DAWN Editorials 9th November 2022

Ishrat Jamal

Unintelligent move

IF Imran Khan is to be believed, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been compromised. It is a stunning admission coming from a former prime minister — even more so because he does not appear to realise that is what the statement amounts to.

On Monday, during an interview with an American news channel, the PTI chairman claimed he had obtained advance warning from “within the intelligence agencies” about an assassination attempt against him. He added that the information was given to him “because most people are appalled by what is going on in this country”, implying it was malcontents within the intelligence that had warned him about the ‘plot’.

Through this remark, Mr Khan gave further clarity to the claim he had made from his hospital bed on Friday that he had prior warning of a planned attempt on his life for which he held three individuals — the incumbent prime minister, the interior minister and a serving major general — responsible.

There are two aspects to this very significant statement broadcast to an international audience on Monday. Firstly, if Mr Khan had prior intimation of such a plot, then by embarking on the ‘long march’ regardless and, especially, without taking necessary commonsense precautions, he placed himself and all those present at grave risk of harm. That was irresponsible in the extreme.

Secondly, Mr Khan has in effect let slip there is a mole (perhaps more than one) inside the intelligence apparatus circumventing the command structure to reveal his organisation’s operational details to someone outside the system, which the PTI chairman, as an opposition leader, obviously is. Of course, that is not to say there is indeed a leak; perhaps when he uttered these words the ousted prime minister was carried away by emotion on account of his brush with death.

Nevertheless, his contention must be investigated. Even if there is any truth to it, his bringing into the public domain such a rupture within the intelligence apparatus is a grave misstep and may even attract the provisions of the Official Secrets Act; the culpable officers would certainly be liable to prosecution.

As PM, Mr Khan appeared to have little issue with the intelligence services’ modus operandi, even going so far as to say they had a right to know every step he was taking; he was also seen as being particularly close to one ISI chief whose posting out, in fact, ultimately led to the PTI government’s fallout with the military.

Now that he is out of power, Mr Khan has been arguing, rightly, that the job of the intelligence is to secure the country rather than do political engineering. He was also not off the mark in criticising the ISI chief for holding a press conference. However, a country’s former chief executive should know that not everything can be placed in the court of public opinion to serve one’s political agenda.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2022

Foreign currency curbs

THE purported government decision to restrict the purchase of foreign currency by individuals to $5,000 per day and $50,000 per calendar year to reduce dollar outflow, discourage speculative foreign exchange trade and ease pressure on the exchange rate has come a little late in the day. Yet it must help subdue speculative pressures on the exchange rate that have caused immense volatility in the market, and bridge the wide gap between the interbank and kerb markets going forward. The decision was reportedly made during a meeting of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with the State Bank governor Jamil Ahmad. They also decided to use the FIA to take action against foreign currency dealers involved in speculative currency trading and stop the ‘smuggling’ of foreign currency through Peshawar.

Pakistan is currently going through one of its worst currency crises in decades. Even the resumption of the IMF support package in August has failed to stabilise the nation’s external account, and the odds of the crisis continuing for the next several months have significantly increased following the devastating floods that are estimated by international agencies to have caused damage of more than $32bn to the economy. GDP growth is projected to fall below 2pc this fiscal year, and it is feared that the current account deficit will widen beyond the budgeted target of 2.4pc on increased food and cotton imports and decreased exports. International credit rating agencies have also cut Pakistan’s sovereign rating recently because of its increasing external sector vulnerabilities. Thus, the possibility of the currency crisis involving further depreciation of the exchange rate and extensive depletion of foreign exchange reserves in the near future cannot be ruled out as the promised multilateral and bilateral dollars are slow to arrive. Mr Dar has repeatedly asserted that the real inflation-adjusted value of the rupee is less than 200 to a dollar, and many, including the State Bank governor, seem to agree with him. However, the restrictions proposed on individuals’ purchases of the dollar are perhaps his first tangible action to stabilise the exchange rate. But this isn’t enough to strengthen the exchange rate in line with its fair value. With the State Bank foreign exchange reserves down to $8.9bn, both the government and the central bank will have to implement more stringent controls to stop legal and illegal dollar outflows considering the precarious liquidity situation. Once the reserves start improving, these restrictions can be removed in a phased manner.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2022

Security for investors

FOREIGN investment is amongst the various remedies mentioned for addressing Pakistan’s chronic economic problems. However, perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of foreign friends putting their money in Pakistan is the precarious security situation that plagues the land. The issue was recently highlighted during Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s visit to China, as even our long-time ally was reportedly concerned about lack of security for its nationals in Pakistan. The Foreign Office has said this country accords the highest priority to providing security to Chinese personnel and projects. During the PM’s Beijing visit, President Xi Jinping reportedly expressed “great concern” over the safety of Chinese nationals in Pakistan, and hoped for a “reliable and safe environment” for his compatriots in this country. A number of deadly terrorist attacks, including one targeting Chinese tutors in Karachi University in April, and last year’s attack on Chinese workers in Dasu, have fuelled a trust deficit, affecting CPEC and lowering the pace of economic cooperation.

Whether it is Chinese investments or any other overseas projects, the state must provide foolproof security to foreign investors if it expects them to put their money in Pakistan. No foreign government will be willing to allow investments in Pakistan if their citizens are not safe in this country. Along with the elimination of terrorist threats by the state, it is also imperative that foreign investments benefit local communities. If locals fail to get jobs or training, these foreign ventures will be viewed negatively; already this discontentment is being exploited by violent separatists as well as hostile states. Foreign investment is a much better and more constructive option than asking overseas partners for aid and loans. There is no shortage of land and manpower in Pakistan, and if the right security environment is provided, and economic benefits trickle down to local communities, such ventures can play a major role in stabilising Pakistan’s teetering economy. This is something the government, the opposition and the establishment need to have a consensus on.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2022