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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  India has no reason at all to help Pakistan in its crisis

Pakistan is currently in the deepest economic crisis in its history. Many essential food items are now unaffordable for large swathes of the country’s population. It desperately needs a few billion dollars to tide over the next few months, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is playing hardball. Islamabad seems to have accepted all the short-term conditions set by the IMF for writing out a cheque, but this will cause even more pain for the people of Pakistan before the disease subsides.

Last week, under IMF pressure, general sales tax (GST) and excise duty were hiked across the board. Petrol prices were raised by 22 (in Pakistani currency) to 272 a litre. Kerosene and both light and high-speed diesel will be more expensive. Even ghee and cooking oil will be costlier. And Pakistan cannot import edible oil in adequate quantities because it does not have the dollars to pay for it.

Some essentials like flour, rice, eggs, milk, chicken and vegetables are exempted from the hikes. But given the high inflation rate, predicted to average 33% in the first half of 2023, things are not going to get better any time soon. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, prices of chicken and milk rose by more than 20% between the last week of January and 13 February.

Meanwhile, several Indian politicians and commentators are of the opinion that India should come to Pakistan’s aid. This view is not restricted to opposition leaders and leftist busybodies. On 13 February, Sunil Jakhar, former president of the Congress in Punjab, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party last year, tweeted: “As millions suffer food shortages, a virtually bankrupt Pakistan desperately needs help. A confident India should support a beleaguered neighbour, despite inimical designs of its deep state. Let’s reciprocate the spirit of goodwill which made Kartarpur corridor possible."

The tweet reminded me of a former boss of mine who belonged to the ‘Lahore club’ of Lutyens’ Delhi. The Lahore club ardently believed that Pakistan wanted peace with India. My boss began visiting the Wagah border in the mid-1990s with a dozen or so like-minded individuals at the 14-15 August midnight hour and stood there with a lit candle in his hand, hoping to spread a message of amity. Unfortunately, no one ever came from the Pakistan side, with or without a candle, even though he had implored all his Lahore and Rawalpindi friends to join. He accepted defeat after two or three years of this foolishness.

His friend and fellow member of the Lahore club, Inder Kumar Gujral, caused significant harm to Indian intelligence services when, as prime minister, he disbanded the ground-level network in Pakistan that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had spent decades building. Gujral believed that Pakistan had no hostile intent towards India. It took many years for RAW to recover from this appalling self-goal.

The wily Pervez Musharraf seemed able to play some of these people like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello. This was a military dictator who had launched the completely unprovoked war in Kargil and presided over a sharp rise in terror attacks and deaths of innocents in Kashmir and the rest of India. Yet, during the India-Pakistan Agra summit meeting in 2001, at a breakfast for senior journalists hosted by Musharraf, my boss told the general: “I support you so much that in India, they call me your man." I can say this now because Vir Sanghvi, former editor of Hindustan Times, who was present there, recently wrote about what transpired.

But my boss did not know that the breakfast meet was being stealthily telecast live and was enraged when he learnt his words were now on record.

He was hardly the only one. Senior Indian journalists swooned over Imran Khan when he became prime minister and called him a “statesman", even while he was proving to be not only incompetent, but also a radical Islamist. The same people hailed the Taliban for holding a press conference after taking Kabul in August 2021. Apparently, the Taliban were more liberal than Narendra Modi, who has never called an open interaction with media.

It makes absolutely no sense for India to provide any sort of succour to Pakistan. Any financial or food aid would possibly not even reach most of those who need it—the country’s incredibly corrupt elite would loot the bulk of it. Pakistan should be made to remain busy full-time in solving its internal problems, almost all of which it has created for itself. This will keep it distracted from its deranged anti-India ambitions. Though, even last month, when the country’s economy was imploding, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif found time to call for talks with India on “burning issues like Kashmir". This is funny since it is Sharif’s house that is on fire.

A few days ago, China, which once claimed that Pakistan is its “iron brother", shut down the consular office of its embassy “temporarily". Out of Pakistan’s $27-billion bilateral debt, as estimated, around $23 billion is Chinese loans.

It is in India’s interest that Pakistan stays weak and troubled. The IMF should lay down stringent loan conditions on how much the Pakistani government can spend on defence. Meanwhile, Islamabad can content itself with the World Happiness Index and the Global Hunger Index, which conclude every year that the people of Pakistan are happier and better fed than we in India are. These index makers—what exactly are they smoking?

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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Updated: 19 Feb 2023, 10:41 PM IST
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