Dawn Editorials 20th May 2023

HDT chief’s release

AFTER spending four months in custody, and petitioning the highest court of the land, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, leader of the Gwadar-based Haq Do Tehreek, was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Thursday. The maulana had shot to prominence in late 2021 after leading massive protests in Gwadar calling for the state to guarantee Makran’s civic rights. However, a face-off between supporters of the movement and law enforcers in December last year turned violent, and in the ensuing melee a police officer was shot dead. It is in this case that Mr Rehman was arrested in January after he had come to court reportedly to surrender himself. In his petition to the apex court, the maulana said the allegations against him were “baseless”, and that his movement was peaceful. While the HDT leader was in custody, protests calling for his release continued in his native area, with women at the forefront, while the Jamaat-i-Islami, with which Mr Rehman is affiliated, also campaigned for his release.

The sad fact is that the issues which had sparked the HDT largely remain unaddressed. It appears that the powers that be are uninterested in examining the deeper problems that cause movements like the HDT to take shape. Mr Rehman had struck a chord by highlighting the sense of deprivation Makran’s people feel as ‘development’ surrounds them. Unfortunately, the results of this development haven’t trickled down to the local population, as they remain deprived of many basic facilities. A similar situation persists across Balochistan, where the people of the province do not feel they are partners in progress; the province’s resources are extracted, though the people scarcely benefit. It is this sense of exploitation that gives birth to movements like HDT, that can metastasise into widespread alienation from the state. Locking out the maulana from Makran, or crushing his movement, will not make things better. Addressing the people’s concerns is the only solution.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2023

Elusive ‘terrorists’

A STRANGE game is playing out in Lahore. Punjab’s caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir has spent days proclaiming the presence of dozens of ‘terrorists’ inside PTI chairman Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence.

A government delegation entered Zaman Park yesterday, but reportedly only to discuss the terms of a search operation. It left without making a breakthrough. The PTI has been expecting foul play ever since Mr Khan was on Wednesday issued a 24-hour ultimatum to hand over individuals suspected of involvement in the May 9 violence.

The government is hunting for Mr Khan’s nephew, as well as several senior PTI leaders, and believes they are among other wanted men taking refuge at the property.

The PTI has roundly rejected the allegation, saying it fears that any ‘terrorists’ ever ‘recovered’ from Zaman Park will, in fact, have been ‘planted’ there during the police’s search operation.

Mr Khan himself has taken to various platforms to reject the allegation that he is harbouring any fugitives in his home. The party even opened up Zaman Park to local and international media this week as a pre-emptive measure, inviting neutral observers to make an independent assessment of the claims being made by the caretaker Punjab government.

Given how ‘normalised’ state excesses have become, it was reassuring to see that the Friday negotiation at least was conducted civilly. A deadlock still remains on how many policemen are to conduct the search, but it is hoped that the matter will be handled with wisdom and restraint. The presence of dozens of media persons at Zaman Park seems to have played a role in keeping a lid on the situation so far.

Abandoned and besieged by powerful quarters, Mr Khan now seems to be seeking the protection of the fourth estate. The cameras that followed the government delegation yesterday were a reminder of the power the press still holds when called on to check authority. The Punjab caretaker set-up must be asked what it is basing its claims on. Could they have been misguided?

Can the miscreants allegedly hiding in Zaman Park even present such a grave threat that hundreds of policemen will be needed to subdue them? One hopes that this isn’t just another provocation by a vengeful state. The targeting of PTI workers and sympathisers has turned into a rather ugly witch-hunt. It should stop somewhere.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2023

Gloomy days

PAKISTAN’S balance-of-payments troubles have spiralled into a full-blown economic crisis over the last several months. Amid stagnating growth and skyrocketing inflation, the crisis, exacerbated by sustained political conflict, has reached a point where it is threatening to destabilise the country as it faces the danger of sovereign default. The reasons are obvious.

Our ruling elites have borrowed heavily from just about everywhere to sustain their luxurious lifestyle for decades, without ever thinking that the world could one day stop financing or subsidising their extravagant ways.

The more immediate reason relates to the inability of our ruling classes to change their wasteful ways, despite warnings from our lenders and friends. It is not surprising that no one wants to fund us unless we make a strong commitment to implementing reforms and fixing our structural issues.

A report of the economic affairs ministry shows that Pakistan’s external financing pipeline is drying up. Multilateral, bilateral and commercial inflows (read: loans) went down by 38pc — or amount to just $8.1bn — in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year against over $13bn during the same period last year.

The amount is just 35.5pc of the $22.8bn full-year budget target for foreign financing. No wonder official foreign currency reserves have dwindled to $4.3bn as of last weekend — just enough to cover the bill of one month of controlled imports.

Former finance minister Miftah Ismail believes that the economic situation is going to be “very difficult” in the coming months, with liquid foreign exchange reserves likely to drop below the critical level of $2bn by the end of September.

With the IMF programme in limbo, because the Fund isn’t satisfied with Pakistan’s commitment to reform or its ability to arrange the required funds to meet external financing needs, our bilateral partners are also hesitant to step up. In such a scenario, with new elections expected in October, no one really knows where we will be — and in what condition — in the next few months.

According to IMF estimates, Pakistan will be required to make debt repayments or seek rollovers of nearly $75bn over the next three years. In order to repay its debt and avoid default, Pakistan must rapidly boost its earnings from exports, FDI and remittance inflows from overseas Pakistanis.

That is not going to happen overnight or without implementing key structural reforms to stabilise the economy. So Islamabad is left with only one option: take fresh loans and seek rollovers of existing foreign debt to stay afloat and avoid a formal default. That will not happen until the IMF programme is revived.

The alternative — debt restructuring — doesn’t sound pleasant in the current environment. In either case, we will have to first deal with the elephant in the room: political instability.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2023

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