EVENTS seem to be repeating themselves in Gwadar, as supporters of the Haq Do Tehreek , led by Jamaat-i-Islami’s Maulana Hidayatur Rahman, have been protesting in the port city for two months or so, mirroring last year’s massive demonstrations. However, matters turned ugly on Monday following a strike call as police and the protesters faced off. The law enforcers resorted to tear-gassing demonstrators as a mob tried to attack a police station, resulting in several arrests. The Balochistan home minister says the protesters were trying to block the port and police had “no option” but to resort to forceful measures. The HDT has been staging protests for a number of demands, including the banning of illegal trawlers in Balochistan’s waters, a reduction of security checkpoints, as well as the liberalisation of trade with neighbouring Iran. The violence erupted after negotiations between officials and HDT representatives broke down.
While violence cannot be condoned, the state needs to handle this issue with care. The fact is that many of the HDT’s demands are justified, and reflect the deeper malaise affecting Balochistan, as many of the province’s people feel they are not getting the fruit of ‘development’ that projects such as CPEC and others are supposed to bring. While critics say the HDT chief has political aspirations, the fact is that he has struck a chord with the people of Makran, who feel the establishment-backed politicians, as well as the nationalists, have failed to deliver. Instead of cracking down on the protesters, the state needs to resolve the impasse and address the people’s genuine problems and continue the dialogue process. Instead of more promises, the people of Balochistan need action on the ground, so that they become the principal beneficiaries of development in their own province. Considering decades of neglect, it will take time to address the people’s grievances, but the government needs to deal with the issues with compassion and understanding, rather than resorting to the use of force.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022
THERE has been a consistent, significant outflow of dollars from Pakistan to Afghanistan ever since the US froze the war-ravaged country’s reserves following the Taliban takeover in summer last year. Until then, Afghanistan had been a notable exporter of dollars — poured into its economy by the US — to Pakistan for years. Thus, the reversal of Afghan fortunes has had a considerable impact on Pakistan’s weakening external sector, as stressed by the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan on Monday.
The association has said that the large-scale, illegal outflow of the greenback to Afghanistan, along with other much-discussed factors such as the trade and current account deficits and diminishing multilateral and bilateral inflows, has eroded Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves. The unhindered flow of the American currency to Afghanistan has created a crisis for Pakistan, the association officials said at a presser.
According to them, in addition to US sanctions on the Taliban regime, Kabul’s directions to its citizens to convert their large Pakistani rupee holdings into dollars or other foreign currencies had ramped up the greenback’s flow towards Afghanistan in recent months. According to Ecap, Afghans were no longer allowed to keep more than half a million worth of Pakistani currency, and any person found in violation of this order would be tried under the anti-money laundering laws.
That the State Bank restriction limiting the annual personal foreign exchange allowance to $6,000 for travellers hasn’t succeeded in arresting this illegal flow of foreign exchange underlines the corruption and weaknesses that define Customs control at the Pak-Afghan border. Surprisingly, no administrative measure adopted over the last one year to stop dollar smuggling across the country’s western frontier has produced the desired results, barring the occasional arrest for attempting to take out the hard currency in large amounts. The illegitimate dollar outflow is one of the many factors that have brought Pakistan’s exchange rate under immense pressure in recent months and contributed to market dislocation, resulting in different exchange rates in the interbank and open markets. There are no two opinions on the need to plug the illegitimate dollar flows from the country to Afghanistan.
However, the dollar outflow is not restricted to Afghanistan, as shown by the arrest of three Gulf-bound passengers and the recovery of $60,000 from them. Pakistan needs to strengthen its controls at its land borders and ports to ward off the dollar’s flight from the country, be it in any direction.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022
IT is telling of the general bankruptcy of our national etiquette that our leaders have soiled even the time-honoured tradition of diplomatic gift-giving with their piteous greed. The Toshakhana was once a solemn entity, quietly cataloguing and collecting the diplomatic gifts received by Pakistan’s representatives during exchanges with their counterparts from other nations. Some of these gifts were presented by heads of state, others by royals, yet others by those of different but no less important social and political stature. Tradition dictated that these gifts were never meant for the individual they were presented to; rather, they were tokens of welcome and appreciation for the office and people represented by the person receiving them. Because they were exchanged on special occasions or in special circumstances, each of these gifts would have a unique significance. It would offer important clues as to what the giver thought important at the time: for example, why they thought it appropriate for the individual it was presented to, and what impression about their country, or even themselves, they were trying to leave behind.
In any moderately self-respecting society, tokens of such great diplomatic and historical significance would have been housed in a museum for the general public to appreciate. Unfortunately for us, the men and women who have had the privilege of representing our country in high-level diplomatic exchanges seem to have generally lacked such refinement or decorum. Like greedy magpies, they were unable to resist their instincts when presented with shiny objects. So pitiful has their behaviour been that there have been instances where gifts have quietly been pocketed without ever being declared in the official record. Even when gifts were deposited in the Toshakhana, our leaders sought to make away with them for as little as they could give in return. The list of names is long and includes political and nonpolitical leaders alike.
Clearly, some changes need to be made to the Toshakhana rules. The public does not necessarily need to know which dignitary has given what, and such records may be kept secret to avoid any diplomatic embarrassment. However, the public must know which politician is retaining a gift from the Toshakhana, what its market value could be, and what is being paid in return. The percentage of the assessed market value of a gift required to be paid to retain it also needs to be increased substantially so that our leaders are discouraged from treating the Toshakhana as a yard sale for invaluable objects. These measures may help prevent the abuse of privileges that come with representing the state, while also inviting greater scrutiny of our leaders’ finances. It is time to end the shameful disrespect of diplomatic niceties. It has repeatedly embarrassed us as a nation, as well as those foreign nations that have found themselves caught up in our petty scandals.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022