Dawn Editorial 20th July 2023

Turning back migrants

THE inhumane and deeply problematic migration legislation that for months has passed between the UK parliament’s House of Commons and House of Lords is becoming the law, and awaits the king’s assent. People now crossing the Channel and approaching the UK in small boats will face harsh policies which will either force them to return or leave them in limbo. Without consideration, their asylum claims will be deemed inadmissible. The development prompted the UN to condemn the passage of the law as a “breach of international law” and warned it would expose refugees to “grave risks”.

The bill, which ostensibly aims to address irregular migration, goes against the basic principles of compassion and human rights. Instead of offering practical solutions, the law will exacerbate the hardships of vulnerable individuals seeking safety. It is unlikely that these new policies will prove an effective deterrent against illegal crossings, as traumatised people fleeing war and economic hardship will continue to take desperate measures to reach safety. Putting such people in detention facilities without considering their individual circumstances will compound their physical suffering and mental distress. It is also unclear where individuals who cross the Channel will be sent. Sending them to their countries of origin, particularly in cases like Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, is neither feasible nor conscionable. It is crucial for Britain to establish comprehensive plans that include viable options for resettlement, integration and protection of those seeking asylum, in accordance with its international obligations. The UK government has often justified these harsh measures as necessary due to an ‘overwhelmed’ asylum system that is costing taxpayers heavily, but it is not clear how these laws will iron out the complications, nor is it evident that costs will be reduced. The policies are both flawed and steeped in lack of empathy, and will, unfortunately, inspire other countries in Europe to follow suit, given how contentious the debate around illegal migration is everywhere.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

A new INDIA?

AFTER nearly a decade of BJP-led rule, disparate opposition parties in India have decided to bury the hatchet and put up a combined fight to dislodge the Hindu nationalist incumbents in next year’s general elections. Announced in Bengaluru, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance brings together some strange bedfellows. Along with centrist heavyweights such as Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, the INDIA grouping brings together parties belonging to the hard right, such as Uddhav Thackeray’s faction of the Shiv Sena, to at least three different communist parties. There are also several regional parties on board, including those representing South Indian states. The common denominator is, of course, to send the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance packing next year, and rebuilding a more inclusive India. As Congress head Mallikarjun Kharge put it, the parties have “come together to protect the interests of Indian people”. Mercifully, the INDIA parties are speaking of restoring democratic and human values, many of which have been bulldozed by the BJP sarkar in its quest to build a Hindu rashtra. In a resolution passed at the Bengaluru meeting, the alliance parties have declared their intention to protect “secular democracy, economic sovereignty, social justice and federalism” which they say have been “menacingly undermined” during the BJP’s watch. The alliance’s pledge to stop violence against India’s minorities must also be soothing to the ears of that country’s Muslims, Christians and followers of other faiths.

While the new alliance holds a lot of promise, especially for India’s minorities as well as other downtrodden communities that have been crushed by the Hindutva machine, the fact is that large, ideologically diverse groupings can be notoriously unwieldy, and it will take the combined political wisdom of the INDIA parties to send the BJP and its allies home. The BJP/RSS juggernaut will naturally pull out all the stops, particularly demonising Pakistan, Muslims and other minorities, to appeal to its rabid voter base, and attract the increasingly chauvinistic Indian middle classes. Talk of forming a Uniform Civil Code — in essence doing away with religious personal law as applicable to minorities — should be seen in this perspective. There is also the slim hope that the INDIA parties may try to improve relations with Pakistan, though it is also true that undoing the BJP’s toxic legacy where bilateral ties go will be no easy task.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

IMF report

THE IMF’s staff report on its new, short-term bailout loan of $3bn for Pakistan is a damning indictment of the Shehbaz Sharif government’s economic and financial policies that deepened the trust gap between Islamabad and the lender, and pushed the country towards the precipice in the last nine months.

Policy missteps and breach of the previous Extended Fund Facility programme had compelled the lender to halt the disbursement of funds, closing the door on other multilateral and bilateral financing.

The IMF document, released on Tuesday, also spells out the programme’s goals, many of which, such as increased energy prices, will directly burden the people. It blames the finance ministry and State Bank for their frequent tinkering with the market-based exchange rate mechanism, leading to the growth of a large foreign exchange black market. It is also critical of the central bank for resisting a timely increase in interest rates.

That is not all. The report points out that the government balked at maintaining fiscal discipline, cutting non-essential spending, broadening the tax net, controlling the drivers of the power sector’s circular debt, and improving SOE governance.

In view of its experience with Pakistani authorities, the IMF has warned that continuation of the new programme will depend on the implementation of fiscal discipline, a return to a market-determined exchange rate and proper functioning of the foreign exchange market, a tight monetary policy aimed at disinflation, and progress on structural reforms, particularly with regard to the energy sector, SOEs and climate resilience.

The report also cautions against the “exceptionally high” downside risks to the Stand-by Arrangement goals emanating from a tense political environment and potential deviation from agreed policies. Such risks could undermine the programme’s implementation, and jeopardise macro-financial and external stability and debt sustainability, leading Pakistan to seek foreign debt restructuring.

Additionally, it says that external financing risks remain high, and delays in disbursement of external financing from IFIs and bilateral creditors would endanger the fragile external balance given limited buffers. Spillovers from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through high food and fuel prices, and tighter global financial conditions continue to put pressure on the budget.

Highlighting Pakistan’s large gross financing needs of $28.3bn, including the $6.4bn current account deficit, during this fiscal year, it stresses that multilateral and bilateral support will remain critical for Pakistan beyond the upcoming elections and the SBA.

It is a foregone conclusion that the next government will need another, longer-term IMF programme to resolve structural challenges and meet high external debt obligations over the next few years. For that to happen, the country has to achieve the SBA goals, come what may.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

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