How Pakistan grapples with floods amid economic crisis, Taliban insurgency
1,000 people have died and 1,500 injured due to the floods in Pakistan. It has affected over 30 million people at a time when the country is facing an economic crisis
The unprecedented deluge that has hit parts of Pakistan, affecting more than 30 million people, could not have come at a worse time for a country already coping with a debilitating economic crisis and a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
Over the past few weeks, flash floods have devastated regions of Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, with heart-rending videos on social media depicting people being washed away by the swirling waters or waiting helplessly for relief. According to official figures, at least 1,000 people have died and at least 1,500 have been injured.
Heavy rains have pummeled the southern parts of Pakistan while the swollen Indus river ravaged the northern parts, forcing the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to divert scarce resources to relief operations at a time when Islamabad is engaged in protracted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package.
Both Sharif and Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa toured flood-hit areas on Sunday. The federal government has announced grants of Pakistani ₹10 billion (Pakistani ₹1000 crore) for Balochistan and Pakistani ₹15 billion ( ₹1500 crore) for Sindh at a time when it is grappling with surging energy prices and shortages of essential commodities.
IMF has pushed hard for structural reforms as part of the negotiations for the $4-billion bailout package, saying Pakistan is at a “challenging economic juncture” because a “difficult external environment combined with procyclical domestic policies fuelled domestic demand to unsustainable levels”. The “resultant economic overheating led to large fiscal and external deficits in FY22, contributed to rising inflation and eroded reserve buffers”, it added.
IMF, during the negotiations, has sought stronger governance, enhanced efforts to mitigate corruption and speedy implementation of power sector reforms.
Ahead of a meeting of the IMF’s executive board on Monday to consider Pakistan’s case, Islamabad has reportedly tied up some $37 billion in the form of loans, financing, investment commitments and deferred oil payments from China, Saudi Arabia and other West Asian states. These bridge financing measures are expected to help Pakistan avert the sort of financial meltdown that was witnessed in Sri Lanka recently.
However, the Shehbaz Sharif government can hardly afford any tough decisions in view of the campaign spearheaded by former prime minister Imran Khan, who is seeking to make a comeback after he lost a vote of confidence in April despite no longer having the backing of the powerful military.
Adding to the complicated scenario for the government is the troubled negotiation process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which declared a three-month ceasefire in June following secret talks at the nudging of the Afghan Taliban. Despite pressuring the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has been unable to stop attacks by the TTP that have resulted in the death of dozens of military personnel since the Taliban takeover in Kabul a year ago.
The TTP has demanded a substantial reduction in Pakistani troops in the region bordering Afghanistan that was earlier known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the rollback of the 2018 merger of FATA with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The Pakistan government can ill afford to give in to these demands as these will inevitably lead to the strengthening of the TTP, which has again begun inroads in the strategic Swat region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan’s counter-terrorism credentials will also be in focus in the coming weeks, given the upcoming onsite visit of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that is expected to lead the country getting out of the multilateral watchdog’s “grey list”, in which it was included in 2018.
Later in the year, the government will have to also choose a new army chief, with Bajwa’s term ending in November. The tough times for the Shehbaz Sharif government are far from over.