The five smaller heads of Pakistan are hoping that the big head—the ‘establishment’ aka the army—will lead them out of disaster.
Yes, things are looking very grim and, one by one, the doors are shutting. The ‘true friend’ (whose friendship is taller than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey) has walked away after losing over US$30bn (billion). ‘Big brother’ is not giving the nod for the payout of yet another tranche of loan. Even the ‘Umma’ has said “no more money without pre-conditions”.
In desperation, the government has already swallowed a very bitter pill. Every condition of the IMF has been accepted. The results are already showing:
- US dollar has crossed Pakistan rupee (PKR)260, jumping Rs38 in one day. The next stop will be close to 300, and it won’t stop there.
- Petrol has touched PKR250/litre, and petrol pumps have started hoarding fuel because the price is bound to rise further.
- These hikes will inevitably percolate into the cost of everything, because many things are imported, and everything has to be transported.
Strangely, at the current exchange rates (1 Indian rupee-INR = 3.2PKR), petrol in Pakistan is still cheap compared to India—the equivalent of PKR78 as against around INR100. This just goes to show how profligate the Pakistan government has been in maintaining petrol prices at low levels in order to keep the public quiet.
Another eye-opener: tax/GDP ratio is 46% in France, 30% in Japan, 18% in India and only 12% in Pakistan. Pakistanis don’t like to pay taxes.
No wonder, the Pakistan economy runs largely on loans!
As you know, the list of problems is quite long—imminent bankruptcy, power outages, high inflation, food shortage, crops ruined by floods, millions homeless, no medicines, TTP attacks, Baloch rebels, Karachi port almost closed, Gilgit-Baltistan protests, fuel running out, etc.
But this entire bunch of problems pales into insignificance when compared to the true existential threat, one which cannot be fended off even if a farishta from heaven dropped tens of billions of dollars into Pakistan...
The bulk of Pakistan’s water supply comes from rivers that run through Indian Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) before entering Pakistan. The sharing of this water is governed by the Indus Water Treaty signed by India and Pakistan in 1960, with the World Bank as the third signatory. Pakistan has been (rather naughtily) obstructing India from exercising her rights under the Treaty, and recently India has issued a 90-day notice demanding that Pakistan complies with the terms of the Treaty.
The notice expires just before summer. What happens if Pakistan doesn’t comply? Is India’s notice a threat to cancel the Treaty?
Ah, but that is some months away.
What is to be done now, to get out of this morass?
Saudi Arabia and UAE are reported to have given a clear message to Pakistan: cut out the 'crying' for Kashmir and make peace with India—that is your only hope.
Yes, India can bail Pakistan out in multiple ways—food, money, medicines, trade, etc. Pakistan knows this very well indeed.
But, to the heads in Pakistan, seeking peace with India is tantamount to unconditional surrender, with major consequences on three vital fronts:
- Kashmir—Pakistan would have to give up all claims on Indian J&K, which might extend to handing over Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan to India (which the populations of these areas would probably welcome).
- Terrorism—Pakistan would have to give up the terrorists that it has been harbouring for decades (e.g., Hafeez Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim) and give convincing proof that it has dismantled all its mechanisms for training and protecting terrorists.
- Nuclear weapons—Pakistan would have to surrender all weapons, or, at the very least, surrender the control of these weapons to some international body.
These are very heavy prices to pay, and underlying them is the biggest question as far as the chief head is concerned—what happens to the army?
For 75 years, the Pakistan army has ruled over Pakistan by claiming that it is keeping at bay the big bad wolf across the eastern border which is determined to destroy Pakistan. If you surrender to the wolf, why do you need an army?
But the choice is bleak. Surrender - and you are traitors to the 'cause'. If you don’t, the people’s hardships will eventually become unbearable. Either way, the public is likely to revolt.
Is there any other option?
Yes, there are options.
First, dismiss the government and declare military rule. The army will run the country overtly, not covertly, with the help of a few ‘experts’ (not Mr Ishaq Dar, heaven forbid).
Thereafter, follow the path shown by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Round up all the moneyed people of the country (military excluded, of course), put them in a hotel under guard, and extract money from them. On a conservative estimate, collecting 50+ billion dollars would be easy-peasy. Deduct 25% 'commission' for the army generals, and you will still have enough to bail out the country, at least for a couple of years.
The alternative (dreaded by every other country) would be to select a dozen or so suitcase-sized nukes (the tactical nukes favoured by Pakistan) and sell them to the highest bidders, starting with ISIS, Iran, etc.
There is, of course, the final option—the ‘ejector seat’.
When a fighter pilot is about to crash, he doesn’t sit in his doomed airplane awaiting destruction. He activates the ejector seat, bails out, and (hopefully) drifts down to safety on a parachute. The pilot is more valuable than the plane.
Yes, the heads have their ejector seats ready—foreign passports, money in Swiss banks, and private planes. And yes, the heads are more valuable than the country, at least to themselves.
What does India do in this situation?
What would you do if your nasty neighbour’s house goes up in flames?
You tell me, my friend.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)