Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 24, 2017

Imran’s agitation threat Imran Khan has threatened to bring people out in protest on the streets if what he calls a new National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is struck in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. Referring to past such exercises, Imran Khan argued that former ruler Pervez Musharraf had no right to promulgate NROs with Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari. The reference is to the decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to go into exile in Saudi Arabia although he had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the airplane hijacking case that triggered the 1999 military coup. In Zardari’s case, the reference is to his release from prison in 2004 despite cases of corruption pending against him. As an update, some of those cases, in which Zardari was finally acquitted for lack of clinching evidence may be about to be reopened. Pakistan is theoretically a sovereign state. But a state that is critically dependent on aid from external sources cannot be considered truly sovereign. Our history is replete with examples of how external pressures forced the state to take decisions that could not stand scrutiny on the touchstone of the law and constitution. The decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to go into exile was informed by Saudi intervention on the overthrown prime minister’s behalf. It was an intervention difficult to shrug off since Saudi largesse has in the past, and to date, bailed out Pakistan many times. Hence General Musharraf was left with little room for manoeuvre when the Saudis called in their myriad favours over the years. In the case of Asif Zardari, his release was part of the indirect dialogue with Benazir Bhutto in self-exile, backed by the US and UK, again an external factor that could not easily be ignored. That dialogue finally produced the NRO and allowed her to return to the country in 2007. The tragedy of course is that she was assassinated soon after. Taking these two examples to buttress his argument, Imran Khan’s threat may reflect an appreciation of the developments in the Sharif camp, with federal minister Riaz Piracha openly calling for Shahbaz Sharif to take over the reins of the PML-N. Since the Hudaibya case is the only one in which Shahbaz is also implicated, Imran’s logic is apparent. To be noted is the detour Nawaz Sharif made to Saudi Arabia on his way home from London. Clearly, he seeks Saudi help again in the midst of the difficulties he is grappling with in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases against him and his family, coming as they do in the wake of his disqualification by the Supreme Court. His long standing close relations with the Saudi royal family may have been dented somewhat by Pakistan’s refusal of the Saudi request to send our troops to Yemen. But there is no reason to assume that those relations have suffered a permanent disability. Whether however, Saudi Arabia’s considerable leverage wit Pakistan notwithstanding, the Saudis can in some form or the other bail out Nawaz Sharif now seems difficult. That is not to say it is impossible, since Pakistan has a long track record of succumbing to blandishments and pressure from friends like the Saudis. Be that as it may, if the powers that be are at all considering some compromise formula to defuse the present political crisis, it would be politic to take Imran Khan and all the other political parties into confidence. This would help explain the considerations that may be driving such a contemplated compromise, chief amongst which is the economy, under considerable pressure from the twin external and budgetary deficits. This consideration in fact may also impinge on the manner in which we deal with the Trump administration, with Secretary of State Tillerson’s visit providing the occasion to sort out mutual misunderstandings and complaints. The US may or may not be liked by us, but its considerable clout in the Bretton Woods and other multilateral financial institutions compels us to address Washington’s complaints seriously. Not to do so may invite problems if we need to return to the IMF and other international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to support Pakistan’s external account and foreign exchange reserves difficulties.

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