Naya Pakistan's obscured run
The financial front weakens the spirit of the government as it sets out to resolve the refugee issue
The post-Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) era, steered ahead by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, confronts an opaque nebula of uncertainties afflicting the polity of the troubled state. High expectations about the romantic Naya Pakistan, promised by PTI chairman Imran Khan are halted by fault lines of toughening realities within weeks of his taking over as prime minister.
Obviously, the imminent threat is on the financial front, precisely a bail-out programme to prevent a major balance-of-payments crisis. The monthly Current Account Deficit rose to $2.2 billion in July, although it contracted to $600 million in August. Negotiations - Article IV consultations - with the International Monetary Fund began in Islamabad. The IMF staff team, led by senior economist and advisor Harald Finger, confronts a group led by the secretary of finance Arif Ahmed Khan, accompanied by the State Bank of Pakistan governor Tariq Bajwa. The estimated gross financing requirements for the ongoing fiscal year 2018-19, put forward by Islamabad, is somewhere between $26 billion and $29 billion. The perusal by the IMF team is scheduled to end by the next week. Pakistan is to place its financial papers for further talks before the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Bali, Indonesia, between 8 and 14 October.
The next important agenda is a solution for Afghan refugees, the 'undocumented people' in the lexicon of demography. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Pakistan is home to the largest refugee population in the world, with more than 1.45 million, mostly from Afghanistan, residing in the country for over three decades. Those shelter-less people have been treated humanely even when the Afghan war was at its peak, in contrast to what is being witnessed in Assam (India). The UNHCR's high appreciation for Pakistan is well-known. This policy helped Islamabad succeed in voluntarily repatriating 4.1 million. Pakistan's minister for states and frontier regions Abdul Qadir Baloch told members of the Pak-Afghan Track II Dialogue in Islamabad, "The refugees have nothing to do with the security situation. Also, there is no serious law and order issue or conflict witnessed between the local communities in Pakistan and Afghan refugees," the minister said as Pakistani leaders routinely cite the longer stay of refugees as one of the security issues.
The PTI-led government that carries forward the tradition of treating the Afghan brethren well is committed to other refugees in an identical way, which is why a parliamentary committee, comprising representatives from all parties, is to be formed for working out a strategy to decide the fate of Afghans, Biharis, and Bengalis residing in Pakistan. This was revealed by the minister for human rights Shireen Mazari in the National Assembly on a calling attention notice from members of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
She assured that the Afghan refugees would be provided with security, food, and shelter as they would be citizens of Pakistan but there are legal, political, and other issues involved in the process of their citizenship and for that, the parliamentary panel was suggested. Mazari added that although Pakistan was a signatory to the 1951 Refugees Convention, "it still can't banish the refugees from the country by force. But we need to know that the issue cannot linger on for long," very much in contrast to the present Indian government of the National Democratic Alliance.
But the tragedy lies in the sanguinary reality that even this humanitarian policy towards undocumented people will not help Pakistan improve relations with Afghanistan as the terrorists that have been waging war inside Afghanistan include Pakistanis hand in hand with Taliban combatants. According to a fairly recent report, "People from Pakistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are involved in the war in Ghazni." An Afghan lawmaker Erfanollah Erfan, referring to foreign fighters in Ghazni war, including Pakistani citizens, criticized Kabul's silence about this. "We ask the government to report this to the UN Security Council as soon as possible. It should share the data with the countries that have fighters in the Ghazni war as well," he said. Well-known Pakistani politician Afrasiab Khattak too sought an explanation from Islamabad to issue a clarification on Pakistani dead fighters in Ghazni war. "Pakistan government needs to explain reports about the dead bodies of Pakistani coming in from the war in Ghazni and Pakistani-fighters getting arrested."
The new government in Islamabad, criticised by Pakistan Today as 'infantile' for different reasons, considers fighting terrorism less important than curbing corruption. And the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has been accordingly directed to re-prioritise its strategy, according to the Lahore-based weekly, The Friday Times. "There are other agencies and organisations which were trained for anti-corruption efforts. IB should not do this. Its expertise is in countering terrorism and its focus should not be redirected towards corruption," said Ehsan Ghani, a recently retired former chief of the IB. Chosen to head the IB by erstwhile Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the days of Dr Khan, who proved his worth by energizing the Counter Terrorism Department to disempower the externally-nurtured extremists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, seem numbered.
If Naya Pakistan remains just a slogan, it will not weaken PTI alone.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)