Sewn up…

A World Bank bigwig looks set

to take the fund’s top job…

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA has been mentioned in connection with every leadership role going at international organisations, from secretary-general of theUN to the head of the European Commission. Were the presidency of the World Bank decided on merit alone, with no consideration of nationality, Ms Georgieva, its chief executive, might have been a shoo-in. She briefly stood in as president after Jim Yong Kim resigned in January, but in April the job went to David Malpass, an American.

NOW THE Bulgarian seems at last to have nabbed one of the top jobs on a permanent basis. A transatlantic understanding dating back to the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 means that an American leads the World Bank while a European leads theIMF. In August Ms Georgieva became Europe’s nominee to replace Christine Lagarde at the fund’s helm. Despite noises from the British that they would put forward their own candidate, the deadline for submitting nominees passed on September 6th with Ms Georgieva the sole contender. Her official appointment by early October seems assured.

SINCE 2017 she has been responsible for much of the running of the World Bank, where, before a stint at the European Commission, she also spent many years as a staffer. As chief executive she is credited with smoothing over differences betweenMr Kim and the staff, and leading negotiations with the bank’s shareholders for a capital increase.

HER GOOD relations with large shareholders, including America and China, should prove an asset to theIMF, which risks being caught in the middle of the very trade and currency wars it was set up to avert. It may also have to advise governments on coping with a global economic slowdown. Although she has less macroeconomic expertise than some other early contenders, such as Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, former colleagues point out that she was active in assessing countries’fiscal positions while in Brussels, and helped beef up the European Union’s bailout mechanism.

AS AN academic she wrote a textbook that is still used by undergraduates in Bulgaria. Her expertise in environmental economics is likely to come in handy, too. Masood Ahmed of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, reckons that assessing the impact of climate change on macroeconomic and financial stability will become more important for the fund.

THE FIRST half of Ms Lagarde’s tenure was dominated by Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis. TheIMF’s focus has since shifted to emerging and fragile states. Ms Georgieva will inherit a mess in Argentina (see next article). One World Bank staffer notes that other European candidates would probably only have been familiar with emerging markets from their holidays.

MS GEORGIEVA, by contrast, has spent decades working with the poorer countries that are the target of most of the fund’s programmes. And her home country made the transition from communism to a market economy in the 1990s. By the fund’s own classification Bulgaria is still an emerging economy, withGDP per person less than a quarter that of France, which has supplied four of the fund’s last six chiefs.

MS GEORGIEVA stature and experience may explain the absence of challengers, which ensured that Europe retained the position despite fraught haggling over the nomination. It was the second such row of the summer. (The first, in June, had been over a package of topEU roles, which created the vacancy at the fund when Ms Lagarde was appointed to lead the European Central Bank.) For theIMF job eastern Europeans backed Ms Georgieva, whereas northerners preferred Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a former Dutch finance minister.

WHEN CONSENSUS eluded them, theEU’s 28 national finance ministers resorted to voting by email (though Britain abstained), at which point Ms Georgieva gained most support and Mr Dijsselbloem bowed out. Europe’s choice, though the result of much wrangling, is set to prevail. One relic of the Bretton Woods era somehow continues to defy the odds.■



Great American Writer and Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, (1931—2019): A Tribute by London Economist

Toni Morrison, American writer, who died

on Monday, August 5th, aged 88…

SHE DID not look away. When Toni Morrison’s clear imagining gaze met uncomfortable things, she faced them down. A poisoned dog jerking round the yard like a toy. Human placenta in a field. The transparent underskin of a bobcat gutted on a kitchen table. The greyish panties, still round her ankles, of an 11-year-old girl raped by her father as she washed the dishes.

ESPECIALLY SHE did not look away from the images of slavery she had been slowly, painfully dragged towards by the time she wrote “Beloved”, in 1987. A man hanged in a sycamore tree, known by his shirt, but with head and feet missing. A red ribbon, fished from the river, with a curl of wet woolly hair attached to it and, to that, its bit of scalp. A fugitive slave crunching the breastbone of a dove before its heart had stopped beating. The wildness that shot up in a man’s eye when his lips were yanked back to take the bit. Sethe, her heroine in “Beloved”, serenely continuing to hold on her baby’s face after she had cut its throat to save it from a slave’s life.

BECAUSE THESE scenes sometimes brushed against beauty—the sycamores tall and soughing, the dove eaten under flowering plum trees—and because her novels won prizes, notably the Nobel in 1993, critics tended to call them lyrical and poetic. Nothing made her madder. Lyricism meant that literary language was getting in the way. It had to be stripped down, freed up, opened up and teased to get the writerly-ness out. First drafts of her word-work, in number-two pencil on yellow legal pads, then went through as many as 13 revisions on the word-processor. Those 18 years as an editor at Random House had not been for nothing. She knew exactly what was needed to lead, sometimes throw, the reader into an alien world. It was not merely words but the silences between them, the unsaid things and the smoke they sent up, that gave her phrases their rhythm and their power.

HERS WAS a work to reclaim lost black voices. Slaves in wagons singing under their breath, ghosts and haints staring silently from tree stumps, ancestors whose names were hidden in children’s chants. Or simply girls like herself raised to womanhood in the Midwest, beside a steel mill, in a small house obsessively painted and sluiced with Fels-Naptha as though at any moment they might be forced to leave. Read as she might, there were no books about this world, in which someone like her took centre-stage. She determined to write one, whether or not it sold; this became “The Bluest Eye”. Along with the voices she recovered black experience, but through culture, not the easy, lazy colour-fetish: through the sweet smell of Nu Nile Hair Oil, the sharp tang of mustard greens cooking, the inevitability of entering by back doors. The protagonist of “The Bluest Eye”longed to be like Shirley Temple, but in this book and those that followed her creator rejoiced in dark eyes, thick lips, flared noses. Who had instructed blacks in self-loathing? Who told them they were not beautiful? When she cleaned house for a richer woman as a girl, and paid her for cast-off clothes, she still felt proud. When she wrote, she felt magnificent.ANGER WAS not useful to dwell on. It was not creative. In interviews she suppressed it with steeliness, just as she guarded her words and herself from meddlesome intrusion. But she could explode at the craziness of racism, its distorting power, its pernicious notions of “purity”, when the screaming red-mouthed baboon whites evoked lived under their own white skin. Disappointingly she found it even among blacks, with their talk of mocha, hazelnut, onyx, tar- and silt-black. There was such compulsion in human beings to classify by type and clan, to suspect and hate the Other, to refuse to vault the mere blue air that separated them. If oppression was no longer by actual ownership or actual violence, then language could be used to do the job with some efficiency. Politicians, misogynists, lawyers all knew how.

WHO COULD rescue language, ensure it stayed supple, strong and alive? That it was un-arrogant, and would keep reaching towards the ineffable? Women could. Black women could. In her novels it was inevitably mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters who kept families and communities together with that mesh of loving bossiness: pull up your socks, comb your head, do your chores, hush your mouth. (She’d done the same, raising two sons, fitting her writing into chinks in the endless round of work and domestication.) In kitchens across the land black women stitched grey cotton, or poured soda into the crease of a palm to make biscuits. They brought order out of chaos, as her writing did. Women told the stories, superstitious, chill-inducing, full of myth and colour, that preserved links with dead generations. They made Memory sit down at the table with them. She had dismissed those tales for years before finding, especially in “Song of Solomon”, deep grist for the worlds she had to recreate. She learned to watch for shadowy figures by the water at her Hudson river place and to listen for their whispers.

IN PARTICULAR she felt a reverence for old women, sometimes half-crazed, who nonetheless seemed to have a lock on wisdom. Her own great-grandmother, for one, for whom all the males in the family stood up without urging. Or Baby Suggs in “Beloved”, who preached to her people in the woods that if they, the whites yonder, “do not love your neck unnoosed and straight…You got to love it…put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up.”Or the old woman she evoked in her lecture when she received the Nobel, who reminded her young interrogators that the future of language, a bird fluttering between life and death, was in their hands.

SHE GAVE lectures and advice when she was asked. Her post at Princeton required it from time to time. But writing fiction was her true freedom. She did it in the hours when no one had a claim on her. She owned it, and the characters were hers to control. If she wanted the hero of “Song of Solomon”to lift his beautiful black ass up in the sky and fly, he would. Shut up, she would tell him. I’m doing this. Steadily, morning by morning, she would get up in the dark and make a mug of coffee, drinking it as the light gathered. When it came, full-bore, enabling, she did not look away.■





A state no longer…

Narendra Modi scraps the rules,

in a bid to remake a troubled territory…


AT ONE FELL swoop, India’s central government has ended the special status enjoyed by Jammu & Kashmir and abolished it as a state. For 70 years it had granted the bitterly disputed Muslim-majority region a modicum of autonomy within India. Late at night on August 4th phone lines, television and internet access were cut and leaders of its political parties put under house arrest. The next morning India’s home minister carried a package of legislation into the upper house of parliament. It proposed a radical reorganisation of the territory. It took the house just 90 minutes to strip it of statehood and divide it into two parts to be ruled from Delhi. Kashmiris had been warned, as had the rest of India. It still caused shock.

THE HINDU-NATIONALIST Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had long argued that Jammu & Kashmir’s special status was an error, dating from soon after India’s independence. Mr Modi’s re-election in May, with an overwhelming majority in parliament, gave him the confidence to correct it—knowing that doing so would anger Pakistan (which also claims the territory) and enrage many Kashmiris. Pakistan duly expelled India’s high commissioner and suspended trade. A curfew imposed on the region on August 5th has kept Kashmiris quiet, for now, as has the presence of thousands of additional Indian troops who have been pouring in since late July, ostensibly to prevent terrorism.

THE FORMER state of Jammu & Kashmir is composed of three main parts: Hindu-majority Jammu, in the foothills; the arid highlands of Ladakh, which has a large Buddhist population; and a sprawling basin with Srinagar at its centre that is home to ethnic Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslims (see map). In 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended, the Hindu maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir hesitated to join either of the new countries, Pakistan and India. Those countries soon went to war over the area. A stalemate ended with India occupying two-thirds of the state, and Pakistan controlling the rest. India and Pakistan have kept on fighting over the region. The most recent eruption of large-scale hostilities was in 1999.

MR MODI has gutted an article of India’s constitution, which was introduced in the 1950s to secure the state’s acquiescence to Indian control. This had decreed that the central government would be responsible only for Jammu & Kashmir’s defence, foreign affairs and communications. Long before Mr Modi came to power, however, Indian governments began whittling away at the state’s autonomy. However it did retain an important privilege: the right to bar non-residents from buying land. That, too, has gone.

IN THEORY, changing this part of India’s constitution requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which theBJP does not quite have. So the party devised an easier way: their man in the president’s chair simply issued an order annulling Kashmir’s special status. That should have required assent from Jammu & Kashmir, too. But since June 2018, when theBJP withdrew from a coalition there, the state had been under direct rule from Delhi. So the rest of India assented on Kashmir’s behalf. Thatallowed parliament to abolish the state, and split it into two new “union territories”under the centre’s direct rule: one called Jammu & Kashmir and the other, Ladakh.THE EASE with which the state was dissolved will spook some of India’s other regional governments. A challenge has already been filed with the Supreme Court. But there is considerable popular support for Mr Modi’s sleight of hand. Even some parties that are normally fiercely opposed to theBJP have backed him.

MR MODI’S ministers have justified the move partly on security grounds. Since 1989 insurgents, some of them backed by Pakistan, and campaigns against them have killed at least 45,000 people in Jammu & Kashmir. The Hindu minority in the valley around Srinagar has been driven out. By the time Mr Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, the conflict had become less intense. Since then it has steadily escalated. Mr Modi believed that the state’s autonomous status was fuelling anti-India violence. Scrapping it, however, is hardly likely to prove an effective cure.

KASHMIR’S MORE moderate politicians feel most badly betrayed. On the campaign trail earlier this year, Mr Modi had sworn that he would not “allow Muftis and Abdullahs to divide India”. He was referring to the state’s two most famous political families. Generations of Indian bureaucrats had parleyed with them to try winning over Kashmiris, greasing the wheels with subsidies. The Muftis and Abdullahs often frustrated their handlers in Delhi, but they are not separatists—unlike many more popular leaders. “Our darkest apprehensions have unfortunately come true,”said Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state who was among those placed under house arrest on August 4th.

ACTIONS THAT anger Kashmiris can sometimes benefit Mr Modi politically. He has been widely praised in India for his military operations in the region. In September 2016 a day of “surgical strikes”against nearby Pakistani positions achieved little strategically but helped him in elections. It resulted in a patriotic Bollywood movie which was topping the box office when campaigning began for this year’s polls.

BUT THE long-term consequences of Mr Modi’s action may well be ones he regrets. The animosity he has doubtless intensified among Kashmiris will make the area even more fertile territory for recruitment to Pakistan-backed insurgency. By allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land, he has in effect given a green light to Hindus wanting to move into the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. That risks stoking ethnic tensions in the area. The country has a long history of bloody confrontation between adherents of the two religions. The just-abolished state has suffered much of it. Its residents are bracing for more.■



“ٹرمپ نے کشمیر پر محض ہوائی بات کی… امریکہ اور پاکستان میں، علاقائی پالیسیوں پر، گہری بداعتمادی برقرار ھے”: لندن اکانومسٹ…


Mr Khan goes to Washington…

America swaps its stick,

for a carrot,

in its dealings with Pakistan…

IF A WEEK is a long time in politics, eight months is a lifetime. Last November Donald Trump blasted Pakistan, accusing it of duplicity and dishonesty. America’s faithless ally in the war on terror received billions in aid while not doing “a damn thing”in return, he snapped, in justification of his decision to cut military aid. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s own hot-tempered populist prime minister, then newly elected, shot back that his country was tired of being the scapegoat for American failures in Afghanistan. Pakistan would no longer fight someone else’s war, said Mr Khan.

FAST FORWARD to this week: Mr Trump welcomed Mr Khan to the White House for their first talks face to face. American anger was replaced with soft soap. The president flattered the former cricketer, lauding him as an athlete and leader. Their future was bright, trade deals were on the cards and the flow of aid could be switched back on.

DURING A joint press conference, Mr Trump boasted crudely that he could wipe Afghanistan, an American ally, off the face of the Earth. But as his host blustered, Mr Khan seemed to have little cause for concern. Mr Trump’s cavalier offer to mediate in the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir was a boost for Mr Khan, even if, as seems certain, it leads to nothing. Pakistan has long wanted to internationalise the argument with its neighbour. India believes the two countries should sort out their 70-year row over the territory between themselves. Mr Trump’s offer provoked paroxysms in Delhi. But Pakistan’s former sins seemed to have been forgiven.

THREATS OF Armageddon aside, Afghanistan explains the American president’s change of heart towards Pakistan. “I think Pakistan is going to help us out, to extricate ourselves,”he said, referring to America’s 18-year entanglement. Pakistan “is going to make a big difference,”he repeated. The administration hopes that Pakistan will use its influence over the Taliban to coax the militants into a face-saving political settlement that will allow American troops to come home. Talks led by Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr Trump’s point man on Afghanistan, have been moving slowly. The Taliban want to talk with the Americans about troop withdrawal, but are refusing to engage in formal negotiations with Afghan officials to determine how the country will then be governed. They met members of the Afghan government informally this month, but the impasse persists.

MR KHAN said the right things in Washington to assure America of his country’s intentions. Pakistan had abandoned its policy of meddling in Afghanistan to give it “strategic depth”against India, he insisted. The army would not go behind the civilian government’s back to conduct its own policy. He would sit down with the Taliban and persuade them to talk to the Afghans.

AMERICA AND its allies have heard such promises before and been disappointed. Militants still operate from havens in Pakistan. Officials familiar with how talks are progressing say that Pakistan has yet to throw its full support behind them. Pakistan’s generals are hedging their bets; some think the Taliban may still triumph and so are reluctant to push them too hard.

BUT THE determination in Washington for success in the negotiations is intense. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, has said he wants a deal by September 1st. To make that happen, America seems willing to overcome its former disappointment with Pakistan and try a new approach.■

(THE ECONOMIST, MAY 27th, 2019)


سعودی عرب میں خواتین پر بُرقعہ، عبایہ پہننے، اور گھر کے باہر، مرد کفیل ساتھ رکھنے کی پابندی ختم کر دی گئی… لندن اکانومسٹ


Changing the guard

The kingdom may let women travel freely.

Some may never come back…

NICKI MINAJ spoke, and Saudi Arabia listened. That is not quite what happened with the scantily clad feminist rapper from New York—though recent events make it a tempting theory. This month Saudi officials disclosed that they want to loosen “guardianship”rules that force women to seek a male relative’s permission to marry, travel abroad or accept many jobs. The proposed change would end the travel restriction, which also applies to men under the age of 21. The idea leaked on the same day that Ms Minaj (pictured) cancelled a gig in Saudi Arabia, citing its oppression of women and gay people.

IF THE new rules take effect later this year, as planned, both sexes will be free to leave the country once they reach 18. Such a shift would be controversial, and raise awkward questions about the broader cultural changes desired by the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman.

THESE CHANGES would have been difficult to imagine five years ago. Last June Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on women driving. In 2017 King Salman decreed that women could seek government services, such as education and health care, without a man’s consent. The rules on segregating the sexes have been unofficially relaxed, and Prince Muhammad has suggested that women need not wear flowing abayas (full-length gowns) in public.

ALL OF this has passed without much public brouhaha, in part because anyone who might complain is in prison. Police have arrested both clerics who oppose the changes and liberal activists who want more. Though the driving decision had its detractors, hidebound husbands and fathers can still coerce their charges into staying at home. A recent YouGov poll found that of the vast majority of Saudi women who have not applied for a driving licence, 16% refrained because of objections from a male relative.

CHANGING THE guardianship laws would prove more controversial, particularly in conservative areas outside the big cities. Some fear it could lead to more cases like that of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi teenager who fled to Thailand in January to escape her family. Relatives unsuccessfully tried to bring her back (she received asylum in Canada). Other young women followed her lead. Hence the cautious manner of the announcement. While the driving ban was lifted by official decree, news of the guardianship change was leaked as a trial balloon—first to the Saudi newspaper Okaz and then to foreign outlets.

PRINCE MUHAMMAD has not yet had much luck overhauling the Saudi economy. Unemployment remains high and the private sector is not creating jobs. His cultural changes have gone further, but they too have been uneven. In June a firm based in the United Arab Emirates tried to open an alcohol-free nightclub in Jeddah, the most cosmopolitan Saudi city. Officials shut it down on opening night, though it has since reopened as a “lounge”(same venue, less dancing).

OR THERE is the case of Ms Minaj, who was due to perform at a music festival in Jeddah this month. She seemed an odd fit for a puritanical theocracy, given her raunchy outfits and lyrics. (“He toss my salad like his name Romaine”is one of her milder lines.) Days before the concert she backed out. Hoping to save face, the Saudis claimed it was in fact they who disinvited her. The episode provoked wry commentary on social media. In one widely shared video, a young Saudi woman asked why she had to wear an abaya while Ms Minaj was free to come “shake her ass”.

IT IS a fair question. The prince’s behaviour is idiosyncratic: he jails reformers even as he decrees reforms. He justifies some social reforms as economic necessities (if Saudis can go to concerts at home, they won’t spend their money abroad). The public have no say. Some young Saudis are enjoying this moment of relative openness; others flee into exile, for reasons both personal and political. Ironically, by letting women travel, Prince Muhammad may allow some to leave and never return.■

(THE ECONOMIST, JULY 20th, 2019)



And Pakistan’s new budget

will not fix the country’s economic woes…

Here is why.

(By TAHA SIDDIQUE, an award-winning Pakistani journalist,

now living in exile in France.…)

THE PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT unveiled its first annual budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020 on June 11 and was only able to pass it on June 28. The considerable delay was due to strong resistance from the opposition in parliament which threatened with protests over perceived economic mismanagement by the government.

THE ECONOMIC situation in Pakistan today is indeed worrying. This year’s Pakistan Economic Survey, a government-issued report that precedes the annual budget presentation, has painted a dismal picture of the domestic economy.

ALMOST ALL financial indicators have seen a downward trend. The growth rate fell by almost 50 percent from 6.2 percent to 3.3 percent. It is expected to go down even further to 2.4 percent next year, which will be the country’s lowest in the past 10 years. The Pakistani rupee has lost a fifth of its value against the dollar since the beginning of this fiscal year. Inflation is expected to hover around 13 percent over the next 12 months, reaching a 10-year-high as well.

THEN THERE is the issue of the ever-increasing debt, which eats up some 30 percentof the budget every year. Pakistan continues to take out loans to be able to cover repayments of past borrowing. It recently signed yet another deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package worth $6bn.

IN A televised address after his budget presentation, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the creation of a special commission to investigate why the country has so much debt.

BUT KHAN does not need to look any further than the budget unveiled by his own government to see where the problem lies: The country has low sources of revenues and high non-development expenditures, which is a recipe for a financial disaster.

FOR DECADES, the Pakistani authorities have been unable to establish effective tax collection practices. Currently, only one percent of Pakistanis pay their taxes and the country has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world.

SUCCESSIVE GOVERNMENTS have avoided imposing stricter controls because they have been staffed by members of the same elites that are actively evading taxes. They are able to do so not only because of government inaction but also because of widespread corruption. In fact, it is cheaper for them to bribe than to pay their dues.

THUS, THE tax burden in Pakistan falls overwhelmingly on the poor who pay in various indirect ways and who already struggle to make ends meet. Currently, a third of the nation is living below the poverty line.

KHAN PROMISED to crack down on tax evasion and corruption before coming to power but little has been done so far. He has not introduced any measures to address corruption in the ranks of his own party, for example. Recently it emergedthat a minister in Khan’s cabinet had evaded paying taxes for years by transferring his luxury properties to one of his employees, but no action has been taken against him so far.

GIVEN THIS selective justice, it is hardly surprising that a recent tax amnesty scheme implemented by the government in which tax debt is forgiven in exchange for a fee failed to kick off.

WHILE KHAN’S government is failing to raise revenue flows it is also failing to cut non-developmental expenditures.

THE BIGGEST source of such spending after debt-servicing is the military which officially receives around 18 and 23 percent of the budget every year.

THE FUNDS the military receives from the state budget is in addition to the revenue it gets from its large business operations, which include over 50 commercial entities generating some $1.5bn annually. It just recently moved into the mining and oil and gas exploration sector, some of which was facilitated by Khan’s government.

SO DESPITE being rich itself, the army continues to be a burden on the Pakistani economy and to get preferential treatment. At this point, there are no signs that this would change under the current government.

EARLIER THIS month, Khan announced the formation of a new committee called the National Development Council to oversee Pakistan’s economic growth strategy. Apart from a number of ministers with relevant portfolios and key government officials, the army chief is also a member of the council, which indicates that the military will continue to be part of any decision-making on the economy in the future.

A FEW days before the annual budget was submitted to parliament, Khan also announced that the military was going to take a voluntary budget cut, attributing it specifically to the economic turmoil. However, when the details of the budget were made public, it turned out that the allocation to the army saw an increase of 17.6 percent from last year. As a result, some have speculated that the earlier announcement was just a PR exercise, aimed to fool Pakistan’s international creditors, like the IMF, who have urged the government to cut down its non-development expenditures.

DESPITE THIS persistent pressure from outside entities, defence spending continues to be prioritised. The official justification for this policy is always the perceived threat from neighbouring countries, which in some ways the military itself perpetuates.

BOTH Afghanistan and India are regularly identified as sources of threat to the national security in local mainstream media, yet the fact that militant groups targeting these two countries are allowed to organise on Pakistani territory is often overlooked.

THEIR PRESENCE maintains low-intensity conflicts with neighbouring countries, which conveniently justifies increased military spending to protect Pakistan from “foreign enemies”.

THUS PAKISTAN appears to be stuck in a vicious cycle of accommodating the interests of the army and the powerful economic elites which cripple its economy and force it to continue borrowing from international creditors, sinking further into debt and inching closer to full economic collapse.

AT THIS point, those in power and those who enjoy economic privileges must realise that this status quo is unsustainable. The only way out is to implement a just tax system along with a cut or at least a freeze on the ever-increasing military budget.

IF PAKISTAN is to avoid the looming economic disaster, it must revise current spending and prioritise expenditures that will actually generate social and economic development and uplift the poor, not just the civilian and military elites…





A sticky wicket:

From artillery and airstrikes to googlies and doosras…

IT IS HARD to imagine a more stressful job than Sarfaraz Ahmed’s. As captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team, he must brave bruising encounters with India, a far bigger country that happens to be just as mad about the sport, and a bitter rival off the pitch, too. The team leader must also weather Pakistani fans, who at the drop of a catch or fall of a wicket can shower love or dump torrential scorn with equal gusto.

THESE DAYS THE job is harder than ever. This is not only because the four-yearly World Cup is under way, featuring ten national teams. Nor is it just because tensions with India have been riding especially high since February, when a terrorist bombing in Indian-held Kashmir sparked a tit-for-tat military escalation with Pakistan that brought the neighbours to the brink of nuclear war. In recent times Indian cricket, much like the Indian economy, has inexorably pulled ahead of the Pakistani game, propelled by higher revenues, hugely fatter salaries, more professional management and keener promotion of young talent.

THE PRESSURE ON Team Pakistan has in fact been mounting for years. The last—and only—time it won the World Cup was in 1992. The national captain then, and consequent national hero, is now Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. This sets a rather high bar for Mr Ahmed. To make things worse for the Pakistani captain, on the fateful morning of June 16th, shortly before his team faced off against India, Mr Khan tweeted some advice. Should Pakistan win the coin toss at the start of the match, he insisted, it should definitely choose to bat first.

MR AHMED IGNORED the advice, only to watch India effortlessly crush his team. But the shock of ending 89 runs behind, and being left ninth out of ten in the tournament ranking, turned out to be merely the opening act in a long humiliation. Enraged by footage of the unfortunate captain failing to stifle a yawn during the match, and by rumours that his team had been gorging on fast food instead of training like the athletic Indians, Pakistan fans have heaped opprobrium on Mr Ahmed.

“WHEN I DIE I want Sarfaraz to lower me into the grave so he can let me down one more time,”wailed one tweet, to which came a tart response: “But he might drop you.”On Facebook, Pakistanis shared videos that contrasted scenes of the India captain, Virat Kohli, lifting ponderously huge weights, against a cheap television advertisement where Mr Ahmed appeared, dancing to a jingle promoting a chocolate-covered betel concoction.

NEEDLESS TO SAY, Indians enjoyed a fanfare of gloating. This subsided with unusual speed, however, as cricket fans took instead to sharing the self-deprecatory jokes coming over the border. But if ordinary Indians proved ready to concede that Pakistanis might be good chaps after all, politicians were not so generous. The pointed congratulations tweeted by Amit Shah, India’s new home minister, equated India’s win to its air force’s bombing of an alleged terrorist training camp in Pakistan in February: “Another strike on Pakistan by Team India and the result is the same.”A spokesman for Pakistan’s army, Asif Ghafoor, responded with equal humourlessness. India may excel at cricket, he conceded, but in the recent military exchange had missed its target, failed to stop a Pakistani counterstrike, destroyed one of its own helicopters by mistake and seen one of its own pilots shot down and captured. Howzat!◼

(THE ECONOMIST, JUNE 22nd, 2019)