USA-based global rating company Moody has further downgraded Pakistan’s sovereign credit ratings by further two notches to Caa3-the lowest in three decades-amid international loan negotiations, citing the country’s increasingly fragile liquidity as “significantly raising default risk”. For credibility to be upgraded, the agency implied that Pakistan complies with the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and expands its engagement with the latter, even beyond its ending period in June 2023. It is pertinent to mention here that while Pakistan has succumbed to the demands of IMF by our government taking various austerity measures, the rollover of at least $1.1 billion still remains a far play which in turn is an encumbrance to Pakistan obtaining loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners. Also, during the previous year, the IMF loan was increased by 45% to settle at Rs. 1.7 trillion by the end of December 2022. So, the question that arises here is whether this method to retain foreign exchange reserves (Forex)-with nothing in sight for its expansion and durability- is sustainable when our already depleting foreign reserves stand at $4.3 billion today.
With the mounting loans, coupled with a lack of repayment resources, the country’s destiny has been placed in the hands of International financial institutions and global power. No political party or National alliance has been able to cope with the country’s economic woes as our utmost focus has remained on casting aspersions on each other and various state institutions instead of working towards National Consensus and National Consolidation at least to overcome the economic suicide that the state is committing today, slowly, deliberately and intermittently.
Pakistan’s utmost problem remains Protracted Policy and Political Chaos compounding and hence compounded by the social vulnerability.
Our policies are governed by ad-hocism and whilst leaders in the parliament spill all their force in pulling each other’s leg, Pakistan’s public debt stands today at $97.5 billion. Recently, PDM has pitched high on the decrease in this public debt by $ 4.7 billion in February 2023, the amount has been paid out of our forex. With no foreseeable development pattern, foreign reserves dipped by a staggering 68% or $12.1 billion to settle at $4.3 billion, as mentioned above. Pakistan is at risk of default and this is the high time for Pakistan to make structural-and might be painful-amendments to our economic odyssey. Instead of looking to various creditors-bilateral and multilateral-for economic assistance that, in the long run, makes Pakistan even more vulnerable to its political interests, Pakistan should capitalize on its international agreements and investments, striving to attract global market but in such a manner that our national interests are served strategically and durably.
Reliance on CPEC as being our only savior would not serve the purpose nor our current modus operandi on this or any other international project will do.
For Pakistan to see the benefits of $25 billion already being invested under the guise of CPEC, it is necessary that transparency, payment, and shareholding equality and Balochistan consensus is attained.
Accountability and Structural introspection are yet another necessity missing in our economic structure. This is what cost Pakistan an 11$ billion penalty (by the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes) in the Reqo Diq Case. It is strategic that Pakistan has refurbished the deal and saved the penalty but such policies of appeasement as hurriedly passing Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022, through Parliament to guarantee the protection of foreign investment in connection with Reko Diq might serve as yet another misstep. This is primarily because the utmost hurdle in the reissuing of the license to the company that caused the dispute– has been Tethyan Copper Company involving other stakeholders without taking into account our provincial or federal governments. So, what policy has been incorporated to settle such issues or misgivings?
It is not meant here that project shall be delayed or obstructed but the point to be considered is taking a meticulous road to the coveted destiny so that we are not misled or moved astray. There is a wise saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and as Reqo Diq Project is viable to unlock Pakistan’s mineral potential (with the project aiming at producing 200,000 tons of copper and 250, 000 ounces of gold a year for nearly 50 years) and is eyeing on creating 8000 direct and 12, 000 indirect jobs, it is up to the state to show it to the maximization of national interest of the state. It is again up to the government in power to ensure that the 50% share given to the operating Barrick Gold Company (same as Tethyan Copper Company) serves the justifiable benefit of the state and its people.
Pakistan’s energy vulnerability is another pressing catastrophe striking the very essence of our economic prowess. Our natural gas reserves have been depleting at the rate of 9 % per annum now and hence strategic and meticulous completion and operationalization of such projects as the TAPI gas pipeline-1820 km pipeline that tends to deliver 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day-and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power pipeline should be the state’s priority. CASA-1000-delivering 1300 MW of electricity to Pakistan and Afghanistan from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan hydropower resources that are abundant in summers- is another project that can suffice both our economic woes and our COP-26 obligations of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025.
Pakistan shall extend its engagement with the Central Asian region-a new center for global power politics also in the pursuit of its Nuclear Energy Vision 2050, whereby Pakistan wants to meet one-quarter of its energy requirements by incorporating 40, 000 MW of nuclear energy capacity in our national grid.
It is high time that Pakistan realizes the misadventures of its economic odyssey in such a manner that Pakistan is raised to a pedestal of being an internationally creditworthy and economically fascinating state, whose national image does not revolve around being a security-centric or debt-thirsty state merely. All relevant and capable state institutions, hence, shall be allowed to play their part in the better interest of the state and its people.
The author is a graduate of International Relations. With the experience of working with two top-notch Think Tanks, namely IPRI and SDPI, she has in her credit Research Papers and a number of articles on various national and International platforms. She tweets @sana_hamid_here