Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter
File photo | Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter
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Claiming that there is no pandemic in the country and that Pakistanis should be allowed to celebrate the festival of Eid ul Fitr as they have always done, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered resumption of train services, other public transport, and opening of shopping centres. This, while Covid-19 cases rose to 43,000 and led to 924 deaths by 19 May.

Pakistan already has more coronavirus cases in proportion to its total population than other countries in South Asia. For comparison, the number of infected individuals in Bangladesh stood at 25,121 and India, which has a population six-times larger than Pakistan, reported 106,475 cases as on 19 May.

The slow and fumbled response of Pakistan’s civilian government led by Imran Khan and the Supreme Court’s arbitrary intervention have eroded the little remaining constitutional rule in the country. Even amidst the pandemic, Pakistan’s establishment is campaigning to do away with the 18th amendment to the constitution that expanded provincial autonomy.

The establishment hopes to reallocate resources away from provincial governments to the central authority because military spending and debt servicing are its main concern.

In days to come, the pandemic is only likely to exacerbate Pakistan’s fragilities. Its large and politically intrusive military, and nuclear weapons capability, will not suffice in warding off a massive economic downturn.


Also read: Pakistan learnt nothing from close friend China on fighting Covid. Xi trusts in science


Chaotic crisis management

One way of reorienting the economy is to court Western companies that are planning to leave China but Pakistan’s strategic outlook makes that difficult.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s federal government was not ready or prepared to deal with this pandemic and initially pretended there was nothing serious to worry about. Pakistan did not evacuate its citizens (primarily students) from Wuhan and flights and movement between hotspots like China – and Iran – were kept open long after the rest of the world had suspended travel.

It took weeks after the first case for the Imran Khan government to announce containment measures, quarantining more than 3,000 travellers from Iran, closing borders with neighbouring countries, imposing international travel restrictions, and putting in place social distancing measures. Most provincial governments made their own rules on lockdown and restrictions in the absence of a national response, further jeopardising Pakistan’s fight against the coronavirus.

The government’s measures faced resistance from religious groups who do not want any restrictions on religious observations and gatherings. This led to serious consequences. The Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic fundamentalist group, had their annual gathering during Covid-19, and 20,000 of them had to be subsequently quarantined.

Even before the Supreme Court’s intervention, Pakistan allowed congregational prayers in Ramadan, which were suspended in several Muslim countries and at Islam’s key holy sites. The Imran Khan government deferred to clerics, creating the likelihood of the virus further spreading during Ramadan.

In addition to empowering the mullahs, the Covid-19 crisis has further diminished civilian rule in Pakistan. Civil-military relations had so far been good under Imran Khan because he was clearly the military’s protégé. But now the military is openly taking major decisions, which constitutionally fall within the civilians’ domain, doing away even with the pretence of civilian decision-making.


Also read: Imran Khan is binge-watching Ertuğrul during Covid, recommending Turkish shows to Pakistanis


Downward economic spiral

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s battered economy is headed for a further crash. The IMF has projected that Pakistan’s economy will shrink in 2020, with a negative growth rate of 1.5 per cent. A drastic reduction is also expected in remittances from the Gulf and it is unlikely that investment will increase any time soon.

In end-March, the Imran Khan government announced a relief package of Pakistan Rs 1,200 billion ($5.5 billion) for cash transfers to low-income families, and even for electricity payment relief. But the package did little to deal with the underlying weakness of the economy, including the potential for diminished exports and remittances, and high indebtedness.

In April 2020, to tide over Covid-19, Pakistan requested and obtained from the IMF a loan of $1.4 billion under a Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI). But further borrowing without increased productivity will only aggravate Pakistan’s economic predicament. Already low tax collection is likely to fall even further now that taxpayers will have less income because of the coronavirus lockdown.


Also read: Pakistan military won’t take budget cuts easily, even for Covid. So this man has been hired


 

Beyond national security state

Pakistan could avoid some of these consequences by changing its strategic orientation. Instead of focusing on juggling debt, the government could put forth a bold plan to try and attract American and Japanese companies that are now leaving China. Japan has offered incentives to companies that would relocate production outside China and Pakistan could give incentives for that relocation.

For that to happen, Pakistan would have to mend fences with India and Afghanistan, and redefine itself as something other than a national security state.

But Pakistan’s response to Covid-19 shows that the country’s establishment prioritises its strategic relationship with China over caring for its own people or dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. Pakistan has already become a centre for conspiracy theories, accusing the US and UK of ‘creating’ the coronavirus as part of biological and ‘chemical’ warfare experiments.

Even after the pandemic goes away, the effects of this propaganda will linger, and Pakistan’s public would remain anti-Western and pro-China in addition to being sympathetic to Islamist sentiment. That is also a recipe for remaining a national security state dependent on external debt and frequent bailouts.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal.

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10 Comments Share Your Views

10 COMMENTS

  1. It is apparent that this disease will wreak havoc on the health and wealth of millions of people around the world. And we do not know how long it will take to subside. Poor countries like ours simply cannot absorb the long-term punishment handed out by the corona virus day after day. Something will have to give. Our budget, which is already skewed heavily in favour of defence, cannot be squeezed any further to buy military equipment. So the choice becomes binary: toys for the boys, or cash to keep the poor alive.
    These are difficult options for the strongest elected leader, but almost impossible ones for politicians who many believe had the support of invisible aliens. I realise that massive cuts are impossible, but moderate reductions can surely be made. Irfan Hussain in DAWN

  2. If there is anything that Pakistan needs right now, it is the immediate diversion of non-development expenditure to meet medical and other needs arising out of the pandemic. This unfortunately may not happen with the army fully in-charge of governance and national crisis management. Selecting weak and divided leadership has historically proven as the best formula for return to power.
    Ayesha Siddiqa in PRINT

  3. Interesting to note that Hussain Haqqani, a runaway kid living in US writes in an Indian outlet and wants ppl to believe his credibility.
    In South Asia,Pakistan has outperformed India and Bangladesh,no one is eating dogs on the highways.
    COVID has affected economies across the board,small or large,how can it be attributed to IK?
    Even Trump has decided to open up,with 97000 casualties.BTW a PAF C 130 from Pakistan landed in US yesterday with medical aid.
    Cyclone Amphan has devastated BDesh and India and India is expected to lose 50 billion dollars in direct and indirect cost.
    So calamity can happen to any country.
    Haqqani is not a Pakistani, he is a nurtured RAW guy,falsely believing that sun shines from his…it doesn’t

    • Senior US officials received the shipment of 100,000 protective masks and 25,000 coveralls for donation to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to a statement by the airbase authorities.

  4. THE thinking is WE ARE THE CHOSEN ONE. WE HAVE TO KILL KAFIR HINDUS TO REACH HEAVEN. As there is nothing in pakistan to achieve. There is either the pakistan military or jihadi tanzeems. Brainwashed to the level to believe there is no future but Martyrdom .

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