The blame game after the Quetta blastThe aftermath of the tragic bomb blast in Quetta has been mired in controversy of the most loathsome type, and not even the slightest regard to the suffering of its victims was given by those who wished to make political capital out of it. Some members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in their attempt at making their party and its leadership the centre of attention suggested that the timing of the bomb blast was suspect since their “accountability movement” was underway. As if this thinly veiled blame towards the ruling party was not reprehensible enough, these stalwarts of PTI even had the temerity to suggest the same for the Army Public School attack in 2014. While the PTI leadership has long forsaken adherence to the acceptable norms of political discourse, this is a new low for the party, and it is imperative that PTI chief Imran Khan discipline those who have brazenly adopted this position, and distance himself and his party from this position.
However, government’s response to this horrific tragedy has been woefully inadequate. Chief Minister of Balochistan Sanaullah Zehri has suggested that the involvement of Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), cannot be ruled out while Home Minister of Balochistan Sarfraz Bugti has even said that government has ample evidence of RAW sponsoring attacks in Balochistan. While it would be naïve to believe that certain foreign forces would not take advantage of a crisis in the region to cause further instability, nevertheless, ascribing blame on RAW has become a scapegoat for the state. In the already heavily securitised province of Balochistan, security failures must be taken seriously, and the cause of these security lapses must be identified and rectified. Intelligence agencies must work with the local police force to clamp down all militant hideouts. After all, only once these militant organisations are completely dismantled can these extremists be deprived of the support to carry out these attacks. Moreover, proper training must be provided to security guards and the state must step in to ensure that guards are well-equipped and vigilant at all times.
It is true that terrorism is not something that can be fixed overnight as it would require a sustained effort, which addresses the myriad dimensions of the problem not least of which is the socio-economic aspect. Abject poverty coupled with misappropriated religious scripture has created a monster that has proved to very difficult to fight. Whether it is the “Islamic State” (IS) or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), their method — use of violence to create fear and panic — is identical. It is highly unlikely that IS’s claim to be behind this attack is true, as local militant groups have for long carried out sectarian attacks in the region. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar’s claim, a splinter group of TTP, seems more probable, but all of this still remains unsubstantiated. Regardless, the direction that the state should take is the same. In addition to a military campaign, it is also imperative that these extremist ideas also be contested at the ideological level. The clergy in Pakistan must reclaim the space that has been ceded to these militant groups and spread the message of peace in Islam. Only through a multidimensional approach can the roots of militancy and extremism be completely eliminated.
In what appears to be a pioneer development in the country’s financial trajectory, Pakistani administration is all set to bid farewell to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Fund Programme once its final tranche of the current programme, worth $102 million, is released in September.
Even though the country has had more than its fair share of premature exits from agreements and rocky footing in the six decades of its relationship with the IMF, this occasion holds manifold importance because of both its timing as well as its nature. The Sharif government is justified in accrediting itself for seeing the end of the outgoing programme. IMF chief, Harald Finger, also lauded the government’s commitment with regard to the “buoyant construction activity (and) strengthened private sector credit growth,” which had helped the country achieve its financial standing in the current fiscal year. Investment in projects related to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has also been noted by the agency to facilitate Pakistan in achieving its expected growth rate of five percent in FY 2016-17. The much-touted contraction in the budget deficit from 8.8 percent to 4.3 percent, and the overwhelming increase in revenue collection of 19 percent are some other glad tidings for the previously precarious state of the economy.
All these financial strides would probably mean that the country is done relying on outside donors in keeping its economy afloat. Nevertheless, the upcoming election year should not be overlooked while determining Pakistan’s future relationship with the Fund. From what history tells us, the incumbent government would adopt expansionary fiscal policies to enjoy public approval and, hence, drive the next regime back to the IMF bailout spiral. Since not much has yet been done to either broaden the country’s current tax net or develop its exports, the structural weaknesses would also continue to obstruct all future attempts to break the prevalent economic inertia.
There would be no better sight than a financially independent Pakistan, however, much more needs to be done if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wishes to realise his “desire.” The country now needs to upgrade its industrial base and improve its infrastructure without the backing of relief programmes. Low agricultural yield, escalating energy crises and persistent water woes also need immediate attention of the authorities. No matter how big of a game changer the CPEC may seem, it would only evolve into any significant instrument after several years. In the meantime, government should start strategising its trade ties and economic policies to consolidate its own share of the international market. In lieu of holding all its eggs in one mega-basket, Pakistan could also have considered reaching out to more markets and implementing policies that ensured growth as well as sustainable development. After all, a country’s progress is not merely marked by the number of highways it can boast of or the millionaires it can produce, but also by how closely its citizens walk together on the road towards success.
Pakistanis stranded in Saudi Arabia
Some 12,000 Pakistanis are currently facing uncertainty regarding their future due to bankruptcy of certain Saudi companies owing to decline in oil prices and crisis pertaining to the war in Yemen. 400 Pakistanis are already living in camps after the company they were employed by halted work and blocked the release of salaries. They are currently being provided food and shelter under the supervision of the Pakistani embassy and local authorities, but have faced shortages in some instances. Moreover, their residence permits have also been taken away, and they are being denied their rights as employees of private corporate groups.
There are also reports that some labourers committed suicide over the past few days due to non-payment of their salaries for a few months. This is truly a heart-wrenching situation for the Pakistani diaspora in Saudi Arabia, which is the largest in the world in the oil-rich kingdom. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Prime Minister’s Office has recently taken some steps to diffuse the crisis by coordinating with senior Saudi officials such as the foreign minister and minister for manpower. Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Manzoor ul Haq, is personally monitoring the situation and has also visited the labour camps.
Furthermore, MOFA spokesperson, Nafees Zakaria, has revealed that over 8,000 Pakistani labourers have been contacted to assess the gravity of the situation. This is indeed a positive development on part of the diplomatic corps. However, additional measures are required for the safety of these Pakistanis who are largely treated as third class citizens by Saudi authorities. They are often mistreated and even made to work and live in abysmal conditions. Those who try to raise their voice against injustice are arrested due to state’s non-democratic norms. Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced 500 million rupees — 50,000 rupees per person — for relief purposes, this is certainly inadequate for taking care of their problems beyond a short-term point.
Overseas Pakistanis constitute the backbone of state remittances, and government must ensure that they are treated well by a host country’s authorities. Former prime mnister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the business tycoon, Agha Hasan Abedi, were the pioneers of Pakistan’s overseas labour policies in the 1970s, which led to transformation of certain countries of the Gulf into great economic hubs. Leaders such as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia used to welcome Pakistanis with open arms, and ensured their dignified treatment unlike what is happening to Pakistanis now. Hence, there is a dire need to revisit the state’s current policy on overseas Pakistanis, in addition to resolving the matter of stranded Pakistanis in the kingdom. Government must take urgent steps for the reemployment of the affected labourers in other companies so that they can make a dignified living for themselves and their families. If this is not possible then a high level delegation must be sent to Riyadh for ensuring rights of the local diaspora, and perhaps make arrangements for a dignified return to Pakistan. Indian Ministry of External Affairs is already monitoring the plight of stranded Indians in an efficient manner with senior level delegations lobbying with Saudi authorities. In this spirit the same action is expected from the Pakistani side for the protection of its own citizens in Saudi Arabia.
A personal touch in the time of need becomes a healing hand, and the poor Pakistanis stuck in Saudi Arabia need to know that government and people of Pakistan stand by them in their hour of need.