Pakistan Now: Darkest Before Dawn?
Pakistan is experiencing one of the darkest periods of its history. Political instability is eroding confidence in the nation's future. Declining economic growth and high inflation are hurting the people of all strata of society, particularly the poor whose numbers are rapidly rising. Is there any hope left for the country? Is it a case of the "darkest before dawn"? How do investors see it?
|Ex PM Imran Khan (R) with President Erdogan|
Writing in the Time magazine immediately after the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, American investor, author and commentator Zachary Karabell who has invested in Pakistani startups sees rare hope for Pakistan. He sees Pakistan where Turkey was back in 2001-2003, "when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control". Here's an excerpt of his article titled "The Contrarian Case for Pakistan" published in the current issue of Time Magazine:
"To some degree, this is an argument of “well, it’s not as bad as they say.” But it’s also a way of highlighting that Pakistan today may be a case of darkest before the dawn. With elections schedule for the fall, and with Imran Khan the most likely victor of said elections unless is his arrest leads to his disqualification as a candidate, Pakistan is in a very similar position to where Turkey was in 2001-2003, when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control. Imran Khan has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of Erdogan, who after championing Turkish democracy and economic reform, then turned into the very type of corrupt autocrat that he had once fought against. But he nonetheless unleashed massive economic potential in Turkey and has left its 80 million people materially better off over the past 20 years, even as hyperinflation and Erdogan’s recent economic ineptitude is now eroding that. Should Imran Khan return to the head the government, he may well usher in a similar period in Pakistan, even as he has his own authoritarian and demagogic tendencies".
Here are some of the key points Karabell makes in his opinion piece:
1. Pakistan has a real and dynamic private sphere that is not only seeing a start-up and new business ecosystem that has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the past few years but operates freely in a way that would be inconceivable in many other countries. Compare it to Egypt, for example, which receives far less negative attention and more foreign money yet is almost entirely dominated by a military dictatorship. Or Algeria. And then there are countries which barely function at all, dominating a whole swath of Sub-Saharan Africa but also dot central Asia (Tajikistan anyone?).
2. Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world with 230 million souls, a median age of barely 22 and two-thirds of the population under the age of 30. That means unlike most of the world, it has a favorable demographic future.
2. Unlike, say, Nigeria, where the ethnic divisions and decades of corruption mean that it well-nigh impossible to treat the country as one unified market for goods and services, Pakistan is one common market even with its various tribal divisions.
|Pakistan Population Youngest Among Major Asian Nations. Source: Nikkei Asia|
Karabell concludes with the following:
State Bank Targets Fully Digital Economy in Pakistan
China to Further Expand, Deepen Ties with Pakistan
Pakistan Forecast to Become World's 7th Largest Consumer Market By 2030
Goldman Sachs Predicts Pakistan to Grow to World's 6th Largest Economy
Over a Million Pakistani University Students Enrolled in STEM Fields
Pakistani Startups Attract Record VC Funding
Pakistan at 75
Pakistan's Demographic Dividend: Record Remittances From Overseas Pakistanis
Riaz Haq's Youtube Channel
By Sanjaya Baru
Arresting advocates of Khalistan and of Jihadism without arresting advocates of a Hindu Rashtra is not in India’s national security interests in the long run.
The national security challenge both within Pakistan and within India is essentially a domestic challenge of rising economic inequality, religious extremism and regional sectarianism. Of course, India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism and Pakistani state agencies are responsible for this. Pakistan too alleges that it is a victim of ‘cross border terrorism’, emanating from both its eastern and western borders. However, the challenge to national security in both countries comes increasingly from domestic sources. It would be no exaggeration to say that internal threats to national security pose a greater challenge in both countries than external threats to security.
A Pakistani columnist, Huma Yusuf, summed up the challenge to her country in words that could easily find an echo this side of the border.
“The number of issues around which Pakistanis should be coalescing is staggering: food security, safety, dignity of work, free speech, minority rights, welfare protections, healthcare provisions, climate resilience. Until we can craft a politics that champions for the people rather than against their overlords, our future will be riot, not reform.”
Why Pakistan became a laggard
Pakistan’s problems are rooted in its domestic political and economic evolution. It is often forgotten that in the period 1960-1980 Pakistan’s economy grew at annual rate of 6.0% while India’s growth rate was 3.5%. In the 1990s, this was reversed with India growing annually at close to 5.5% and Pakistan slowing down to an annual average growth rate of less than 4.0%. Pakistan also performed better on the foreign trade front than India till 1990. In the 2000s, Pakistan has paid a heavy price on the economic and development fronts thanks to the course its domestic politics took.
That was not to be.
The Pakistan middle class began to migrate in large numbers to West Asia and western nations, leaving the country in the hands of traditional feudal elites. It is into this vortex that Imran Khan entered, with the help of the military, seeking to stabilise the country internally. However, as Pakistan scholar Ayesha Siddiqa observed recently, while Imran’s supporters came to “express 70 years of anger” against the traditional elite, “the crowd was also raised by the military to think it has the right to own and drive the State.”
Taking Siddiqa’s analysis forward in a perceptive analysis of the situation in Pakistan, Praveen Swami adds:
“The religious right-wing positioned itself as the pole of political resistance to the elitism of the post-colonial state…The religious Right enjoyed influence far in excess of its demonstrated electoral success because of the reluctance of the secular centrist parties to challenge Islamism head-on. Each wanted to recruit Islamism to its side, not seeing it as a threat to democracy.”
Just as Pakistan has experienced a massive out-migration of its educated middle class, along with elements of the elite and working classes, India too has experienced what I have termed as the ‘secession of the successful’ with both the Indian middle class and urban rich migrating overseas. Adding to the out-migration of working class talent (West Asia), and the educated middle (English-speaking countries) we now have the growing out-migration of business and what are called High Net worth Individuals or HNIs.
Fuel oil-exports from Pakistan swelled to a record last month as the nation that’s typically been an importer of the fuel faces lower domestic demand on cooler weather and a crippling economic crisis.
The South Asian country shipped out 164,000 tons in April, the largest volume since at least 2017, according to Kpler data compiled by Bloomberg. It did not import any fuel oil during March and last month, according to the figures.
The unprecedented flows came against a backdrop of severe economic dislocation, with activity slumping, inflation soaring, and the currency weakening. At present, officials are in talks with the International Monetary Fund to restart a $6.5 billion bailout program key to avoiding a default.
Pakistan’s power usage is far below year-ago levels, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said in a recent interview. There’s weaker demand for electricity caused by relatively cool weather and higher power prices, he said.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said police had surrounded has his house and that his arrest was imminent.
Khan was arrested last week by the anti-graft agency in a corruption case before a court granted him bail. His arrest had sparked violent protests across the nation, killing at least eight.
I was concerned for #Pakistan before, but a recent speech by the Army Chief has led me to believe that things are truly dire. His closed-door angry tirade to senior officers in Sialkot has been reliably shared with me. The entire speech was alarming but two points stand out:(1/6)
My Sources confirm what Hafiz said in his speech in Sialkot!
Hafiz shouted for two hours at the top of his lungs He was boiling with anger..he said this is war. Said i will pursue this war relentlessly
He said your mother ie institution been raped 9 May was 9/11 of the Pakistan Army IK wants haqeeqi azadi from the Pakistan Army He wants to undo the idea of Pakistan
He wants to destroy Pakistan's army and hence destroy Pakistan, the same way it happened in Iraq and Libya IK has the same role as Gorbachev who broke USSR
IK has the same role as Gorbachev who broke USSR IK is corrupt. He took billions from Malik Riaz. He took acres of land in Bani Gala and got the Zaman Park complex renovated/reconstructed by Malik Riaz Everyone in PTI is corrupt Aamir Kiyani did corruption worth Billions. I have evidence to IK but he made him sec gen
I will keep Jinnah House in its present form. I will hand pictures of bastards who were involved, who planned, who abetted, who participated. Esp the verterans (Retd). I will hang pics of their wives and their children. I will shame them. I will make children from universities, colleges, and schools visit
Jab PPP ne 80s mein masti ki, hum ne un ko maar maar Kar un Ka bhurkas Nikal diya. Jab PMLN be masti ki, hum ne un Ka bhurkas Nikal diya. Phir MQM Ka bhurkas Nikal diya. Abb PTI ne masti ki haiz in Ka aisa bhurkas nikalain gay key qabar tak yaad rakhain gay The people do Pakistan love us. They are coming out in thousands to support us
They are coming out on roads. Thet are showering love on us Social media is more than 90% all fake. This 6 inch screen is all fake. Ppl love us I have instructed govt that I will not settle for less than 25% increase in pay for army 35% rebate will be given to all.offrs at CSD now PTI has not been punished till now. They will be punished now
If I have to go down I will take these goons with me. It's a War
I will fight this war till the very end He targets Retd ppl a lot..Called them bastards..He said PTI planned these. They were very well planned attacks. We will punish each and every one..Thee goons don't reflect the collective will of the people of Pakistan..He particularly gave details of corruption of Aamir Kiyani (and today ISI made him leave PTI )
He is triggered because of IK naming him in international media He said IK will be okay with it if they postpone elections to next year, all he wants is that his corruption case should not be pursued. He said now they r giving explanations. Yeh kambal mein inhain utarnay Nahin don ga
Imran Khan’s arrest is cycling the country through crisis yet again.
At first, Khan, a former star cricketeer who rose to power on a populist platform, was close to the military. When the generals thrust Khan into office, in 2018, he was more pliable than most politicians. The two sides openly shared power, inaugurating what became known as a “hybrid regime.” Decisions were taken at military headquarters and dutifully signed off on in the prime minister’s office. The intelligence agencies acted as enforcers, locking up opponents, muzzling journalists, disappearing critics, leaning on judges, and whipping parliamentary votes. The generals liked the former cricket legend’s charisma, his nationalism, and his self-styled crusade against corruption. It was all going well for the men in uniform—until he overstepped.
Pakistan’s military jealously guards its chain of command, where the top general maintains a firm sense of authority, and when Khan tried to insert his own voice, the top brass turned on him. It pulled its support, leaving Khan vulnerable to a vote of no confidence last April. By any measure, if he had been allowed to complete a full term in office, Khan would have struggled to get reelected. His politics were divisive, his policies ineffective. But now he has become a magnet for sympathy, skillfully casting himself as an embattled hero fighting for his people’s “real independence.”
Khan was ostensibly arrested on corruption charges. In total, he says he is facing 148 cases, including allegations of “terrorism,” “sedition,” and “blasphemy.” But the motivation behind these cases has little to do with notions of transparency or accountability. This is an attempt to eliminate him from contention in this year’s general election. Leaders of Khan’s party have been arrested and, allegedly, in some cases, tortured. More have been arrested at more junior levels, and even peaceful protests led by Khan’s supporters have been crushed by the police. The military is now threatening to prosecute the suspected rioters in its own courts, in brazen violation of international law. Anyone involved in inciting or carrying out violence should be held accountable, but through fair trials in civilian courts.
By pursuing its vendetta against Khan, the military is putting its own standing at risk. His supporters aren’t found in remote rural areas. They are concentrated in Pakistan’s main towns and cities. They include members of the elite and the assertive and social media-savvy middle classes, with vast numbers of people whose relatives are serving in the military or have done before. Rarely has hostility toward the military seeped so deep into its own heartlands. There is even open talk of splits among the Army’s own high command.
The generals may not realize it now, but a permanent withdrawal from politics would be in their best interests. Their hybrid experiment didn’t just fail—it disastrously backfired. The military can only assert its will now through force, shedding support in the process. By stepping aside, much of the hostile attention would fade. They would also have space to heal internal rifts and rebuild their much-damaged public image.
There are only two plausible alternatives to a free and fair election in Pakistan this year: a tainted one, or a military coup. If Khan isn’t allowed to take part, the elections will lack legitimacy in the eyes of many Pakistanis. The results won’t be accepted, and the crisis will endure. Moreover, any government that emerges from such a process will be weak and constantly vulnerable to the manipulations of the military—much like the current coalition government. It could be swept aside at any moment, triggering a fresh crisis.
A military coup is unlikely, but not impossible. But if the generals grab power for themselves, they won’t deliver stability. Instead, they will plunge Pakistan deep into the abyss—it will be isolated globally and ruined economically.
The army's headquarters, General Headquarters (GHQ), probably the most secure place in Pakistan, was breached and people trampled on the signboards with military logos.
A senior general's house in Lahore was ransacked - Khan's supporters videoed themselves while setting his furniture and cars on fire. One protester walked away wearing the general's uniform, another made away with his pet peacock.
It had all the symbols of a revolution, except that it wasn't. Imran Khan was first loved by the army, then shunned by them, now his supporters were settling their scores. It was less of a revolution and more of a lovers' spat.
It's almost a rite of passage for every prime minister to fall out with the Pakistan army.
The country's first elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged, his daughter Benazir Bhutto was dismissed twice as a prime minister and her assassination, by a teenage suicide bomber, was never fully investigated. Nawaz Sharif was dismissed, jailed, exiled - now again in exile, he rules by proxy via his younger brother Shehbaz, but still can't return to the country.
After Imran Khan's arrest his supporters did what no mainstream political force has done before. Instead of taking to the streets in protest, they invaded the cantonment areas and showed the citizens how Pakistani generals live: in huge mansions with swimming pools and acres of lawns where peacocks roam.
Just before he was picked up, Khan singled out Pakistan Army's chief of staff General Asim Munir as the man trying to crush his political party.
Before that he had called the former army chief General Bajwa, who was instrumental in bringing and sustaining him in power, a traitor. He also named an ISI general for being responsible for a failed assassination on him. He and his supporters repeatedly called the accused general Dirty Harry in public rallies.
Many Pakistani politicians in the past have named and shamed the army as an institution but Pakistanis are not used to seeing the images of a Corps Commander's house on fire, women protesters rattling the gates of GHQ, and the statues of decorated soldiers being toppled.
This was exactly what the current government, a coalition of almost all the political parties opposed to Khan, needed to hit back.
The government has been trying to get out of an impending national election, which according to many opinion polls Khan is likely to win. Now many government politicians are calling for an outright ban on his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) - its name means Movement for Justice.
In the past, reprisals against politicians who have taken on the army have been swift.
Ali Wazir, an elected assembly member who called out the army's sympathies for the Taliban, was in jail for two years and was not even allowed to attend the National Assembly. Thousands of political workers from Balochistan have been forcibly disappeared and no Pakistani court or mainstream political party is interested in their plight.
So how come Imran Khan, despite facing dozens of charges, is still roaming free?
The perception is that he has polarised the establishment itself. There are officers and their families within the army who are enamoured by him. There is the judiciary which has been extending his bail. After spending one day in a lock-up, Pakistan's highest judge called him to court, said "happy to see you", and put him in a state guest house. The next day another judge released him.
Imran Khan has won over a massive constituency in Pakistan that abhorred politics and politicians before he came along. His message of clean governance and justice has popular appeal - although when Khan was in power corruption actually increased and he put many of his political opponents in jail.
What's behind the mass exodus of senior figures from Imran Khan's party?
I spoke to a number of politicians who have publicly quit:
Asked one if a carrot or stick was used?
"It was all stick"
They said there were threats to disappear them & references to their family's safety
Neo Pei En, Phedra, Amit Ranjan
15 December 2022
New Middle Class
The new middle class is distinct from the old middle class. Its members work in mid-level positions, often in the private sector or have families making money through semi-skilled jobs in the Middle East or North America. They rose mainly during Musharraf’s rule, whose economic reforms allowed many to join the middle class though his subsequent actions disillusioned them. In 2008, more than 50 per cent of Pakistanis lived in towns of more than 5,000 people or more – this increasing urbanisation indicates most of the middle class could be found in urban areas.
This new middle class is also evolving as it uses social media to interact with the outside world more. It is “a global pioneer in digitally fuelled amplification of protests” and has the power to take down governments. Currently, its identity is diversifying with the additional mix of freelancers and gig workers. The ease of accessing information with the rise of the internet contributed to the middle class’ increased connectivity with the world through digital means. This would, therefore, continue to have an effect on the Pakistani middle class. It may lead to new developments as protests are now initiated online and can reach more people instantaneously, which is a great way to swiftly gather a large following.
As is seen in many countries, including Pakistan, there is a global consensus that the rise of new information and technologies has changed the political arena. With heightened access to the internet and unrestricted information, the middle class, particularly the youths, are likely to receive more information and be mobilised from such online platforms that would influence their political views. This can be seen from the throngs of middle-class youths that support Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who have been mobilised by the PTI through digital media both in the past and in the present. The PTI’s ability to use social media platforms, broadcast videos and initiate blog postings have led them to successfully attract the viewership of the youths and the middle class. The evolution of the new middle class, which has also included increased access to the internet, combined with the political parties’ deft use of digital media, will change how political parties function in Pakistan in the long run.
Further, other factors, such as Imran’s populist politics, may have a part to play in galvanising apolitical youths. With their contempt for politicians of the past and their corrupt ways, the new middle class and youths threw their support behind Imran for his promises to implement large-scale political change and his stand against status quo politics. The effects of this support in pushing Imran back to being the leader of Pakistan remain to be seen. Given their fervent support for Imran and his politics, the middle class is likely to have a role to play if that happens.
Over the course of Pakistan’s history, the middle class has seen itself morphing, transiting from the old to one that now includes the new middle class. The new middle class appears to subscribe to a slightly different set of religious values and leadership compared to the old middle class. The identities and aspirations of the new middle class, along with their engagement in Pakistani civil society, may continue to change as they grow in size and influence. In the contemporary times, many in this new middle class viewed the old leaders as corrupt politicians who have damaged the country. In this regard, Imran’s pledge to fight corruption and his vow to create a Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) are directly responding to the imperatives of the new middle class. As a result, a sizeable portion of the middle class supports him, which could trigger political changes and restore Imran to power.
For most of Pakistan’s eight-decade history, its courts were largely aligned with the country’s powerful military. They gave three coups a legal stamp of approval, disqualified dozens of politicians who had fallen out of favor with the generals, and turned a blind eye to the disappearances of political dissidents.
But with Pakistan in the grip of a political crisis that has sparked violent protests across the country, the judiciary has openly contradicted the military and emerged as a political force in its own right, analysts say. In recent months, as former Prime Minister Imran Khan has clashed with the military and current civilian government, the courts have issued ruling after ruling that have thwarted what many consider attempts by the military to sideline Mr. Khan from politics.
That defiance was highlighted earlier this month, when shortly after the authorities arrested Mr. Khan in a corruption inquiry, the courts declared his arrest unlawful, ordered his release and granted him bail.
It is a striking shift in Pakistan, where the military has long acted as the country’s ultimate political power broker: Directly ruling for over half of the country’s existence and acting as the veiled power behind civilian governments. And as the courts strike out on their own, they are injecting even more uncertainty into an already volatile political climate.
“So much of politics is about the military,” said Yasser Kureshi, a lecturer in South Asian studies at Oxford University. “Now that the court is a center of power in its own right, the court has worked out its ability to manipulate and mold politics in its interests.”
Analysts say the courts’ recent decisions — which effectively bolstered Mr. Khan’s political prospects — were as much a reflection of the judiciary’s budding political muscle as the military’s battered image.
Since Mr. Khan was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last year, he has railed vehemently at the generals and accused them of conspiring against him. His supporters have followed suit, disparaging military leaders on social media and recently storming military installations — once unimaginable scenes in a country where few have dared defy the security establishment.
Still, observers have cautioned against hailing the courts’ recent rulings as a shift to more independent or democratic politics in Pakistan. Many critics say that rather than acting as a more independent body looking to curb the military’s meddling, the courts are themselves enmeshed in politics, with some judges harboring deep loyalty to Mr. Khan.
“For the judiciary, there is this tinge of independence now that they are able to sustain some pressure from the establishment,” said Ali Qasmi, a lecturer at The Lahore University of Management Sciences. “At the same time there is a clear kind of pro-Imran Khan tendency within the courts as well.”
Senior judges in Pakistan play a substantial role in judicial appointments. The chief justice of the Supreme Court leads a commission that nominates judges for the top and high courts, who are then confirmed by a parliamentary committee. The mandatory retirement age is 65 for Supreme Court judges, and 62 for those in the high courts.
While the judiciary’s power does not come close to rivaling that of the military, in recent weeks military leaders have responded forcefully to tip the scales back in their favor and signal their ultimate dominance.
Last week, military officials announced that protesters who attacked military installations in response to Mr. Khan’s arrest would be tried in military — not civilian — courts. Several prominent leaders from Mr. Khan’s party have also been arrested by the police shortly after being granted bail. The moves, many observers say, were a military effort to intimidate Mr. Khan’s supporters and show that the courts alone cannot protect them.
For much of Pakistan’s turbulent history, the country’s judiciary was seen as a junior partner of the military, a tool used to legitimize its more direct forays into the political sphere. It offered legal justification when military generals seized power from civilian governments in 1958, then in 1977 and again in 1999. They also provided legal cover in the 1990s when the military dismissed two governments, both led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
In the following decade, when a chief justice of the Supreme Court began to challenge the state’s use of power, the country’s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suspended the justice. The move caused uproar across the country and sparked a nationwide movement in support of the justice, who was eventually reinstated.
The interests of the courts and the military then seemed to coincide. Empowered by the notion of defending the public’s interests, the courts set out to root out the entrenched corruption among Pakistan’s political dynasties — just as those very dynasties were falling out with military leaders. In doing so, the courts also helped pave the way for Mr. Khan — the former cricket star who campaigned as an anti-corruption crusader and was embraced by the military — to win the election in 2018.
“Two things were happening in parallel: The first was the court was more empowered” after the nationwide movement to reinstate the ousted chief justice, said Saroop Ijaz, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog group. “And the second is the military realized an empowered court was a great partner to influence political outcomes, to send prime ministers home without a direct military intervention.”
But while military leaders appeared to withdraw their support for Mr. Khan early last year, many in the judiciary still viewed him as a partner in their anti-corruption purge, analysts say.
The growing rift between the military and courts surfaced in April, when the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, ruled that the current government’s attempt to delay local elections in two provinces, including the most populous, Punjab, was unconstitutional. At the time, the ruling was widely considered a boon for Mr. Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or P.T.I.
A month later, the Supreme Court ordered Mr. Khan to be released from custody and soon afterward the Islamabad High Court granted him pre-emptive bail in several corruption cases he is facing.
Mr. Khan’s supporters say that his opponents are trying to have him arrested to prevent him from hitting the streets and whipping up support for his party ahead of the country’s general elections this fall.
Mr. Sharif’s government has already attempted to rein in the powers of Mr. Bandial, who has been accused of being politically aligned with Mr. Khan.
In March, Pakistan’s parliament passed a new law to curtail the powers of the chief justice, reassigning his unique powers — including the ability to convene a small panel of specific judges to hear cases — to a committee of three justices. But later that day, the Supreme Court issued an injunction, preventing the law from taking effect.
In doing so, the court showed that while its powers are limited and it has no ability to enforce its rulings, it is still a force to be reckoned with as the country barrels toward general elections this fall, analysts say.
That new dynamic, said Mr. Kureshi, the lecturer at Oxford University, “changes the game and changes the way in which political bargaining with these unelected institutions happens.”