With the promise of ushering in a “Naya Pakistan”, Prime Minister Imran Khan padded up on August 18 last year to face a barrage of issues, including critical economic challenges, threats to internal security, rising extremism, worsening ties with the US and soured ties with India. One year on, Khan, unlike his illustrious cricketing career, seems to have failed to get off to a cracking start, with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government being saddled with dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports, high inflation and growing fiscal deficit.
Immediately after PTI sailed smoothly to a simple majority in the Pakistan general elections, following a 22-year-struggle in the political arena, Khan extended an olive branch to New Delhi, saying, “If India takes one step towards us, we will take two steps toward them.” However, in reality, relations between the two nations have taken two steps backwards following the Pulwama attacks, Kulbhushan Jadhav case and a fresh flashpoint over scrapping of the special status of Kashmir. Measures like the opening of the Kartarpur corridor and crackdown on terrorist groups, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafeez Saeed, has been a positive development.
Besides, the Imran Khan government has also faced accusations of muzzling the voice of the Opposition. Two former prime ministers — Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — are behind the bars while two others — Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf — are charged in corruption cases in the Accountability Court. Former president Asif Ali Zardari is also facing investigation in a fake accounts case.
For the Interior Ministry, the toughest challenge was posed by the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which held violent protests across the country, following the acquittal of Asia Bibi on October 31 last year in a blasphemy case.
The fact that Imran Khan has struggled in his first year as PM can be gauged from the fact that his government has come good on only one of the 49 major promises made in his 2018 election manifesto, according to Dawn. While the government has kept its promise of building a Special Task Force to recover looted national wealth parked in offshore tax havens, other pledges like a Medina-style welfare state in which education and health will get maximum priority, 10 million jobs and five million low-cost homes are yet to be implemented.
1) Soured relations with India
Already on a downslide following the Pulwama attack, where a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel, relations between India and Pakistan worsened after Imran Khan decided to downgrade diplomatic ties with New Delhi, recall its high commissioner and suspend bilateral trade in response to the Narendra Modi government’s move to scrap special status to Jammu and Kashmir by diluting Article 370.
The development came nearly five months after India decided to revoke the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status that it had accorded to Pakistan in 1996. The India-Pakistan official bilateral trade is currently worth about $2 billion. According to a recent report by ICRIER, it peaked to about $ 2.5 billion but fell again after the Uri attack, and has dipped again due to the 200 per cent duty imposed by India on imports from Pakistan after the Pulwama attack.
The terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February was the latest flashpoint with India launching an airstrike in Balakot inside Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated by launching airstrikes and targeting military installations along the LoC, which was followed by a dogfight where IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan. After several days of uncertainty, the tension finally eased when Pakistan returned Varthaman to India as a goodwill gesture.
However, the prospects for the resumption of engagement between the two nations looked promising after Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured a second term on the back of a thumping win in the Lok Sabha elections. In fact, even before the elections began, Khan also batted for a second-term for BJP, saying “there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if the incumbent government is back”.
After Modi’s election win, Khan had dialled the PM and said he looked forward to advancing his vision for “peace, progress and prosperity”. In response, Modi had said that “creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism were essential” for cooperation in fostering “peace, progress and prosperity” in the region.
In between, the protracted legal battle over Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Navy officer sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage, at the International Court of Justice also soured ties. The ICJ’s verdict, granting consular access to Jadhav and directing Islamabad to review and reconsider his conviction and sentencing, was perceived as a major diplomatic success for India.
2) Crackdown on terror and arrest of Hafeez Saeed
On July 26, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said at the United States Institute of Peace that there were “30,000 to 40,000 armed people” in his country “who have been trained to fight in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir”. The interesting fact about it was that for the first time a Pakistani Prime Minister spoke about it candidly.
While in his first year Imran Khan has launched a series of crackdowns against terrorists and terror groups operating within Pakistan, India has said it was just to “hoodwink the international community” by taking “cosmetic steps against such outfits”. In the immediate aftermath of the Pulwama attack, 44 people linked to several militant groups were taken into preventive custody. They included two close relatives of Masood Azhar — Mufti Abdur Rauf and Hammad Azhar.
Three months later, with pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which last year placed Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls on terrorism financing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed was arrested. Pakistan also lodged 23 cases against Saeed and 12 aides for using five trusts to collect funds and donations for Lashkar-e-Taiba.
3) Economic woes fester
Internally, Imran Khan’s biggest headache in the maiden year of his government has been on the economic front. From petroleum products to food items and from bills for electricity and gas to medicine, prices have everything has skyrocketed amid rising inflation while the government has been unable to attract any foreign investment and also failed in creating business opportunities within the country.
Over the last year, the growth rate has halved — down to 3.3 per cent, the lowest in nine years and foreign exchange reserves fell to such a level at one point that the government was grappling to cover a month’s worth of imports, according to a report in Dawn.
The extent of the crisis could be gauged from the fact that the PTI government borrowed $16 billion in just one year – the highest ever external borrowing in any fiscal year since its independence in 1947. Imran Khan himself visited Saudi Arabia, UAE and China, primarily to seek money to bail out Pakistan’s economy as the government’s external debt increased to $65.8 billion in January 2019. Rising imports under the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and low exports has led to a rise of its current account deficit from $2.7 billion in 2015 to $18.2 billion in 2019.
According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan ranks 136th out of 190 economies. Besides, Pakistan has not been able to attract consistent foreign direct investment in this one year. The only bright spot was the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, pledging $21 billion investment over the next six years. Recently, Pakistan has also managed to secure a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
“In this one year, the government has managed to decrease current account deficit and trade deficit, made saving through its austerity drive, introduced flagship programmes in the social sector and restored the lost dignity of Pakistani leadership.”
“In this one year, the government has managed to decrease current account deficit and trade deficit, made saving through its austerity drive, introduced flagship programmes in social sector and restored the lost dignity of Pakistani leadership,” Dawn quoted Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Affairs Naeem ul Haq as saying in a ceremony on the completion of one year of Imran Khan government.
4) Balancing the US and Afghanistan
Just two months after Imran Khan assumed charge, the Trump administration had cut $300 million in military aid to Pakistan in September 2018. Ties between the two nations went further south after the US President, in his New Year tweet, accused Islamabad of being a “liar”. “They (Pakistan) give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help,” Trump tweeted.
However, since then, ties between the two countries seem to be back on track after Pakistan brought the Taliban to the negotiating table, with Trump thanking Imran Khan for “helping out” with the Afghan talks. This is so because the US is keen to withdraw US troops from the country to save the $45 billion it spends there annually. Besides, the Pentagon also approved military sales worth $125 million to Pakistan.
The most recent round of talks between Taliban and US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad was held in early July in Doha, Qatar. Khalilzad has called it the “most productive of the seven rounds” so far. Pakistan’s role in being the main force behind the Taliban participation and driving the peace process in Afghanistan has been appreciated by all sides.