2022: A look back at Pakistan

A look back at Pakistan

Increase in Terrorist Assaults

Pakistan started 2022 with a number of terrible omens: the collapse of the regime in neighboring Afghanistan and the onset of an economic catastrophe. And the hits began to arrive rapidly. The country has experienced an increase in terrorist assaults, opening the year with a bomb in Lahore that claimed the lives of three individuals.

The government has blamed the Taliban rule in Afghanistan for providing safe haven to armed organizations, but local issues also play a role.

An Economic Outlook

On the economic front, Pakistan’s future appears bleak as the year draws to a close, with many fearing the country will wind up like its neighboring neighbor Sri Lanka: unable to pay its debts, short on foreign reserves, and battling unsustainable, soaring inflation. In November, the country’s consumer price index reached over 24 percent, after the country’s central bank unexpectedly hiked interest rates to curb inflation. In fiscal year 2023, Pakistan is expected to repay more than $26 billion in foreign debt.

Pakistan’s politics also began to disintegrate. The 2018 election of Imran Khan, a former cricket star-turned-prime minister, put him under pressure due to the economic crisis and a growing rift with Pakistan’s powerful military. In March, the opposition filed a motion of no confidence against him; Khan then pressured the president to dissolve the National Assembly and call elections, causing a constitutional crisis. Khan ultimately became the first Pakistani prime minister to lose a vote of no confidence, and on April 11 the same parliament elected Shehbaz Sharif to succeed him.

Threat to Military Establishment

However, Khan has not vanished from view; rather, he has reinvigorated support for a campaign to pressure the new administration to demand early elections, posing a possible threat to the military establishment. In November, he was assaulted at a political event, and two weeks later he returned to the campaign trail. Khan sounded determined to make a return in an interview with Foreign Policy the same month. “What would we do next if I had another chance?” What I’ve been attempting for the past 26 years is rule of law, he remarked. Whenever Pakistan’s economic rebirth begins, it must begin with the establishment of the rule of law.

A climatic disaster occurred during the monsoon season, when excessive rainfall and glacier runoff combined to flood significant portions of the southern region of Pakistan. Pakistan cannot afford the $40 billion in damages caused by the floods, which uprooted millions of people and ruined agricultural livelihoods. In the weeks that followed, Pakistani authorities begged for international aid and led poor nations at the annual United Nations climate change meeting (COP27) in calling for “loss and damage” financing for people on the front lines of the climate disaster.

Domestic Militancy

So, what follows? Domestic militancy continues to exert pressure on the military. Due dates are approaching for debts. Pakistan is one of several nations scheduled to have general elections in 2023, between August and October, so its political drama has not yet reached its pinnacle. And locals are already preparing for another season of harsh climatic conditions.

Peace of Wolves

Certainly, the loss of Afghanistan to the Taliban had rippling effects in Pakistan, but the country confronts additional pressure from inside, with its formidable military as the objective. Lynne O’Donnell of FP writes from Islamabad, “Pakistan’s troubles are not only caused by the disintegration of the Afghan republic.” Economic distress, social marginalization, heavy-handed security, ethnic nationalism, and tribalism are projected to enhance the threat posed by domestic militants.

The February report by O’Donnell now appears to be a strong indicator of what was to follow. According to her sources, in the midst of sporadic negotiations with the TTP, the Pakistani military attempted to bolster its presence to manage the terrorist threat; but, it remained constrained by Pakistan’s economic difficulties. In November, the TTP terminated a cease-fire with Islamabad that had been agreed upon in June, threatening to spread their attacks to the rest of the country in the coming months.

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Inflation Crisis and Imran Khan

The economy was partially responsible for Khan’s April fall from office. When Pakistan’s parliamentary opposition asked for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s economic management, it gained the support of a dozen disgruntled party members. His followers may have interpreted the protracted issue as a breach of a campaign pledge. Pakistani writer Hajira Maryam argues that in 2018, Khan committed to “make the economy work for the poor.” 

Extreme inflation that rocked Pakistan at the conclusion of the previous year reached a two-year high in the beginning of 2022. This afforded the political opposition the opportunity to depose Khan. “So-called middle-class poverty is increasing, putting pressure on the typical wage earner and lowering living conditions. Maryam argues that soaring prices are forcing many individuals to the edge of destitution. In August, Pakistan’s sovereign debt had already surpassed $250 billion.

Maryam observed that Sharif’s government appeared to lack a strategy to address the problem from the outset, despite the fact that Khan is no longer in power. She argues, “even if Khan is expelled in the next days, it would not fix the dilemma facing the Pakistani people.” Whoever assumes power in Pakistan will inherit a defective economic paradigm, and the only obvious objective of the current opposition is Khan’s departure.

Imran Khan’s Revolution

The departure of Khan from office seems to simply strengthen him. He quickly asserted that the United States had conspired to remove him from office. He has urged early elections many times. In addition, he has broken political taboos by criticizing the powerful military institution and the judicial system. Khan was charged with terrorism-related charges in August for allegedly threatening police officers and a judge. Later, a high court dismissed the accusations.

In light of these allegations, FP’s Azeem Ibrahim says that Khan’s widespread popularity may signify a turning point in Pakistani politics. “What many dismiss as sour grapes may really herald the beginning of something new: the emergence of a popular mass democratic movement in Pakistan, the first since the Partition of India and establishment of the state 75 years ago,” he writes.

Khan’s strategy also underscores his rupture with Pakistan’s military, which supported his ascent to power and continues to control the country’s politics in the background. The military expected Khan “would adhere to the hidden laws of politics and recognize when he was defeated,” says Ibrahim. “However, as Khan’s oppositional language becomes more grandiose — targeting the corruption of elections, parliamentary politics, the economy, and state institutions, as well as the essence of military rule — the generals obviously see something new and alarming on the horizon.”

Incoming Superflood

Amid economic and political instability, Pakistan faced a climatic calamity. In June, abnormally high monsoon rains combined with glacier melt to inundate areas prone to flooding and force rivers to overrun their banks. By September, one-third of the nation was submerged, millions of farmers had lost a whole growing season, and Islamabad was pleading for immediate aid. Fatima Bhojani, a Pakistani journalist, notes that this was Pakistan’s second catastrophic flood since 2010.

She argues, “The basic reality is that even the most ambitious goals of climate activists may be too hot for Pakistan.” The nation is at the forefront of the climate issue, and disasters such as this year’s floods are worsened by inadequate infrastructure and socioeconomic inequality. Despite Pakistan’s relatively little contribution to global emissions, “it has become one of the most susceptible nations to even mild temperature changes,” adds Bhojani.

World’s Largest Polluters

Sharif cited the floods during his speech at COP27 in November, leading poor nations in a demand for climate justice that addresses imbalances between vulnerable communities and the world’s largest polluters. The West must step forward, says Bhojani. People in Pakistan are already preparing for the “next catastrophe.”

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