Dawn Editorial 28th September 2023

Kandhkot tragedy

THE tragic incident that unfolded yesterday in Sindh’s Kandhkot tehsil, leading to the deaths of at least nine people, serves as a grim reminder of the hazards lurking in our surroundings. The explosion, reportedly caused by ‘rocket launcher’ ordnance, raises several questions that demand immediate answers. For one: how did such a deadly warhead end up in the area? It is concerning enough that in Pakistan’s tribal districts, children routinely fall victim to unexploded ordnances — a dark inheritance of past conflicts — but for this to occur in Sindh points to a larger issue that goes beyond the mere remnants of war. The incident underscores the need to ramp up the ongoing police and Rangers operation against armed gangs that have long plagued upper Sindh. The presence of such explosives suggests an escalation in the firepower available to criminal elements. This is why it is imperative that our law-enforcement agencies not only work towards apprehending these gangs but also ensure that such armament doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

The nation must also reflect. While much effort has gone into combating terrorism and security has been placed in flashpoint areas, latent threats posed by unexploded ordnances must not be overlooked. The safety of our citizens, especially children, is paramount, and so, mechanisms must be instituted to identify and safely dispose of such hazards. It is high time that the provincial and federal governments collaborated more closely on security matters. No longer must armament from conflicts wreak havoc on our communities. We owe it to the victims in Kandhkot and countless others across the country, to ensure that no more lives are lost to such avoidable tragedies. The onus is now on our authorities to not only determine the source of the ordnance but to bring the culprits involved in its procurement to justice. Our citizens deserve answers. And above all, safety, in their own land.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2023

Israeli normalisation

OVER the past few weeks, there have been many reports prophesising the impending normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If this development comes to pass, it would be a monumental shift in global geopolitics: the keeper of Islam’s holiest sites would be establishing ties with a state widely viewed across the Muslim world as an occupying power that has smothered the Palestinian people for decades. The Americans are certainly working overtime to make it happen, as President Joe Biden would love to use a peace deal as a trophy in international statesmanship he can flaunt come election time in the US next year. While covert Saudi-Israeli relations were reportedly being cultivated for years — apparently due to a common enemy in the shape of Iran — today normalisation efforts are very much in the open. Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, told a US network that normalisation was moving forward “every day”, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the UN General Assembly that Tel Aviv was “at the cusp” of peace with the Saudis. Moreover, Israel’s tourism minister landed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to attend a UN event — the first time an Israeli minister has led an official delegation to the kingdom. At the same time, a Saudi delegation was in Ramallah to assure the Palestinians they had not been abandoned.

Proponents of Saudi-Israeli peace say a deal will result in a new age of brotherhood where Arab and Jews will live in amity, and that critics of the move are merely malcontents frozen in time. However, a cursory glance at Arab-Israeli relations over the past three decades paints a different picture. The Oslo Accords of 1993 were supposed to spell the beginning of the end of the conflict, paving the way for Palestinian statehood. But today, the Oslo framework lies in tatters, with the occupation strengthened, and the Palestinian people still chafing under the Israeli stranglehold. Will a Saudi-Israeli deal promise a viable Palestinian state, with a guaranteed right of return, no more settlements and East Jerusalem as its capital? This would be nothing less than a diplomatic miracle. If the Saudis can pull it off, hats off to them. But history points to a darker reality — that the Palestinian nightmare will likely continue, as their Arab ‘brothers’ make peace with their tormentors.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2023

Accruing more debt

THE government has issued new debt of over Rs2.5tr during the first three months of the current financial year to finance its burgeoning fiscal deficit — the gap between its revenues and expenditures — according to new estimates of a Karachi-based brokerage firm.

The new borrowing is nearly 57pc of the total debt of Rs4.4tr it had auctioned during FY23. The issuance of additional debt underlines the government’s shrinking tax and other revenues, increased spending and growing reliance on domestic sources to fund its budgeted expenditures as external financing dries up.

External financing shrank to its seven-month low of $316m in August. Cumulatively, Islamabad secured external financing of $3.2bn in July and August, which also includes Saudi deposits of $2bn and a guaranteed loan of $508m for the PAF.

This shows that expectations that multilateral and bilateral partners would allow their coffers to flow to help Pakistan’s distressed economy, following the IMF’s nod to the Stand-by Arrangement, were very exaggerated.

The government is also facing difficulties in securing $6bn through commercial loans and has dollar bond issues. Chances of achieving the budgeted external financing target of $17.6bn for its expenditures and of meeting its foreign debt and other payments are slim.

Last year, the government was able to obtain $10.8bn in external financing and had to impose strict restrictions on imports and even on legitimate dollar outflows to avoid defaulting.

The centre has been running a large, unsustainable fiscal deficit of around 7pc of GDP for the last many years, which is the main reason for the accumulation of its huge domestic and foreign public debt, external sector fragility and inflation.

The pace of debt accumulation has picked up in recent years. This is especially true for domestic public debt, which has grown to around Rs39tr from over Rs30tr a year ago, because of reduced external inflows. Successive governments have tried to justify the worsening fiscal imbalance on the basis of economic development targets.

But these excuses are used only to mask the reality. The fact is that we are in the midst of the worst and longest economic crisis in our history because of the lavish lifestyles of powerful interests at the expense of the people and the well-being of the economy.

The World Bank’s country chief had alluded to this a few days back when he pointed fingers at the country’s military, business and political elites for the economic mess we are struggling to resolve today.

Pakistan is facing an existential crisis that has severely impacted the majority of its citizens, especially the low- and middle-income segments and small businesses.

Mounting debt and dwindling foreign exchange reserves are two of our biggest challenges, which, without immediate fiscal reform, could lead to total economic collapse.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2023

October 3, 2023

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