Pakistan is in the throes of one of the worst crises it has faced since independence. The country’s politics has been in flux since the change in government earlier in the year. Ominously, for the first time in decades, the Pakistani security establishment seems divided over key political issues. The economy, meanwhile, is floundering. Inflation hit a high of 27.3 per cent in August, the first time in more than five decades that it has gone up to this extent.
The structural reforms ordered by international financial institutions to make the country eligible for a bailout have only brought more suffering on the people. And then the unprecedented fury of the monsoon for the last three months has devastated a huge swathe of the country and further wrecked the economy. As a result, the government is expected to cut its GDP growth projection to 3 per cent from 5 per cent.
Mohenjo-daro under threat
Recently released satellite pictures showed a third of the country under water with many areas inaccessible weeks after the deluge. By the first week of September, the authorities reported that the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, one of the most famous Indus Valley sites situated in Sindh province, were under threat from the overflowing river.
Speaking to the media, Abdul Fatah Sheikh, the Director of Archaeology in Sindh, said: “The original structure is safe, by and large, including the stupa at the site. However, the protective layer, also called the mud slurry, that we deployed suffered a lot of damage, causing exposure of the original walls. The original structure is subject to the vagaries of nature and if immediate conservation work is not started, it can cause irreparable damage.” UNESCO confirmed that it would be providing Pakistan $3,50,000 to help in “recovering flood-damaged cultural heritage sites”.
So far, more than 1,500 people are known to have perished in the floods, but the number is bound to be higher. The flooding, according to the government and international agencies, has seriously affected the lives of 33 million Pakistanis. The majority of those affected, including children, have been rendered homeless. Many of them are living in makeshift shelters or shabby camps constructed by aid agencies. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 6,50,000 pregnant women are among the displaced and around 73,000 of them are expected to deliver before the end of September.
The UN estimated that around 2,87,000 houses were fully destroyed and 6,62,000 houses partially destroyed. It also estimated that 7,35,000 farm animals perished and two million acres of crops were adversely affected. The worst affected provinces were Balochistan and Sindh. Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of the country was also badly affected. Thirty-two of the 34 districts of Balochistan, the poorest province, were on the “calamity list” until early September. More than 1,34,000 cases of diarrhoea and 44,000 cases of malaria have been reported from Sindh province. Pakistan’s National Flood Response Coordination Centre used the limited resources at its disposal to run thousands of rescue and relief missions helped to a limited extent by the armed forces.
Even before the floods ravaged the country, around half of the population was considered “food insecure”. On August 30, the UN issued an appeal to the international community for help in raising $160 million to provide flood victims with food, shelter, and medical aid, but the response was disappointing. The West, of course, is preoccupied with the war and refugees from Ukraine.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a statement at the end of August extending his government’s condolences and expressed “the hope for an early restoration of normalcy” in relations between the two countries. A day after Modi’s statement, the Pakistan government expressed its willingness to resume bilateral ties. Indian officials responded by saying that they were willing to send medicines and vegetables to Pakistan on a “case-to-case” basis. After the Modi government revoked the special status of Kashmir, the government in Islamabad, led at the time by Imran Khan, cut trade links with India. But the coalition government that took over early this year called for normalisation of relations and talks to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Many countries, including the US, the UK, the Gulf monarchies, and Turkey, have already dispatched aid to Pakistan. The IMF announced a $1.1 billion bailout tranche for Pakistan even as negotiations continue for a bigger loan to rescue its beleaguered economy. Pakistani Finance Minister Ahsan Iqbal conceded that the damage from the floods would be far greater than the current estimate of $30 billion.
Pakistan is among the world’s largest exporters of rice and cotton. The harvests of both crops have been severely hit. Cotton prices shot up in the global market as widespread drought had hit cultivation of the crop in the US and China. The textile industry accounts for 10 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP. The World Food Programme warned that Pakistan’s wheat planting season could be affected if the waters do not recede by October.
Given the gravity of the situation, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited flood-ravaged Pakistan in the second week of September. While appealing to the international community for help, Guterres said that the Pakistani people “are facing a monsoon on steroids—the relentless impact of epochal rains and flooding”. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad with Pakistan Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, Guterres said that the country needed “massive” financial support.
Speaking to reporters in New York before he left for Pakistan, Guterres said: “There is a lot of attention on the war in Ukraine. But people tend to forget that there is another war—the war we are waging on nature, and nature is striking back, and climate change is supercharging our planet.” Environmentalists point out that Pakistan contributes less than 1 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions but is among the 10 top countries most vulnerable to extreme weather. Earlier, in a video message to a conference in Pakistan, Guterres said: “Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change.… Today it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it will be your country.” Sharif said that Pakistan needed “an infinite amount of funding” given the widespread damage and destruction the flooding has caused. The floods wiped out nearly 18,000 sq km of agricultural land. The agricultural sector makes up nearly a fourth of the country’s GDP.
Imran Khan’s charges
As the government was trying to grapple with the crisis, the opposition led by Imran Khan continued with its countrywide protests demanding the dismissal of the “corrupt” coalition government and the holding of immediate “fair and free” elections. As expected, Khan criticised the government’s flood relief measures and efforts to attract international donors. At the same time, he escalated his criticism of the leadership of the powerful security establishment.
At a public meeting in mid August, Khan said that the coalition government led by Sharif was planning to appoint one of its “favourites” as the next army chief. The former Prime Minister said that this was being done to shield corrupt politicians. The extended tenure of the current army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa comes to an end in November. Khan and the powerful military brass fell out over the issue of appointing a new Inter-Services Intelligence chief last year. It is the prerogative of the Pakistan Prime Minister to pick the new army chief.
Some retired generals have supported Khan and his party, the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), after he was voted out of office. There is evidence that middle-ranking officers in the army are also supportive of his politics. At the same time, Khan has accused the US of being the mastermind behind the toppling of his government. America bashing is popular with the Pakistani masses. The PTI’s sweeping victory in recent byelections in Punjab, a bailiwick of the Sharif brothers, was a shock to the ruling coalition and the military establishment.
The military was quick to condemn Khan’s remarks on the selection process of the army chief, describing them as “defamatory” and “uncalled for”. It said in a statement that the military leadership had carried “out a decades long impeccable meritorious service to prove its patriotic and professional credentials beyond any doubt”.
It added that “politicising the senior leadership of the Pakistan Army and scandalising the process of selection of the COAS (chief of the army staff) is neither in the interest of the state of Pakistan or the institution”.
It is common knowledge that the military leadership under Gen. Bajwa played a prominent role in propelling Khan to the top job four years ago. Today Khan is facing charges of sedition. In the first week of September, a five-member bench of the Islamabad High Court ruled that it would also try Khan for “contempt of court” in a case relating to a speech in which Khan is alleged to have made threats against the judiciary and the police. He had threatened to take “action” against two senior police officials and a judge who had sent his close aide Shahbaz Gill to jail for making statements against the army leadership.
Khan has since expressed “deep regret” for his speech but stopped short of an outright apology. Some of the cases that have been filed against the former cricketer-turned-politician are under the draconian “anti-terror” laws. Pakistan seems to be heading for both political and economic turmoil.
- A monster monsoon season left a third of the country under water and affected the lives of 33 million Pakistanis, rendering many of them homeless.
- 7,35,000 farm animals perished and two million acres of crops were damaged.
- The UN issued an appeal to the international community for help in raising $160 million to provide flood victims with food, shelter, and medical aid.
- The economy was already in bad shape before the floods: inflation hit a high of 27.3 per cent in August and the structural reforms required to make Pakistan eligible for a bailout had made life harder for people.
- On the political front, the opposition led by Imran Khan continued with its countrywide protests against the government and demands for immediate “fair and free” elections.