The news that one US Dollar has crossed two hundred Pakistani Rupees is a landmark in the history of the nation’s descent into chaos. In the past year the Pakistani rupee has lost 25% of its value and in just about a month it has lost 7%. Pakistanis have termed this double century as the blackest day in their star crossed history. Why would they not do so? When the country’s import bill had increased by 20 per cent in one month, and the prices of edibles, such as lentils, powder milk and tea are getting out of reach of the common man, it has to be one of the blackest days. Pakistani intellectuals had been warning the nation for decades about what lay in store if their begging bowl syndrome remained unchecked. That day has arrived. What next?
From an Indian perspective the ‘what next’ question has to viewed in two contexts. The long term effect on Pakistan itself and the future of the nation. The other context is of course the fall out in Kashmir.
Successive Pakistani governments have obtained ‘financial aid’ as rent for strategic support and geopolitical importance. Resultantly, Pakistan’s internal economy was largely and increasingly reliant on international financial ‘rent’ aid. The stark reality staring at Pakistan from here on is that no one wants its strategic support or geopolitical importance. They are all busy grappling with the problems of the fall out of the Ukraine war, increased energy and food prices. If anything, everyone seems to be avoiding Pakistan like plague. At its time of need, USA its past benefactor or China its current benefactor or the Middle East which has been its perpetual benefactor are not lifting a little finger to bail it out. The IMF is turning screws fully before it releases the next tranche of the bailout package. The screws are removal of subsidies, increasing the tax base and collection, and prune import related expenditure. In response Pakistan has already banned import of non-essentials and items considered as luxury. Increasing the tax collections is too far away. Just increasing fuel and energy prices will be politically too costly for the rag tag government in power. There is already talk of dissolving the National Assembly and handing over the reins over to an interim administration. That means political instability and elections.
If one examines the political polarisation in the country it is highly doubtful that elections will produce a strong government which will turn Pakistan around. Afterall, the choices are between the London Shariff, Islamabad Shariff, Taliban Khan , Maulana Diesel and Parachute Bhutto ( always ready with a parachute to jump out of any arrangement at a moment’s notice). Will the Army be able to control the situation? Unlike the past, there is a clear rift in the Army on political lines. As per reports coming in, the ex DG ISI seems to be running his own Army within the Army. The major question is whether any future government by any of these stalwarts in any combination have the capacity and political will to continue with those IMF recommended reforms? The answer is – fully doubtful! Will exports increase? Not in the near future. Inward remittances will soon be hit as Pakistanis will start stashing money abroad. Agriculture, the mainstay of Pakistan economy is in doldrums. Water shortage and lack of reforms means that food security risk is increasing by the day. From an internal security perspective, TTP, TLP, Baloch rebels, Sindhudesh activists seem to be only increasing their activities. Afghanistan and the Taliban will continue to leech on Pakistan. Things are only going from bad to worse.
Can all this be turned around? As per one Pakistani economist, any turn around has to be based on five points : “1. Increase petrol prices by Rs30 to Rs50 per litre. Remove tax exemptions/subsidies (for Rs800 billion) for the corporate sector immediately… . 2. Impose a financial emergency under Article 235(1) of the Constitution and ask the provinces to collect at least Rs100bn through higher taxes on land, property, and agricultural income… . 3. Impose a special emergency tax of Rs500,000 on vehicles of 1,600cc or more. Double the electricity tariff on residential properties of 800sq yards or more. 4. Cut non-combat defence spending by Rs100bn out of the total defence budget of more than Rs1.3 trillion. Downsize the federal government and abolish/downsize all those divisions that handle subjects [devolved under the 18th Amendment]. 5. Ban all land allotments and make it mandatory to sell state land by public auction only and launch a privatisation programme to create an investment-friendly environment.” If this has to be done, no politician will be able to win any election in Pakistan or survive in government. The country which was the toast of international politics due to its geostrategic location is staring at an abyss. It is a step away from an economic meltdown whose forerunner is Sri Lanka. Pakistan will remain in doldrums for quite some time. Things going worse from hereon is the greater possibility than any recovery.
All this is a great opportunity to set things right in Kashmir. The macro conditions are favourable. The external hand is the weakest since 1947. The legal issues are in place after abrogation of Article 370. The delimitation exercise has been completed to pave way for a political process to commence. All the erstwhile militants/ terrorists/separatists who were Pakistan’s proteges cum hand maidens are being booked by law. The stage is set for elections and rule of law by the peoples representatives.
It is with some logic and foresight that the PM made a foray to reach out to Kashmir recently. There were no shutdown calls, stone pelting, strikes or protests before, during or after the visit. Reports also indicate that the government intends to initiate public oriented projects and make development in the Union Territory beyond mere sloganeering. Hence the focus is on a wide range of activities to include education, sports, energy connectivity, tourism, health and other people centric issues. Firms from UAE are being invited to invest in the region specially in infrastructure. All this new awareness is being driven by a politically sensitive administration. However in Kashmir, the devil lies in the detail and that is what needs focus.
Prima facie the situation is quite calm and stable barring the odd terrorist incident. However subsurface situation is still volatile. It will be utopian to imagine that all Kashmiris will switch their allegiance to India just because of the superficial calm, an ambitious outreach and a declining Pakistan. More work needs to be done. The first step is to create conditions in POK which inhibit it from being used as a base for terrorism. That is possible only if the residents of POK are given adequate support to voice their discontent against occupation by Pakistan. With Pakistan being in a state it is at present, the time is ripe to support dissonance in POK officially as part of state policy. Afterall, Pakistan has been doing it incessantly over the years against India. Hence it is legal for us to do so. Alongside, there is a need to start an information and narrative building campaign. India has the capacity to do so. It needs the will to do so. There are many themes which can be adopted. How about elections to the forthcoming assembly by electronic ballot by the residents of POK? Allow them to vote and be represented in proxy. That will kick up a political issue in Pakistan which they will find difficult to handle. Is there an incipient independence movement which can be juxtaposed to the situation in India? The external reality of POK should be brought home to the average Kashmiri ceaselessly.
The other major task which needs to be done is to revamp administration at grass root level. Many of the current grass root administrators at tehsil/district level are either compromised or are under the cross hairs of local militants. Some mechanism needs to be evolved to specifically attend to cleansing this issue. If this is not done the connect between the people and government will be firewalled and insulated. To this end, police, teachers, health workers, maulvis, advocates and such grass root workers who also duplicate as sleeper cells, saboteurs and infiltrators need to be identified and concentrated upon. They need to be normalised with the society. Co-joint with legal action against top level leaders, some action against lower level workers will also bear fruit. Essentially the informer / enforcer ring of the separatist organisations needs focussed targeting. With Pakistan going down economically, it is only natural that drugs make their appearance. As per OSINT, Baramulla is emerging as the drug hub and needs to be concentrated upon. IAS/IPS officers entrenched in Delhi need to be sent to Kashmir to deliver on ground by attending to detail.
Very clearly, there is an opportunity to shut the revolving door phenomenon in Kashmir. Many more ideas can be generated. However, the purpose of this write up is only to highlight that a moment has come in the Kashmiri time line when change is in the air and can be made acceptable. Pakistan going down the chute as India is rising is a great opportunity which can not be wasted. The moment is here and now. What next?
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