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Pakistan has a new best friend this week — Qatar

The public response to the deployment of the Pakistani armed forces in Qatar for the football world cup has been overwhelmingly negative.

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First a much-needed financial handout and then a security deal that will give security to FIFA World Cup 2022—Qatar is helping Pakistan in more ways than one this week.

The wealthy Arab nation has pledged $2 billion in bilateral support to help ease Pakistan’s funding crunch. But that’s not all. Pakistan is set to play a prominent role in FIFA World Cup 2022. Not as a player, but as a security blanket.

But many Pakistanis don’t see it as something encouraging. The public response to the deployment of the armed forces in Qatar for the event has been overwhelmingly negative. People have criticised the government for renting out the army for frivolous activities such as the world cup.

Pakistan federal cabinet has approved the agreement between Qatar and the Pakistan Armed Forces, which will see the army assist Doha in providing security at the world’s biggest and most high-profile football tournament.

These developments set the tone for Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s two-day visit to Qatar, at the invitation of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This will be Sharif’s first visit to Qatar since assuming office in April 2022, said news agencies in Pakistan.


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More help for Pakistan

It’s not just Qatar, but other friendly Arab countries that have also pledged funds to Pakistan ahead of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) board meeting on 29 August. In total, Pakistan has secured financing worth $4 billion, a prerequisite to reviving the stalled Fund programme.

Pakistan will get $1 billion in oil financing from Saudi Arabia and a similar amount in investments from the UAE. Murtaza Syed, the acting governor at the State Bank of Pakistan, told the media that all the funds are expected over the next 12 months.

Despite financial assistance coming in from different quarters, experts remain sceptical of Pakistan’s path to recovery. “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has, in an essay written for The Economist, called the IMF programme the “path to safety”. But political turmoil continues to cast a shadow over the economy. The nexus between economic recovery and political uncertainty is not to be underestimated,” wrote Maleeha Lodhi in her column for Dawn newspaper.

A report in the national daily The Express Tribune said that “the foreign currency inflows should also help stabilise the rupee, as additional inflows from friendly countries would increase supply of foreign currency compared to demand in the domestic economy.”


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Sharif in Qatar

Talks of the Pakistani Army providing security to Qatar during the World Cup had begun in 2019.

While Sharif is in Doha, he is expected to visit Doha’s ‘Stadium 974’ where he is to be briefed on the preparations undertaken by the Qatari leadership for the FIFA World Cup.

The Pakistan Army has been frequently used to provide security in the country. They have been called into action to guard 7000 poll booths, to assist during the Covid-19 waves in Islamabad, and even during Imran Khan’s Azadi march in Islamabad. However, this is the first time that the armed forces will assist in security in another country. The Navy and Airforce will also contribute to the contingent as soldiers.

The Pakistan Cricket Board too had sought the army’s assistance earlier this year when the country hosted Australia for the first time in 24 years amid security concerns.

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