to the tune of $10 billion in a year, Pakistan does not need IMF loan, and in fact Pakistan should politely say no to the IMF. Of course, Pakistan will face problems when the repayment of IMF installment would start.
Pakistanis very well remember that America always ditched Pakistan after achieving its objectives. In May 1988, the USSR started withdrawing from Afghanistan, and in October 1990 as soon as the Soviet forces’ withdrawal was completed, U.S. cut off aid to Pakistan under Pressler Amendment because of its nuclear weapons program. Earlier, aid flowed in because the US president used to certify, under Section 620-E (e) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of Pressler Amendment which was made in August 1985, that Pakistan did not possess nuclear device. In February 1996, the US President signed into law the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which included provisions that relax restrictions on economic assistance to Pakistan and permitted a one-time release of $368 million in military hardware ordered by Pakistan prior to the aid cutoff. After Pakistan’s detonation of nuclear devices in May 1998, the US stopped all economic and military aid to Pakistan. But Pakistan could manage its economy and complete development of nuclear device after the US slapped sanctions under Pressler law in 1990.
Pakistan indeed has the resilience, capacity and resources to face such challenges, and the elected government, armed forces and the people of Pakistan are ready to sacrifice anything to defend its sovereignty and honour. It is only the matter of setting the priorities right and taking remedial measures. For example, Pakistan’s ration of tax to GDP is 9 per cent which is even less than many African countries. Therefore, Pakistan has to tax the rich and control the tax evasion of more than Rs. 500 billion in addition to the losses around Rs. 400 billion incurred by government-owned enterprises like Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan Airlines etc. Political leadership has taken steps for austerity and it is hoped that it will control corruption and wastages, which will help reduce the fiscal deficit. Trade deficit could be reduced through banning the import of luxury items and plugging in revenue theft due to smuggling. Pakistan should not rely on the US and so-called Friends of Pakistan (FoP), who had pledged US$5.28 bn for cash-strapped Pakistan in Tokyo ministerial meeting, and did not honour their commitments.
According to conservative estimates, Pakistan has suffered a loss of $46 billion directly and indirectly since its joining the war on terror. And there is a perception that Pakistan is in dire economic straits only because it became a frontline state during Afghan war in 1980s in the first place. It was mainly due to Pakistan’s cooperation and help that Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Soviet Union disintegrated and the US emerged as a sole super power. It was indeed the responsibility of the international community to help Pakistan overcome the financial crunch to enable it to effectively fight militants and terrorists and also ensure safe route for supplies to US and NATO forces. One does not understand that why the IMF was brought in for monitoring Friends of Pakistan’s loans or grants. Ahead of the conference the International Monetary Fund IMF had said: “Pakistan must focus on reforming its tax system and lowering inflation to restore its economy, but political instability is a key risk to growth”. But the perception of political uncertainty was not correct, as the elected government was in place.
Anyhow, Pakistan and the IMF had signed $7.6 billion loan in November 2008, which was increased to $11.3 billion. The IMF had then said: “The regular monitoring of the economy will show how the macroeconomic objectives set by the government are being met and whether they need to be adjusted in the light of changing circumstances”. The package was aimed at restoring the confidence of domestic and foreign investors with a tightening of fiscal and monetary policies, while maintaining social stability through targeted spending. Anyhow, the reduction in fiscal deficit was somewhat achieved primarily by phasing out energy subsidies, better-prioritising development spending and implementing tax policy and tax administration reforms suggested by the IMF. The conditionalities are hurting Pakistan, as increase in interest rate by the State Bank of Pakistan and enhancing electricity tariff has resulted into cost-push inflation, adversely impacting the people and also making Pakistani exports uncompetitive in the world market.
There is news of some sinister being played around Pakistan. Having failed in achieving any of its objectives in Afghanistan, the US administration is appointing former Director Leon Panetta as Defence Secretary replacing Robert Gates. Commander in Afghanistan General David Patraeus will be taking over as chief of the CIA. Already, there are stories in American media that David Patreaus will fight a third war in Pakistan after Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a war of attrition also. But COAS Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has already made his intent known that Pakistan will not buckle under any pressure to do America’s bidding, and all decisions would be taken keeping in view the interest of the nation. Of course, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have understood the American game plan. Therefore, our civil and military leadership seems to be on the same page. And General Kayani’s views expressed at the ceremony of second Yaum-i-Shauhada reflect entire nation’s views. This is the time that the government needs stability and armed forces need the backing of the people to meet the challenges.
However, PML-N leaders like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Saad Rafiq and even Sharifs have been accusing military and the ISI for interfering in politics. On the basis of rumours that technocrats’ set up is being considered, they started shooting from the hip. Now, they are blaming the military and ISI for the reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-Q. In fact, it is injudicious and flawed policies of the PML-N leaders that they stand isolated today. Kamran Khan a leading anchorperson said the other day that he talked to Mian Nawaz Sharif, who told him that he would not like to be at the helm if he is not allowed to take decisions on foreign policy and security matters. Mian Sahib is having an illusion that after Quaid-e-Azam he is the most respected leader in Pakistan. The situation today is that the PML-N is nowhere in Balochistan and even Sindh, and only insignificant presence in NWFP. The problem is that the PML-N leaders consider themselves as self-righteous and the rest as cheats and fraud. The result is they all hate them.