A protracted conflict between Russia and Ukraine has incurred many implications across the globe. The world looks divided on almost all issues, whether it is criticism of Russia as an aggressor or taking sides in a formal way. But the Indian subcontinent has, by and large, remained neutral in the conflict. While there are countries like India and Bangladesh that have shown their intention through their abstention at the UNGA, Sri Lanka is busy dealing with the financial crisis that has hit the nation. However, it has supported the Russian cause. But it is Pakistan that seems to be confused about its foreign policy. Its long history of begging has landed it in the most bizarre situation. And it looks like there is no way out for Pakistan.
Pakistan is in the worst economic crisis since its formation in 1947. It has taken as many as 14 loans from the IMF so far, none of which have been completed. So, it is far from possible for Islamabad to deal with the crisis successfully and efficiently with the efforts that it is currently making. The economic condition of Pakistan can be understood by the fact that the Pakistani rupee had to forego 12 percent of its value. As of now, the Pakistani rupee has plunged to 279.30 against the USD. Currently, the petrol prices are 272 PKR for one litre.
To win lender support, Pakistan has recently increased tax rates and energy prices. As per the conditions of the IMF, Islamabad has also increased the policy interest rate to 20 percent. On the other hand, Pakistan seems to be defaulting on its debt payment obligations. According to the reports, Pakistan needs to repay a $7 billion loan until June 2023. Out of which it has to pay $3 billion, and the rest of the $4 billion is expected to be rolled over. So, there is not only a lack of competence but also a lack of credibility.
The country is currently negotiating a bailout package from the IMF. But after many rounds of negotiations, the deal is still not concluded, and the IMF is unwilling to bail out Islamabad unless its conditions are fulfilled and the Pakistan government keeps its promises.
All weather defaulters
It may look like the IMF is using Pakistan’s crisis to exploit it on its own terms, but there is another reality to this argument. Pakistan has a worse track record in managing debt effectively.
The former finance minister of Pakistan and a leader of the ruling PML-N party, Miftah Ismail, acknowledged it when he said, “I mean obviously, not only is there a lack of competence, but also a shortage of credibility.” At such times, the biggest duty of any leadership is to fix the economic turmoil, and Pakistan is doing so, albeit in a different way that may land the country in more problems. The top brass’ attempt to do such is landing it in a whole new sea of confusion and chaos.
Although it has tried to play both sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Pakistan has provided arms and ammunition support to Ukraine. In August 2022, it was reported that Pakistan played a crucial role in transferring arms to Ukraine on behalf of the UK through its Nur Khan air base. Last month, Pakistan facilitated two shipments from Karachi to Ukraine via Poland. In a first consignment, 146 containers from the National Ordnance Factory and another 50,000 defence stores were shipped.
Even in March 2023, more than 10,000 rockets meant for use in Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers have been shipped to Ukraine. This time around, the shipment will be sent to Ukraine after being received by Emden Port in Germany.
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Making Quid pro Quo
Supplying arms and ammunition so frequently and in such huge shipments is sufficient to make a country an ally of Ukraine. But Pakistan seems too confusing. It is sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine and providing logistics support through its air base while continuously begging Russia to provide cheap oil at the same rates India is getting.
What Pakistan is thinking is that supplying arms to Ukraine will earn it a chance to negotiate a better deal with the western countries, especially the USA. And as a result, it can manage its worst economic crisis. It is reported that Pakistan has made a “quid pro quo” deal with the USA. Until mid-2022, Pakistan was on the FATF grey list, but in the later part of the year, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto, visited the US, and subsequently, it was removed from the grey list.
But Islamabad is sweeping it under the carpet. Time and again, it has dismissed the dual nature of its policy. But it seems that Pakistan’s leadership has forgotten that media briefings cannot defy the intelligence reports. And maybe that is why Russia has continuously denied cheap oil to Pakistan.
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DIPLOMATIC crisis and a way ahead
But when I say Pakistan’s foreign policy is confusing, it must be taken into consideration that just one year ago, when the conflict between Russia and Ukraine started, Imran Khan, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited Moscow. When he landed in Moscow, he told the Russian delegation waiting to welcome him, “What a time I have come, so much excitement.”
Apart from that, the so-called all-weather friend of Islamabad is playing the Russian side on the diplomatic tables around the world. It is expected that China may also supply weapons to Russia if required.
In order to deal with the crisis and maintain neutrality, Pakistan first needs to reform its political and economic discourse. Of course, these are hard times, and they require interest-based politics on the global stage, but that should not dilute neutrality. The biggest example of such an approach is India. Although before any reform in the country can take place, the political leadership, with immediate effect, needs to reform its mindset. The attitude of not following the Indian worldview even while falling to the deep end is going to take Pakistan nowhere.
Cost for the subcontinent
The wavering financial conditions of countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka are posing challenges to the whole of the subcontinent. India being the biggest country in the region obviously has some implications, but the military-terrorism complex in Islamabad has made it difficult for its neighbours to help it out.
Pakistan should understand that Asia needs peace and neutrality. And by neutrality, it does not mean playing both sides; instead, it means barring involvement. Asian peace can only be guaranteed by neutrality, and what Pakistan is doing is apparently taking the war to the doorstep of the subcontinent. This can prove to be the same mistake that Pakistan made by becoming a member of SEATO and CENTO. Eventually, Pakistan will only get pain and no gain from its current position.
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