Dawn Editorial 19 December 2020

Amir’s retirement

FAST bowler Mohammad Amir’s abrupt decision to quit international cricket this week at the age of 28 has drawn mixed reactions. Amir, who was dropped from the ongoing tour of New Zealand due to lack of form, has cited mental torture and shabby treatment from the PCB, his coaches and fellow players for his decision. From boy prodigy to tainted player to rebel without a cause, Amir’s controversial 11-year career never really allowed him to attain the status of a driving force in the Pakistan team. During his international debut at the ICC World T20, he was described as the most talented young fast bowler on the world circuit and was nominated for the ICC bowler of the year award. Unfortunately, he wasted all opportunities by getting embroiled in a nasty spot-fixing scam in the 2010 England Test series along with skipper Salman Butt and bowling partner Mohammad Asif and was banned for five years. He was lucky to be drafted back into national ranks in 2016 after serving his ban while the PCB earned flak for accommodating a ‘fixer’. Many teammates expressed discomfort based on his behaviour.
Last year, Amir surprised everyone by quitting Test cricket in order to prolong his limited-overs career, a move that was seen as self-centred by some former players including coach Waqar Younis. Pakistan needed Amir’s services in the Tests at the time to guide the rookie pacers, but his preference for the lucrative T20 leagues instead, proved controversial. Amir finished as Pakistan’s best bowler in the 2019 World Cup with 17 wickets but the team could not get into the semi-finals. His poor form this year did not see him get selected for the home series against Zimbabwe and he was overlooked for the New Zealand tour in a massive squad of 35, which was perhaps the last straw. In the final analysis, Amir squandered his own chances too often to survive in a career that had a dream beginning but a sad end.



Heavily in debt

PAKISTAN’S foreign debt and liabilities have been increasing rapidly over the last several years. The government is forced to borrow heavily from external sources — including multilateral and bilateral creditors, and commercial lenders — in order to meet its foreign debt repayment obligations, as well as to finance its budget, development and imports.
Its growing need for dollars has compelled the country to periodically knock at the doors of the IMF over the last three decades, at the cost of economic growth, to avert potential defaults on foreign repayment obligations and shore up forex reserves. With cheaper and softer bilateral and multilateral flows becoming scarce, the government’s reliance on expensive foreign commercial debt is rising. In November alone, it was forced to borrow $1.1bn from commercial lenders, pushing up the total debt flows in the first five months of the present financial year to $4.5bn. According to the economic affairs ministry, the new debt inflows so far constitute 37pc of the annual budget estimates of foreign borrowings of $12.4bn for the entire fiscal.
There are multiple reasons why Pakistan has turned into a heavily indebted nation. The exponential growth in foreign debt levels underscores that the country has been unable to attract adequate non-debt-creating, long-term inflows like FDI or increase its exports, which remain stuck at $23bn-$24bn a year, to meet its external account requirements. The extremely low level of formal domestic savings as reflected by banking deposits means that the government would have to depend on foreign savings to finance its budgetary operations as well as for balance-of-payments support. For example, almost 87pc, or $3.9bn, of the total loans taken in the last five months were meant for balance-of-payments or budgetary support. Similarly, the failure to reform the tax system and increase revenue collection is a major factor behind heavy domestic and foreign borrowings by the government.
The fact that Pakistan’s external debt continues to accumulate and it has to borrow more dollars to repay its old loans suggests that the country has actually been caught in a debt trap. Since July 1, 2018, the government has accumulated $23.6bn in foreign debt. The external debt rose by $10.7bn in the last financial year and $8.4bn in 2018-19 with debt servicing becoming the largest budget expense.



Afghan Taliban visit

THE Afghan peace process is in a critical phase as several developments within and outside Afghanistan are likely to have an impact on negotiations. Firstly, a new administration will enter the White House in January, and it remains to be seen if Joe Biden will continue Donald Trump’s policy of pulling American troops out of Afghanistan, or adopt a different path. Moreover, there is little forward movement in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, though the fact that negotiations are continuing is in itself positive. This is especially true considering the fact that both sides continue to talk peace and make war at the same time. Considering all these variables, the recent visit to Pakistan by a high-powered Taliban delegation carries much weight. On Friday, the delegation representing the Doha-based Taliban Political Commission led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar met the prime minister in Islamabad. According to the PM Office both sides discussed progress on the Afghan peace process while Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated the fact that there is “no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan”. Indeed, nearly two decades after the US invaded Afghanistan, and the Taliban took up arms against foreign forces, this fact is very much evident. Earlier, the Taliban delegation also met the foreign minister, with Shah Mahmood Qureshi saying the next round of intra-Afghan dialogue was due to begin on Jan 5, though questions remain about the venue.
From this point on, it is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan government and the Taliban to take the peace process forward and attain a workable solution. This will no doubt be difficult, mainly because violence has not stopped in Afghanistan even as peace talks continue. For example, while the Taliban delegation was visiting this country, at least 13 policemen were killed in Afghanistan. If peace talks are to succeed, such acts of violence must end, especially those that target civilians. The Taliban political wing must let their field units know that attacks risk jeopardising talks. While foreign forces can contribute to peace in Afghanistan by not interfering in its internal affairs and facilitating dialogue between Afghan factions, it is the country’s internal stakeholders — the government, the Taliban and tribal/ ethnic leaders — who hold the key to peace. That is why Kabul and the Taliban must put in all-out efforts to make the peace process succeed, or risk extending Afghanistan’s war.

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