Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has resoundingly said that only a fool will go to the IMF in an election year. Before the end of the year, the current government will. But that’s not the most hilarious bit about the scandalous trash-talk that our civil and military leaderships have engaged themselves in

Let’s first throw in a few numbers.

Pakistan’s current account deficit has risen $3.6 billion in the first three months of the current fiscal year – more than double the amount in the corresponding period last year – to $12.1 billion, ie 4% of the GDP.

In Jul-Sep FY18, Pakistan’s imports jumped to $12.89, up 25% from last year, which meant that even an increase in exports couldn’t prevent the balance of trade to languish at $8.44 billion in the negative.

Pakistan has taken a $450 million loan from a Credit Suisse-led banking consortium to halt the $4.4 billion plunge in foreign exchange reserves – this, over the past 12 months alone. And the KSE-100 index has shed a quarter of its worth in the past four months.

And so, the numbers, as things stand, are pretty wretched no matter where you look at them from.

But the PML-N government would point at how before going down by a quarter, the KSE-100 had actually touched all-time high. They would also point to the report card of Q1FY18, and say that it is also Q1 since the ouster of Nawaz Sharif.

They would further highlight that despite the post-Panama reds, Pakistan still is the world’s fifth fastest growing economy and the fastest in the Muslim world.

So the question no longer is if the glass is half-full or half-empty, the question is: whose glass is it?

The civilian leadership overreacted a couple of weeks ago when at a seminar titled Interplay of Economy and Security, the Army Chief talked about, well, the interplay of economy and security.

After the DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor echoed the same, Ahsan Iqbal said those words were irresponsible, implying that it was something “the enemy” would say. This came straight from the establishment’s ‘how to label the civilians anti-national’ manual – although one can’t be sure if it was meant to be as such.

Now seminar title or not, the main purpose of this exercise was to make public something that the Army leadership has been telling their civilian counterparts in every single recent national security meeting: fix the economy . The reply? Get rid of the militants.

That’s pretty much how Dawn Leaks came into being. That, in turn, is how Q1 happened.

So here’s a recap of what has been happening: the Army wants the government to fix the economy , the government says can’t happen till we have militants marauding around – and so the jihadists are contesting elections, and the economy is being terrorised.

But there’s another spin to it: the Army says India-bound jihadists need to be mainstreamed because Kashmir is our jugular vein and where else will these poor folks go, while the ruling PML-N government has already seen its religious vote bank hit by the rise of these Islamist parties, is hence being increasingly defensive.

There of course is the India angle. Better relationship with India means no need for militant proxies, economy going skywards, Kashmir getting the most practicable solution and then defence budget going the other way.

We all know who wants what here.

So no prizes for guessing that this Interplay of Economy and Security seminar orgnanised by the FPCCI wasn’t quite dedicated to improving ties with India, and was more or less emphasizing something that should be common sense.

That a country that isn’t being jolted by bomb blasts is a better place for investment; and that a country that is economically self-sufficient won’t have to worry about the US giving it the kick up the backside at the IMF.

But what is also common sense, and yet rarely a theme of seminar – whether on economy or security – is how the 1.5 billion market next door would improve Pakistan’s economic numbers especially if the LoC were an imaginary line on a piece of paper and threats of actual, physical military invasion a laughably antediluvian suggestion.

And so, those now adding another tier to the physical and ideological frontiers that they’ve been guarding with mixed results, should also underline how economy is a transnational entity, where there can’t be a line of control.

 

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.