Pakistan’s political and economic deterioration continues apace

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Sunni Muslims march during an anti-government rally in Islamabad on November 8, 2017. Photo: AFP / Farooq Naeem

Pakistan has rarely been in such an advanced state of political and economic paralysis as it is now.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) limps on in power but has lost its grip on the country’s economy, its security and its geopolitical bearing. Leaders from the PML (N) and its main opponents face charges relating, variously, to corruption, murder, concealment of assets and graft. The ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and sundry members of his family, are on trial in the country’s accountability court. Shahbaz Sharif, his younger brother, who happens to be Chief Minister of Punjab, is being investigated for murder, money laundering and corruption, while his daughter’s father-in-law – Ishaq Dar, the country’s incumbent finance minister – has absconded on charges of having assets beyond his means.

The sitting Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – who was chosen to fill Nawaz’s seat after the latter was disqualified by the Supreme Court in July – is also being investigated for corruption, in relation to a US$ 2.2 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract. The foreign minister, Khwaja Asif, faces a petition in the Islamabad High Court seeking his disqualification for concealing Iqama (Resident
Visa status) and employment in the United Arab Emirates while being a cabinet minister. A similar charge is also leveled against interior minister Ahsan Iqbal.

Now let’s consider the opposition. Pakistan Tehrik-e- Insaaf’(PTI) chairman Imran Khan is on trial for non-declaration of assets and may face disqualification. He is also being investigated by the Election Commission of Pakistan over foreign funding. His senior colleague, Jehangir Khan Tareen, may also be disqualified in an assets probe.

Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is alleged to have used a notorious crime lord, Uzair Baloch, to harass and intimidate people into selling him bungalows in Karachi at throw-away prices.

Shahid Khawan Abbasi has no real administrative power or authority. He takes advice from Nawaz and admits that the latter is the real prime minister. His government is squarely focused on defending and protecting the Sharif family and spends much of its time maligning the judiciary and arranging safe passage for one Sharif or another.

“The political turmoil has impacted Pakistani living standards as food and oil prices have suddenly increased and stocks have suffered their highest losses since 2008,” Atif Zafar, head of research at the investment bank JS Global Capital told Asia Times.

“Pakistan is set to lose approximately US$4 billion worth of transit trade with Afghanistan”

Minus a finance minister, the country’s financial affairs have further deteriorated and reserves are receding fast. The World Bank has warned that Pakistan is in a parlous macroeconomic state and that its reliance on short-term commercial loans will create major repayment headaches.

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s diplomatic isolation has also worsened. “Afghanistan has declared downright that it does not need Karachi port after Chabahar [in Iran] is put into operation,” Dr. Sulaiman Hamdani, the recently-retired head of International Relations at Ghandahara University, in Sindh, told Asia Times.

The Transport and Transit Corridor at Chabahar is also situated less than 100 kilometers from Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. “Pakistan is set to lose approximately US$4 billion worth of transit trade with Afghanistan,” Hamdani claimed.

Recent attempts to mend fences with Iran itself came not from the civilian government but from Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who visited the country early in November in an attempt to smoothe relations.

The government’s general drift has, furthermore, paved the way for the re-emergence of extremist religious forces, this time in the garb of Tehreek-i- Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), an amalgamation of religious
zealots struggling for the protection of “finality of the prophethood.”

The TLY practically shut down Islamabad last week on a march demanding the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid over moves to slightly alter the wording on candidate nomination papers in relation to the credo that the Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of Allah. An eight-month-old infant died as he could not get to hospital due to the rally. As with so much else, the government is failing even to protect Pakistan’s citizenry.

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