Pakistan Reader# 92, 29 November 2018
Internally - economy, energy and extremism, and externally relations with China, US and India will determine Imran’s achievements and failures.D. Suba Chandran
Hundred days is short a period to evaluate the performance of a new government. However, the world over, the first hundred days of any government generates certain interest. In Imran Khan’s case, it was much more, as he himself had set a certain target for his first 100 days in power.
Is Imran on track regarding what he has promised? Or, are there likely to be more “U-turns” for which he is severely criticised inside Pakistan?
One could identify the following six issues as major areas of concern during Imran’s first hundred days: economic situation and the dialogue with the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Aasiya Bibi and the political rise of the TLP; Imran’s visits to Saudi Arabia and China; Pakistan’s relations with the US and India; resumption of terrorist attacks; and stabilizing civil-military relations.
This is a different and difficult Century
First, congratulations are in order for Imran Khan. It may not be a great beginning, but, is not a bad one either. For the problems surmounting Pakistan, when he took over as the Prime Minister cannot be addressed in 100 days or in a few years.
Imran’s “Moth-eaten Pakistan” moment
Many of the present day crises that Pakistan is facing are not his creation or of his party. The PML-N and the PPP will have to share the primary blame, along with the Deep State in Pakistan for where the country today is on economic, political and security fronts.
When he took over as the Prime Minister, Imran should have complained of having to govern a “moth-eaten Pakistan”! Jinnah, in a different context in 1947 commented on getting a “truncated or mutilated moth-eaten Pakistan.” In 2018, when Imran Khan became the Prime Minister for the first time, the country was facing serious internal and external challenges due to misgovernance. It was not a truncated Pakistan in terms of territory, when Imran became the PM in August 2018, but in terms of economy, internal security and external relations.
The “U-turn PM”: Imran Khan as a better bowler than a batsman
It is not easy to make changes in 100 days. Nor is Imran known for his centuries! During his cricketing days, though he was one of the greatest all-rounders of his days (along with Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee), Imran was a better bowler than a batsman. The statistics (six centuries as a batsman vs 362 wickets as a bowler in test matches, and one century and 182 wickets in one-day internationals) would reveal that he could make the opposition dance to his balls, than his ability to score against them.
In a nutshell, it is easier to be in opposition and be critical of the government. It is also easier to make promises of what one would do, if he is voted to power. It is a different ball-game when one becomes the Prime Minister. Imran’s comments on his “U-turns” should be based on a realisation. He was quoted to have stated: “Leaders should always be ready to take U-turns according to the requirement of their duties and best interests of the nation. One who doesn't take decisions according to the demand of the situation is not a true leader.”
Perhaps, one could do a different analysis on Imran’s U-turns before and after getting elected as the Prime Minister. A harsh critic would even provide details of Imran’s U-turns even after becoming the Prime Minister. Remember that brave speech of Imran on the eve of TLP’s protest announcement following the judiciary’s verdict on Aasiya Bibi, and his subsequent falling flat to reach an understanding with Khadim Rizvi?
The Hundred Days Selfie
The hundred days calculation assume importance, not just because the opposition and the rest find it as a yardstick to critique Imran’s performance. It is significant because Imran himself has talked about making change in a hundred days. Imran has an innovative website - http://pm100days.pmo.gov.pk, with clear projections and self-ranking!
His 100 days chart lists the following six as major thrust areas: Transform Governance; Strengthen the Federation; Revitalise Economic Growth; Uplift Agriculture and Conserve Water; Revolutionalise Social Services; and Ensure Pakistan’s National Security. Within the above six areas, the website looks at numerous other issues/yardsticks and evaluate the same as where they stand – whether they are completed or under progress.
For an outsider, where does Pakistan stand after Imran’s first hundred days?
It’s the economy, stupid. And Energy.
The biggest issue that Imran Khan has faced in the first hundred days is undoubtedly finding a way out of Pakistan’s economic crisis.
Imran’s government has multiple plans and strategies to kickstart the economy. For example, the new government wants rapid creation of jobs for the youth, revive the manufacturing industries and address Pakistan’s energy challenges. The last one is the most crucial to achieving the second (improving the manufacturing), and thereby addressing the first (creation of jobs).
Pakistan’s energy security poses the most significant challenge to the country’s economic development. In turn, it slows down exports and reduces job opportunities – creating social and economic problems. Imran Khan cannot be blamed for Pakistan’s energy situation. Successive PPP and PML-N governments since the 1990s have ensured that politics and corruption killed Pakistan’s energy production. Musharraf came with tall claims but did not make much amends.
Back to Imran Khan. The clear and present danger that Imran Khan faced when he became the PM was Pakistan’s economic situation. According to The News report, in early November, Pakistan was “in need of an estimated $12 billion to support its external account sector for the current fiscal year of 2018/19. The country’s foreign reserves have plummeted 42 percent since January to around eight billion dollars, barely sufficient to cover two months of imports.” (Mehtab Haider, The News, 7 November 2018)
Asad Umar made the following statement on Pakistan’s economy during October 2018: “Right now, we have an $18 billion deficit and $9bn of debt repayment [due] this year, which brings the total to $27 billion ... we cannot afford that…After taking monetary and fiscal measures, in my opinion, our financing gap for this year will be around $12 billion. That sum we are trying to solve through a package, which will include one-time inflows as well as elements of trade financing.” (Dawn, 20 October 2018).
Clearly, the economic situation for Pakistan is serious. How did Imran address the same?
The IMF: To talk or not to
On the economy front, the bigger problem that Imran had to address was whether to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans or not. Almost like the NPT and CTBT nationalism that had emerged in the 1990s, there has been a rhetoric and jingoism within Pakistan in approaching the IMF. The domestic debate on approaching the IMF became hardened when a statement from the US linked the IMF support and debt repayment to China.
Even within the PTI, one could track the same. Imran himself stated in October 2018 that Pakistan may not approach the IMF. Three months after, one could see the initial rhetoric from the PTI in seeking help from the IMF.
Besides the economic jingoism, there was also a misplaced expectation that China and Saudi Arabia would bail out Pakistan – leading to Imran losing substantial time in approaching the IMF. Referring to “friendly countries”, Imran was quoted to have stated: “Their response is positive. I am quite hopeful that we will not have to approach the IMF for our economic needs.” (The News, 18 October 2018)
So, the biggest challenge that Imran Khan has faced in the first hundred days was addressing Pakistan’s economy and formulating an IMF strategy. One could see those who talked about not approaching the IMF, silently shifting from their jingoism to a more pragmatic approach. Though there is still strong rhetoric of “one last time” concerning Pakistan approaching the IMF, Imran Khan and his team should have realised by now, that they have no other option.
Approaching the IMF would mean, a larger challenge for Imran when he completes 200 days. The negotiations that have been initiated now, is not going to be an easy walk. Imran will find the IMF laying a bouncy pitch for Pakistan in the next few months; this would mean the government will have to initiate harsh measures across the board within the country.
Saudi Arabia and China: Higher than the Himalayas on Friendship, but weaker on the Bailout
The first trip that Imran Khan took was to Saudi Arabia. It should not have been an easy decision for Imran Khan to approach Saudi Arabia. The Khashoggi murder issue was at its peak when Imran landed in Riyadh. Back in Pakistan, there have been a series of debate within the Parliament during the last two years emphasising that Islamabad keep away from Riyadh’s attempts towards a regional military bloc.
However, for Imran, approaching Saudi Arabia was important, keeping in mind his rhetoric against approaching the IMF for financial support. In this context, Imran Khan did succeed in gaining substantial financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has promised around six billion USD; in November 2018, the State Bank of Pakistan had confirmed that it had received a billion from Riyadh.
However, there were questions within Pakistan concerning what did Imran agree in return to getting that grant. Did Imran agree to support Saudi Arabia in the latter’s disastrous war against Yemen? Will Pakistan’s support to Saudi Arabia lead Islamabad getting into the Middle East Cold War led by Riyadh and Tehran? These are serious worries, but he has kept the questions under wrap and refused to answer them. These were the precise queries that he would have asked and called for transparency, had he been in the opposition.
The biggest disappointment for Imran Khan during the first hundred days should have been his China visit. Based on the statements from Imran’s team before and after their Beijing trip on the IMF, one could easily sense that China was not too keen to commit to further funds outside the CPEC to bail out Pakistan. Alternatively, perhaps, what China wanted was too much for the new team to commit. One had to wait and find out. A reasonable guess based on China’s earlier interests and approaches should force one to conclude that Beijing asked more than what Islamabad and Imran could chew. China has been insisting on making yuan a legal tender in Pakistan, and also in signing an FTA; economists in Pakistan have been cautioning against the same.
While one may find it difficult to figure out what had happened during Imran’s China visit, the conclusions are clear. Beijing is not likely to provide a similar package that Saudi Arabia has committed to already. Perhaps, Imran Khan was expecting a generous package, helping his government not to approach the IMF.
Perhaps the friendship is permanently deeper than the ocean, but presently the Chinese pockets are not to bail out Pakistan! China’s CPEC investments in Pakistan, Beijing’s expectations in return and Islamabad’s dilemma on the same needs a separate analysis and is outside the purview of this essay.
Aasiya Bibi and the TLP Trouble
As opposition, Imran bowled multiple bouncers at the PML-N. He made his pitch against Sharif, and before against Zardari; using the containers, he brought Islamabad to a standstill. Both Zardari and Sharif, especially the latter did not know how to respond to Imran’s matches under the headlights in Islamabad in front of the Parliament. “Container protests” became PTI’s contribution to the protest politics in Pakistan. Imran used it successfully against Zardari and Sharif.
Now it is Imran’s turn to be at the receiving end. The sharpest bouncer came surprisingly not in the Parliament, but outside it. It all started with the Supreme Court deciding to release Aasiya Bibi, an innocent Christian woman who has been languishing in jail after being accused of blasphemy. The judicial verdict was clear – to release her.
Imran did not expect that this verdict would create such a storm within Pakistan. However, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi found it as a tremendous opportunity. The TLP had tasted success in the recent elections; though it had not won seats, it has polled substantial votes and gained more percentage of votes than the leading religious, political parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and both the factions of the JUI.
The TLP was getting ready in October 2018 itself for the protest, expecting that Aasiya Bibi would be released by the judiciary. According to reports, the “TLP directed its local leaders across the country to start holding sit-ins within hours without waiting for a decision by the central leadership, if she is freed (by the judiciary)” (Dawn, 13 October 2018)
The TLP returned to its protest politics, something Imran Khan and the PTI used successfully against Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan made a brave speech underlining State’s writ and warned the TLP against protests. He warned in an address to the nation, “Do not take us [to a situation] where we are compelled to take [strict] action…If an attempt is made to do it, I want to make it clear that the state will fulfil its responsibility and protect the lives and properties of people.” (Dawn, 1 November 2018)
The people at large were with Imran’s warning and against TLP’s blackmail. Congratulating the judiciary, an editorial in Dawn observed, “The Supreme Court judges have shown courage and integrity by upholding justice in the Aasiya Bibi case, as have others in similar cases in the past,” and even urged the Parliament to “urgently consider how to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy law and end the impunity for those who make false allegations.”
Unfortunately, the TLP went ahead with its blackmail, and Imran Khan retracted to sign an understanding with the protesters in the name of avoiding bloodshed. The News in its editorial remarked: “The PTI government has negotiated as complete a surrender as possible. For three days, the TLP’s violent members shut down the nation’s cities, threatened law and order and routinely called for mass assassinations of the country’s leaders…The only reaction to this document of surrender should be shame.” (The News, 4 November 2018)
For Imran, the deal with the TLP should be a shameful retreat and the worst of all U-turns he had in the first hundred days. The State’s surrender to the TLP, and the latter’s rise will come back to haunt Imran, when he finishes his first year in office.
Militancy led by the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch militants and the ISIS affiliates in Pakistan are a concern, as the recent attacks on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi and sectarian attack in Orakzai would reflect. However, growing extremism and its new political space will be a bigger problem for Imran Khan.
India and the US:
Imran between Modi and Trump
US-Pakistan relations was at its worst when Imran became the Prime Minister. Ever since the Trump tweet on 1 January, the relations between the two countries have been on a downward spiral.
The Trump administration further cut the aid and stopped military assistance to Pakistan as a part of its stick approach to force Islamabad to do more in Afghanistan. During September 2018, the US military cancelled $300 million in aid to Pakistan. Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi tried to give a new twist to the aid cut and claim that the “$300m was neither any aid nor assistance.” According to him it was Pakistan’s “share in Coalition Support Fund (CSF)…which Pakistan has already spent through its own resources and (the US) were to reimburse.” (Dawn, 3 September 2018) It was clear, that the US has been steadily cutting down its aid to Pakistan to gain more leverage. Imtiaz Gul aptly called it as the tipping point in Pakistan – US relations. (Daily Times, 3 September 2018)
At the international level, there was a pressure on Pakistan through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF ) to sever links with militant groups and take credible actions on controlling terror financing. Pakistan was placed under the FATF’s grey list, much before Imran became the Prime Minister. There were also statements from the US relating to IMF imposing tough conditions on Islamabad before providing an economic bailout to Pakistan.
When Imran took over, the relations with the US was bad. Besides, Imran was critical of the US and Islamabad-Washington relations when he was at the opposition. The first phone call from the US after Imran becoming the PM (by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) created more controversy than addressing crucial bilateral issues. Pompeo’s phone call to Imran and the subsequent statement issued by the US State Department created an uproar within Pakistan. Obviously, the issue was related to Pakistan taking decisive action against all militants within its soil.
Before he could stabilise US-Pak relations, came the recent Trump tweet accusing Pakistan of not doing enough. Imran had to respond with a list of what Pakistan had done. Whether the US is satisfied or not with Imran’s replies, certainly the latter has not made the relations better.
Imran’s real external challenge comes from the US, as he finishes the first hundred days. It would remain the same, when he completes one year in the office. Afghanistan and Pakistan’s actions against the militant groups will be the deciding factors; unfortunately, the Deep State is too entrenched on both the issues to give any space to Imran. Even if the Establishment provides space, one is not sure whether Imran will take a U-turn on the US. The current status of Pak-US relations and its likely trajectory needs a separate essay.
On the other hand, vis-a-vis India, in one of the boldest moves, Imran has announced the opening of Kartarpur, thereby unilaterally signalling a peace move. Though the Sikhs have been long asking for a corridor, a unilateral announcement towards the same by Imran has placed the ball on India’s court to respond. Before the ink could dry, he has talked about Kashmir as the single most important issue in relations with India.
Besides the US, India will be the next big challenge to Imran. The present establishment in India is not in a hurry to mend relations with Pakistan. Kartarpur or Kashmir, Modi’s team does not see Imran as a game-changer.
To conclude, both internally and externally, these are early days. However, the above issues are likely to be the decisive ones, when he finishes his first year in office. Internally - economy, energy and extremism, and externally relations with China, US and India will determine Imran’s achievements and failures.
Much will also depend on the civil-military relations, and how Imran gets along with the Deep State. On this count, it appears so far so good.
An abridged version of the above essay was first published in the Rising Kashmir