After the Pulwama terrorist attack in which more than 40 Indian soldiers were martyred, Indians were justifiably angry with Pakistan. India’s unsuccessful air strike on a terrorist training camp in Balakot and the subsequent aerial dogfight between the two air forces brought the two countries to the brink of war.
But many people felt surprised by the statements made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan at the height of tensions. He appeared to be very enthusiastic to deescalate the situation and continuously made conciliatory statements in addition to releasing the Indian pilot. When did Pakistan, whose official policy is to “bleed India with a thousand cuts” through its proxy war, become a peacenik?
The fact is, Pakistan is not in a position to wage a war against India. What are the reasons that pulled Pakistan back from the brink of war?
Pakistan’s economy is almost in an ICU- slow growth rate, rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves, mounting sovereign debt, very little exports and widening current account deficit are some of the problems that are ailing its economy. It has already borrowed billions of dollars from some of its allies including China and Saudi Arabia, but it found the assistance inadequate and decided to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. The IMF, however, is putting strong preconditions including a switch over to a floating exchange rate regime. Pakistan has so far been rescued by the IMF 21 times and this is the 22nd time it approached for a bailout. A strong economy is the most important prerequisite to go for war as modern warfare is extremely costly and a nation that is already in a debt trap can barely afford it.
Pakistan, over some decades, has acquired notoriety for being a breeding ground for terrorism. Its numerous madrasas regularly churn out hardened fanatics who carry out terrorist activities. According to some sources, there are around 40,000 registered and unregistered madrasas in Pakistan, which teach only religious subjects such as Koran and Hadith that fail to empower the students with any gainful employment. In the absence of any opportunities, terrorism becomes the only option for them. Even the government extends funding to some of these seminaries. For example, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government allots millions of rupees to Darul Uloom Haqqania, the seminary that acquired notoriety as the ‘University of Jihad’. The international community sees a direct correlation between the rapid proliferation of these seminaries and the growing radicalization of youth. Although many nations, on numerous occasions asked Pakistan to take effective measures to liberate the Pakistani society of radicalism and combat terror, their words fell on deaf ears. Though it has some all-weather friends such as China, their support is not adequate for it to sail through a potential confrontation with India.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global terror financing watchdog, has already placed Pakistan on the grey list for not taking satisfactory measures to curb terror financing and it is even facing the prospect of getting blacklisted in future. Getting blacklisted implies that Pakistan is “non-cooperative” in the global fight against terrorist financing. If Pakistan gets blacklisted, the multilateral lenders such as IMF and World Bank will downgrade it and Pakistan will not be able to get the much-needed financial assistance from these lenders. Even the credit rating agencies like Moody’s and S&P will reduce its risk rating. So, entering FATF’s blacklist will prove to be a financial death knell as it will become almost impossible for Pakistan to borrow money to save its crumbling economy.
Pakistan’s increasing isolation is being exploited by China to serve its narrow self-interests. China, through its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), undertook massive infrastructure projects in Pakistan. These projects have resulted in a rapid increase in Pakistan’s sovereign debt burden. Moreover, the recent happenings in Sri Lanka, which borrowed heavily from China to build a port and was later compelled to give it to China on a 99-year lease after it failed to repay the loan, triggered worries in Pakistan. There are many observers who foresee the likelihood of Pakistan failing to repay the CPEC loans and ending up coughing out land to China, losing its sovereignty in the process.
Pakistan, though a theocracy that enforces the draconian Sharia laws, is facing ever-increasing internal conflicts. The latest bomb blasts in Quetta, which were targeted against the Hazara community, claimed more than twenty lives. These blasts are the manifestation of the twin problem of terrorism and sectarian violence that is ailing the Pakistani society.
These problems will only intensify once the IMF’s notorious and painful structural adjustment program kicks in and the people start feeling its pinch. All these reasons make Pakistan very uncomfortable and it develops cold feet at the prospect of a war with India. Moreover, the ever-deteriorating internal situation made Imran Khan take steps to rapidly deescalate the situation.