The last time Pakistan had a new army chief was in 2016. By 2017, the twin towers of public discourse decision-making in Pakistan had had enough. They decided that one of the worst things about Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan was how indebted Pakistan had become. This was the era of the Rawalpindi-Imran Khan one page.
Like clockwork, the right wing, centre-right, the hypernationalist and nationalist press and most of social media went to town on Nawaz Sharif: “Pakistan was too indebted”, “it had taken on too much debt”, “Pakistan had a current account deficit that needed to be fixed”. In short, Pakistan had to be saved from, among other things, too much indebtedness.
According To the IMF’s External Debt Sustainability Framework, in 2017 the gross external financing needs of the country were roughly $22 billion. This grew to $28.5 billion in 2018. The short-lived era of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi featured some measure of correction – thanks to Dr Miftah Ismail. By the summer of 2018, caretaker finance minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar came in on a fire engine named ‘austerity’ and slashed spending massively. Asad Umar followed her on a streetcar named ‘unprepared’ and fumbled about, though with great earnestness. He was replaced with the decisive darling of Rawalpindi, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
In 2019, gross external financing needs were restricted to $26.6 billion. Shaikh’s keto diet for Pakistan, combined with Covid-19 helped reduce the burden on the system, and external financing needs shrunk to only $19.8 billion in 2020, and $14.8 billion in 2021. All that breathing room for the economy was not invisible. Sensing the need to be exactly like the big spending Sharifs, Imran Khan brought in Shaukat Tarin to loosen up the reins and love the people a little more. Enter large PSDPs and then that God-forsaken petrol subsidy. Exit prudence (and stability). Then came the Vote of No Confidence, and since then, the movement for ‘haqeeqi’ azadi (apparently, someone likes used MQM splinter group names and apparatus. If Imran Khan’s re-election campaign slogan wasn’t proof enough, the new governor of Sindh, Kamran Tessori, sure…