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Dawn Editorial 18 April 2020

IMF facility

THE news of new lending from the IMF totalling $1.3bn is a welcome development as Pakistan’s external pressures are growing and exports and remittances fall. The details released by the IMF one day after the announcement shows that along with the G20 countries’ debt relief plan, Pakistan’s external debt position has also been helped by China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. China has rolled over $2bn worth of its deposits in March, the kingdom has already refinanced $3bn of its loans that matured between November and January, while the UAE has also rolled over its $1bn loan. Substantial space is now opening up on the external front for Pakistan even as exports and remittances are set to plummet, registering negative growth rates of 2.1pc and 4.8pc respectively. So the comfort coming from creditors is doubtless welcome.
In the language of the economists, the higher current account deficit is set to be compensated by lower financial account outflows, as well as unscheduled support from multilateral creditors. After the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are also set to repurpose close to $250m towards balance-of-payments support for Pakistan. On the external side, enhanced borrowing from multilateral creditors, along with the suspension of debt-service obligations for a limited period, will provide some breathing room for the government to avoid any crisis situation.
But two things must be remembered through all this. The first is that the space has opened up mainly through more borrowing, and the suspension of debt-service payments can only give momentary respite. Those payments are set to begin again in 2022. The second thing to bear in mind is that all dollars are not equal. Reserves with borrowed money provide less comfort than those built with earned money. The IMF provides a timely warning that with the economy undergoing its first ever contraction since 1952, “risks associated with policy slippages and resistance to reforms, including from vested interest groups, loom large”. Already one can see the billionaires’ club moving into action around the government, with vested demands couched in the language of public interest or job creation in their hands. Wherever space opens up, whether fiscal or external, or even in the allocation of subsidised natural resources, these same elements are the first ones at the door with demands for why they should be the ones with privileged access to the resources accrued. There is no doubt that the same play will turn towards the external sector space that has just opened up. It was uncanny to see the stock market celebrate this with a rally in the midst of a powerful and historic economic contraction. This is what must be resisted, and careful thought should be given to how best the public interest can be served with this relief.


Blaming Muslims

IN a radical move that bears all the hallmarks of bigotry, India has brought charges of culpable homicide against a senior cleric for holding a gathering last month that authorities say led to a big jump in coronavirus infections in that country.
Head of the Delhi-based Tableeghi Jamaat Markaz, Maulana Muhammad Saad Khandalvi was booked for manslaughter by police under a provision of the Penal Code which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
While there is little doubt that Tableeghi Jamaat leaders acted irresponsibly by continuing congregations in several countries, including Pakistan, despite the threat from the coronavirus, the extreme reaction from the Indian authorities betrays the latter’s intolerant and bigoted approach towards Muslim citizens.
The action is very much in line with India’s unabashed and sustained discrimination against Muslims under the Modi regime.
The recent move to stigmatise and make an example of a Muslim community leader has not occurred in a vacuum.
It closely follows the dangerous path cemented by the ruling BJP and its Hindu supremacist outlook.
From the crackdown on India-held Kashmir, to the biased citizenship law that blatantly targets Muslims, India has over the last year been creating a suffocating atmosphere of fear and hostility for one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
In this time of crisis, attempting to blame a race or religion can be dangerous, and will push an already battered community to the edge.
Repeated attempts by US President Donald Trump to frame the coronavirus as a ‘Chinese virus’ have resulted in a marked escalation in racism-fuelled attacks on Asian communities.
Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s systematic targeting of Muslims and the impunity with which his government publicly attacks them have set the stage for grave repercussions for the community.
In the aftermath of BJP officials labelling Tableeghi leaders as “Talibani criminals” and bandying about the term “corona jihad”, a string of anti-Muslim attacks have been reported in India.
Muslim men distributing food to the poor have been beaten with cricket bats; many others have been labelled “virus spreaders”, badly beaten or chased out from their residential communities.
A report in The Guardian describes how Muslim-owned businesses have been boycotted and workers accused of spitting in food and infecting water supplies with the virus.
As the world grapples with the deadly Covid-19 phenomenon which has severe consequences for society and the economy, the Indian government must put humanity first.


Shelter in place

WHEREVER economic inequality exists, it is reflected, enacted and maintained through the anti-poor biases of a people and their policymakers. Pakistan is no exception; for decades, we have closed our eyes and numbed our hearts to the abject poverty and deprivation that surrounds us. Yet to witness not just neglect but active cruelty in the midst of the pandemic — when the prime minister himself has repeatedly expressed his concern for the impact it will have on the poorest among us — is a shocking new low. On Thursday, dozens of houses in a katchi abadi in Islamabad were razed to the ground — ostensibly a continuation of recent anti-encroachment drives in Pakistan’s major cities — as their inhabitants watched helplessly. Most of us would not have known had it not been for members of the Awami Workers Party, who arrived on site and began uploading video footage of the demolition on social media. Indeed, it seems many high-ranking officials did not know, as indicated by Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who immediately took notice of the issue. Dr Mazari stated that the demolition occurred apparently without the knowledge or consent of the interior ministry or CDA, which is itself troubling considering it took place in the federal capital of all places. With the official who sanctioned the operation suspended and an inquiry under way, it remains to be seen what the extent of wrongdoing is and the possibility of criminal land mafia involvement. Mercifully, thanks to the minister’s intervention, the forcibly evicted residents have been provided with tents and food for the time being. Given that the government is already struggling to stretch scarce resources to support many jobless and shelterless Pakistanis during this crisis, however, it is unfortunate that this issue was wilfully compounded. We should not be making it any harder for the poor to shelter in place during the lockdown than it already is. There must be a moratorium on forced evictions in the absence of the long-term provision of low-income housing.


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