Instability in Pakistan | The Financial Express

Instability in Pakistan

India is bound to be concerned over the turmoil in its largest neighbour.

Instability in Pakistan
Imran Khan (IE)

The growing political instability in Pakistan cannot but be a source of concern for India. Former Prime Minister, Imran Khan—who survived an assassination attempt—has resumed his long march to Islamabad to press for early general elections. He has taken on not just the ruling Shehbaz Sharif-led administration but also the army which wields the real power in that country, including naming a powerful corps commander as one of the three people responsible for the attempt on his life. The army considers the former premier’s charges as “absolutely unacceptable”. In end-October, there was even an unprecedented press conference by the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency to respond to Khan’s efforts to malign the army. The truth is that Khan became PM with the help of the all-powerful army but fell out as he chose to read from a different script. This happened to his predecessors as well. The façade of a civilian government backed by the army points to the existence of an almost hidden ‘dyarchy’ which imparts a fundamental instability to Pakistan’s polity, as has been rightly observed by India’s former envoy to Pakistan, TCA Raghavan. The big question is how the army will respond to Khan’s provocations. Will a regime change in that country come through the ballot box or will it only plunge it into more turmoil, forcing the army to take charge for the fifth time?

Pakistan’s political tensions compound its serious economic challenges, including dealing with the worst floods in recent memory which have affected over 9.4 million acres of crops and 33 million of its people. Due to this natural disaster, Pakistan’s economy is likely to register growth of only 2% in 2022-23 (July to June) from 6% in the previous fiscal according to the World Bank. The challenge thrown up by Khan is bound to deflect the attention of the Shehbaz Sharif government when focused efforts are necessary to the tackle the raging double-digit food inflation—wheat price inflation in rural areas has spiraled from 4.8% in January to 38% in July—which is bound to severely impact the living standards of the population. Joblessness among the youth is rising. As if all this weren’t bad enough, the economy confronts a stressed balance of payments situation that led it to the doors of the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. To be sure, Islamabad has secured loan pledges from allies like China and Saudi Arabia. But servicing its massive external debt of $130 billion cannot be prioritised while it fashions a policy response to a climate change-related disaster. These festering economic problems are only bound to feed into the political instability, with a disaffected populace coming onto the streets to protest.

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What does all this imply for India? The prospect of a regime change per se does not matter but India cannot be immune to the dramatic developments unfolding in Pakistan. The last thing India wants is for the instability to spiral out of control into chaos and anarchy. A failing State is only a recipe for more cross-border terrorism and a more “active” line of control. For such reasons, an unstable Pakistan is not in India’s strategic interests. At this stage, the end game of Khan throwing down the political gauntlet cannot be reliably discerned but our largest neighbour is surely passing through interesting times over the short-term.

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First published on: 09-11-2022 at 05:00 IST