Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Chill on the bill: Is the party of Imran and the Pakistan Army over

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Fulfilling IMF Mandate

The Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party led hybrid government flexed its muscle last month when it got 33 bills passed in the parliament without even its reading. However, on 22 December 2021, the same government developed cold feet in passing two important bills. Asad Qaiser, the National Assembly speaker, hurriedly adjourned the session as he could not muster sufficient PTI members to complete the quorum. The passing of these two important bills is essential for Pakistan as unlocking the promised funds by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is purely dependent on the passing of the legislation. The first bill is about freeing the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) from the clutches of the Finance Ministry. The second bill is a Money Bill and is shown as a mini-budget to supplement the Budget 2021-22 by raising revenue by cutting subsidies, raising tariffs and taxes. Both these bills are the outcome of stiff conditions imposed by the IMF.

Problems of Biting the Bill

12 January 2022 is crucial for the government of Pakistan as the IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) will carry out the sixth review of the authorities’ reform programme. The opposition from some ministers at the cabinet’s initial deliberations over the SBP Amendment bill and the mini-budget creates criticality for the Imran Khan government to unlock the second tranche of over US$1 billion. The reason for opposition stems from the concern that it diminishes national sovereignty and imposes hardships on the people of Pakistan, who are struggling with the growing price rise. On top of that, they fear that the opposition may paint the PTI as surrendering to the west by pumping up public sentiments.

According to Finance Parliamentary Secretary Zain Qureshi, the government is mulling to bring amendments to the Finance Bill through a Presidential ordinance as bringing Parliamentary Bill in such a short time may not be feasible. IMF is aware of the four-month validity of the Ordinance and hence, may not find favour with the IMF board. However, the Money Bill is more crucial from the parliamentary affairs point of view. If it fails to muster through both the houses, the constitution construes it as a vote of no confidence. It means forming a new government based on a vote of confidence by the majority of Members of the National Assembly (MNA). If no one demonstrates a majority, calling for fresh elections is the only alternative.

Catch 22 Situation for Pakistan Military

Pakistan military accused of rigging 2018 elections and installing Imran Khan after it fell apart with Nawaz Sharif has rescued Imran Khan many a time. In recent times, the cavalier remarks by Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Quereshi of calling a separate session outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) annoyed Riyadh. Consequently, Saudi Arabia immediately recalled a $1 billion loan, part of a $3 billion loan and a $3.2 billion oil credit facility it had given Pakistan in November 2018. Finally, Pakistan Army Chief had to step in December 2020 and in May 2021 to reset the Pakistan-Saudi relationship. After hectic parleys and visits by Imran Khan, the US$4.2 billion loans were released by Saudi Fund for Development (SFD). The Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protest in October 2021 almost got Islamabad on its knee. Though Imran Khan was accused of entering into a secret deal after making a bold statement of taking actions against the errant TLP, however, it was the military establishment (MilEst) that brokered things behind the scene. On 16 December 2021, again, the MilEst had to intervene to ensure parliamentary proceedings were promulgated. The MNAs attendance was ensured to pass the 33 bills in one day. This time around, MilEst seems reluctant to push for the legislation because of the fear of blowback from the commoners. The MilEst knows it cannot lose its credibility with the people of Pakistan, and it is aware of the population’s angst against rising commodity prices, lack of jobs and precarious economic situation.

Is the Party Over?

If the report in The Friday Times of 24 December 2021 by the political commentator Najam Sethi is to be believed, the party of MilEst with PTI seems to be over. The MilEst, in its latest manoeuvre, is closely negotiating with Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. If the government of Imran Khan falls due to the mess it has created over the two bills, the contingency plan by MilEst is already in place. The rout of PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) local body elections in December 2021 indicates the growing disenchantment of the people and Pakistan Army with the playboy turned Prime Minister. Chill on the bill is set to see a new political realignment in Pakistan in 2022. However, the games of the throne will remain thorny.

The Author: Vivek Verma is the former Deputy Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi and has authored “Non-Contact Warfare: An Appraisal of China’s Military Capability.”

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