A needless crisis

In a nutshell, America is attempting to place pressure on Pakistan by persuading a raft of other states

Editorial February 20, 2018

There is a growing sense of concern, and rightly so, at the possible outcomes for Pakistan at the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force in coming days. In a nutshell, America is attempting to place pressure on Pakistan by persuading a raft of other states, including France and the UK, to put it on the list of countries that finance terrorism. If successful, and that may well be an outcome, it is a poisoned chalice from which Pakistan has little choice but to drink from. With heavyweights gloving up for a bout Pakistan is seeking assistance from established strategic partners — China and Saudi Arabia. The Chinese are recent arrivals in the strategic partnership stables courtesy of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Saudis long established. Whether either has the heft and leverage to counterbalance any bilateral and multilateral moves that the Americans orchestrate is an open question, particularly as the capricious Trump presidency and its relationship with both states is under a minute-by-minute review.

To a degree Pakistan is right to complain that it is both a whipping boy and fall guy for the failure of America in Afghanistan. With the Taliban now being talked of openly as an integral part of Afghan society and culture, the long-term future is beginning to emerge and the prospect of another Taliban-led government not as improbable as it might seem at first sight. This is not the fault of Pakistan though it has been slow to move and finally eradicate the shade of ‘strategic depth’ that poisoned the water in years past. That and a chronic trust deficit all feed the American desire to put the squeeze on Pakistan, a consequence of which could be the exact obverse of what America wants. A Pakistan that is economically destabilised by sanctions is going to serve nobody well, and being pressed into the corner of the ‘grey area’ by sanctions is itself inherently dangerous. Cornered creatures fight furiously and to the last.

The writing has long been on any number of walls and the Foreign Office did not spot it or saw it and chose to do little or nothing to head off what has the potential to become a full-blown crisis. Moves in the last fortnight that tightened the federal grip on the Jamaatud Dawa of Hafiz Saeed are too little too late and are not going to deliver any measurable outcome for weeks or possibly months, remaining a paper exercise until clear evidence of action is in the public domain. Had such a move been made six months ago it could have at the very least been pointed to as pre-emptive and worthy of consideration. As it stands today there are many states that will adopt a ‘we will believe it when we see it’ approach.

As if external threats were not enough the threats presented by internal political instability in the wake of the Panama Papers affair add to the anxieties. If sanctions are imposed this may trigger a financial unrest which coupled with a precarious balance-of-payments deficit could mean that the government is forced to declare a financial emergency under Article 235 of the Constitution. Given that the election is mere months away, it is going to be late in 2018 or early 2019 before any fiscal measures to counteract what may be a catastrophe economically has an impact — and that without any American intervention.

At the bottom of this complex and unstable house of cards lies a competence deficit that can only be laid at the door of what will soon be an outgoing government. The failure to appoint an effective foreign minister for years hindered foreign policy development and oversight, whilst questionable decisions by a finance minister who at times appeared asleep at the wheel both dug holes now difficult to climb out of. All Uncle Sam has to do is give it a gentle puff.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2018.

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