EDITORIAL: The way Pakistan’s nuclear programme has been dragged into the debate about the IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout programme, and all the controversy it has raised, only goes to show, once again, that top politicians have only themselves to blame for most of the country’s, and their own, problems. This particular drama started when PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) Senator Raza Rabbani wondered out loud, on the floor of the upper chamber, if the delay in securing the 9th review of the ongoing EFF (Extended Fund Facility) was “being made because of some sort of pressure to be exerted on Pakistan’s nuclear (programme)”.
It’s one thing to question why the senate was kept out of the loop about negotiations for the crucial tranche, which is how Senator Rabbani began his outburst, but it’s quite another to make an imaginary leap and drop deliberate hints about something he knew to be extremely controversial and then make those thoughts part of the official record of the house. It forced a red-faced finance minister, who clearly didn’t expect this line of questioning from a coalition partner, to resort to the kind of sabre-rattling that does not suit a country that desperately needs aid money to delay near-certain default. And it didn’t do the country any good whatsoever; except PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), of course, which now has more ammunition to beat the “incompetent, imported government” with.
It’s also made both the IMF and the US government rush to distance themselves from any conditions. The Fund’s representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Luiz, issued a formal statement that categorically dismissed all such speculation and stressed that the programme revolved around macroeconomic fundamentals only. And Centcom commander General Michael E. Kurilla also said, before a hearing of the US Armed Services Committee, that he was “confident of their (Pakistan’s) nuclear security procedures”, implying that Washington hadn’t raised any such issue either. Yet there’s still no stopping the local rumour mill from going into overdrive; especially online, with Pakistanis themselves undermining the country’s nuclear credentials more than any outside party.
The government now needs to take the lead in putting this trend, and all the doubts caused by it, to an end immediately. The prime minister himself should clear the air, as PTI is rightly demanding, because the buck stops with him. Especially since chatter that the 9th review was taking forever because of the so-called nuclear stipulation was already part of the gossip in Islamabad since before Senator Rabbani’s smart idea. Nobody needs to be reminded, especially senior politicians always at each other’s throats because of their feverish lust for power, that the country is at the most vulnerable point that it has ever been. Or that the nuclear arsenal is the highest-value national asset that cannot be compromised at any cost. So it is in the interest of everybody in the country to put this needless controversy behind us and make sure that it is never allowed to surface again.
If the political elite really cared about the country and its people, it would be bending over backwards to find ways to help it recover from the many crises it is mired in. That, of course, would require senior-most politicians to acknowledge that the interests of the country matter more than their own, and also make them put aside all their differences till the state was secure once again. But that doesn’t look likely at all. And it’s a shame that the one thing that can be expected for sure from all sides of the political divide is that all of them would willingly exploit any opportunity that raises their own stock, even at the cost of the state and its reputation.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023