The “desperate” begging bowl is no longer metaphorical

Published: October 25, 2018
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Prime Minister Imran Khan met the Saudi royal family at the Future Investment Initiative as if nothing was wrong. PHOTO: TWITTER/ PTI OFFICIAL

The saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is quite clichéd, and yet it teaches a lesson from an individual level to that of societies and nations. To states, it is a reminder that while there may not be a choice when it comes to taking foreign aid, it inevitably compromises their sovereignty.

Pakistan has remained trapped in the vicious cycle of taking short-term loans from international bodies for decades. Throughout his electoral campaign and even after assuming power, Imran Khan constantly maintained that the biggest hindrance towards Pakistan’s development is debt servicing and taking external loans. In his first speech to the nation, Imran reiterated this and promised not to beg anyone for loans or help.

And yet two days ago, Imran attended the Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia, known as Davos in the Desert, and finally managed to convince the Saudis to not only give Pakistan a one-year deferred payment facility on importing oil worth $3 billion, but also lend Pakistan $3 billion in cash to help us meet the current account deficit. The $3 billion in cash will be deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan to lessen the current account deficit and increase foreign reserves, which have fallen to an alarming and historically low figure of $8.4 billion.

Interesting to note is that this comes at a time when Saudi Arabia in under fire all across the world for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Particularly after Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi had been killed, the entire international community was putting pressure on the Kingdom and pulling out of the conference, which was organised to showcase Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) economic vision to the world and to attract global investments.

Meanwhile, our prime minister remained mum on the barbaric crime. When asked about the matter, he told journalists that while he was concerned after Khashoggi’s killing, he had to attend the conference because Pakistan is “desperate” for Saudi money. He then met the Saudi royal family as if nothing was wrong.

It is an embarrassment for the entire nation that our prime minister not only refused to condemn what is one of the worst human rights violations in recent memory, but also openly admitted that we are “desperate”. The begging bowl is no longer metaphorical, and now that we have taken their money, we cannot utter a word against Saudi Arabia or its inhumane crimes. Is this the philosophy of the current government? If we have a monetary interest from any country, we will turn a blind eye towards all atrocities, the way we have when it comes to Khashoggi, and the way we have to the thousands of dead bodies in Yemen.

Further, when Imran was given the time to speak during the summit, he delivered a negative speech that only served the purpose of denting Pakistan’s image further. We will all be hard-pressed to find any other leader around the globe who, when asked to deliver a speech in a room full of global investors, talks only of the corruption rampant in his country, amongst other ills. A leader who, while trying to encourage investors, also tells them that the country’s institutions are weak, and the reason for that being that the previous ruling party appointed its cronies in positions of power. Not only that, you will also be hard-pressed to find a single leader in the global community who will openly inform a room full of potential investors that the country is short of money and is desperately seeking loans to get out of a financial crisis – just what every investor wants to hear. A true leader presents solutions to people, not the problem itself. After all, it is not the leader’s job to point out problems we are all aware of; their job is to lead the nation out of a crisis via a workable solution.

This was perhaps another moment of shame and embarrassment for the country as our prime minister proudly informed the entire world that our strategy is to go around friendly countries with a begging bowl, as we have no institutions or money of our own to speak of. After listening to our premier’s diatribe, no investor could have been interested in investing in Pakistan. The world, especially the business world, is not run on emotions, and when you tell them your weaknesses, they only exploit them to their advantage. Even if anyone was interested before, they will surely stay away now, because no investor would want to step in after being informed of precisely all the ways financial investment in Pakistan can be a risk. When the nation was told Imran is honest and truthful, we did not expect him to lack a diplomatic censor and air our ‘dirty laundry’ in public.

After returning to Pakistan, Imran addressed the nation yesterday to announce the good news of Saudi assistance, but then quickly reverted to the “container mode” and delivered a speech that yet again seemed better suited for an opposition leader, as he told the nation that his political opponents are corrupt and will not be spared by him. He also revealed that the masses should be prepared to go through even harder times, and will have to bear the pain that would inevitably arise due to further price hikes in electricity, gas, groceries and other commodities. One cannot help compare this to the time when Imran and his party felt that the masses should not be made to suffer, or the time when he repeatedly claimed that going around asking for money is “shameful”.

The current government should also note that if we do not stand with the world when it comes to issues of morality, we lose any and all authority to raise the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir and Palestine. The begging bowl will not take us anywhere pleasant, and of course, Saudi Arabia has not given us this money for free – there is always a price to be paid for favours. Though Imran maintains that Pakistan will only play the role of a mediator in the war in Yemen, he needs to provide more details regarding the terms and conditions upon which we have been given this short term credit lifeline.

From the rhetoric of fixing all our problems within 100 days, and from ‘I will not beg for loans’, to begging for a bailout and backtracking from its earlier comments, it is clear that the ruling party is now learning the harsh realities of practical politics and governance the hard way. Yes, perhaps asking for assistance has come across as the only option out of this crisis and Imran has finally realised it, but he also needs to learn how to represent Pakistan on international forums and what issues to focus on, now that he is no longer a simple politician but the prime minister of the country.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

The writer is a columnist and writes for various English and Urdu publications. He tweets at @rjimad (twitter.com/rjimad)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vijay2day

    I fully agree with the writer of this article. Pakistan today has the most incompetent person ruling the country.Recommend

  • Humza

    Imran Khan is proving a bigger embarrassment than al of our previous leaders. He is an amateur of the worst class but he keeps saying one thing and doing another. Brilliant analysis of a country’s leader asking others to invest while blaming all of your country’s problems on previous leaders instead of giving a positive message. Telling the whole world that his only plan as leader is to go around begging other countries for money because his country is so bad is not going to help investment or development in Pakistan. I never heard of Nawaz Sharif ever go abroad and just play domestic politics there to blame things on previous governments. He would go and encourage investment talking about why Pakistan is strategically located and how it is a sound investment. That’s why Pakistan’s economy was upgraded to middle country status and all the financial houses in the West had upgraded Pakistan’s rankings.Recommend

  • En em

    Whilst I totally agree with you and this is definitely a disappointment – but I hope to give IK the benefit of the doubt and with that hope that the new government has a steep learning curve – I understand there are instances this government will disappoint us but hope that these are few and far inbetweenRecommend

  • Younis Hashmi

    Anyone can see that Imran’s policies are not at fault, he has come in to power with a 30 billion debt by previous governments. Has everyone forgotten about how expensive everything was Two years before elections, we had fuel shortages, energy prices were high, only the year before elections did prices come down for energy, fertilizer and what happened the sugar mills got the benefit of cheap electricity and cheap fertilizer by stealing from the farmers by paying less than the 180 pkr promised also weighing less than actual amount received, some poor farmers burned their crops, where was your outrage? As for Saudi Arabia they kill one person and you take the moral high ground , yet Israel continues day in day out Murdering women and children for seventy years and you find that comparable.Recommend

  • salman

    Would you say Imran is a bigger embarrasment then the WSJ saying nawaz and shahbaz were asking for $20M USD bribe, or the daily mail calling nawaz a Penthouse Pirate? Maybe you think those are matters or pride for nawaz
    Nawaz did encourage investment (but not to his own sons), …and yet during Nawaz’s tenure, Foreign Direct Investment fell. Even PPP did better at it then PMLN. Go figure…Recommend

  • salman

    Good article, but not good enough to get nawaz an NRORecommend

  • wb

    Saudi gave the money only because it was being completely isolated internationally. This was a way to keep Pakistan still a slave of the Saudis. That’s all. Saudi has no sympathy for Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    ‘When the nation was told Imran is honest and truthful, we did not expect him to lack a diplomatic censor and air our ‘dirty laundry’ in public.’

    PM Khan needs to learn a new taqreer soon otherwise internationally he is doing more damage to the image of the country than good.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    that is what power is. one can only talk when he is not in the office.Recommend

  • Human

    the writer writes as if Pakistan has 100bn in its account, and that the debt can be paid from within pakistan’s own resources. Also that Pakistan “image” in the international world is of a corruption free and stable economy.

    Pls wake up ! to solve a problem admit you have a problem first.

    This man is doing a good job. If you wanted to raise your voice you had last 10 years to do it when crooks were ruling.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Pakistan is broke because the wealthy pay no direct taxes!
    Note IK, like previous leaders, never talks about that FACT!Recommend

  • gul

    A person without honor has no respect for the honor of the country.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, see, er, hmm, there is a chaiwalla, ruling Hindustan. They also call him the
    Butcher of Gujrat.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    and then there is Patwari, who doesn’t even have a Disqus ID.Recommend

  • Saif Ali

    why should they have sympathy for us? we are in a mess of our own creation. corruption has become the norm, to the point that its an open secret. IK is painting a realistic picture of our country to the world so as to show ppl we have a problem, are aware of it and will take steps to fix it unlike the previous fat cat govts. Shame on the ppl dissing him as they support the old corrupt system that has brought the country to its knees.Recommend

  • Saif Ali

    What dirty laundry?
    Every person in the world knows that corruption in Pakistan is rampant to the point that the previous PM had to be forcibly removed before he devoured the country whole. IK is bringing change in a way that is his only option thanks to the misdeeds of the previous govts who gave the treasury of the country to their spawn while the citizens of pakistan starved and died. Think about it for a change instead of propping up outdated concepts of diplomacy that apply to countries that are stable and not facing bankruptcy.Recommend

  • nUmAiR Manzoor

    No i totally disagree with the writer, as Our country is facing so much debts that we didn’t have any other option left. Imran khan last sayings truly contradict today act but he also can’t even imagine that Sharif and zardari’s done so badly with our country and most importantly economy. We have 94 Million Dollar debts etc, i won’t want to explain how but thats true what can we do with this huge amount of debt except begging.Recommend

  • Saif Ali

    Leave the NRO. Just wait till he is found guilty of treason. That will be the most fortunate day in the history of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Saif Ali

    hahahahahhahaha.. great response to our dear indian brother LOLRecommend

  • RaGa

    As long as they are putting money in the bowl, one can afford to eat if not drink, “desi ghee”. Enjoy life.Recommend

  • Shivam Vishnu

    Amateur hour. He still seems to think he is in an election campaign. For a few Billion dollars Pakistan does not seem to mind “reeducation” camps for Uighurs in China, killing of thousands of innocents by Saudis in Yemen and now this ugly Khashoggi affair. I am curious how many Billions it will take for Pakistan to dump Kashmir. When are you coming to India with the begging bowl? Modi is waiting for the call.Recommend

  • rationalist

    “Telling the whole world that his only plan as leader is to go around begging other countries for money because his country is so bad is not going to help investment or development in Pakistan.”

    What? The whole world already knows about Pakistan’s begging credentials. Imran Khan just is being refreshingly truthful and outspoken about this fact. False pride has never helped beggars.Recommend

  • rationalist

    A starving person can’t eat honor.Recommend

  • Humza

    Show me any article proving that Nawaz and Shahbaz were asking for a 20 million dollar bribe is that something you learned from the PTI department of fake news. There is a big difference between an unsubstantiated allegation of a person offering money and someone taking money which would be called a fact. Do you recall Imran Khan claiming he would bring back 200 billion dollars of alleged looted money within 2 days? If Abraaj was desperate and was willing to offer 20 million dollars does not mean anyone accepted it or seriously considered it. Show this proof but no empty slogans and distorting truth only proves something else to people who can appraise news objectively. If I were to say Imran Khan’s sister owns a benaami flat in UAE ( which is true) and now say Imran Khan gave her illegal money, does that make it true or is it just speculation that is being presented as fact? Would you get NAB against Imran Khan based on this?Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Now asking for $ 6 Billion from UAE!
    Begging bowl going into overdrive, but what about repayment?Recommend

  • Humza

    It seems like Imran Khan followers have taken a lesson from Trump followers who still go around saying he will drain the swamp and that all of the US problems are due to past governments and their corruption in Washington. This type of talk satisfies simple people but anyone who digs deeper will take this type of rabble rousing for empty rhetoric. Tell me which country and which new government has come to power anywhere in the world thanking the last government for leaving a full kitty and having done a great job. The difference now is that unlike other leaders Imran Khan spends his overseas trips playing Pakistani politics and blaming previous governments instead of working to improve the country. He has not realized he is power yet and remains confused ! Since he has no plan and he has to back track on everything he says, all he can do is say I have to change my mind about everything because of the past government. It sure seems to work for Trump followers in the US and Imran Khan followers in Pakistan!Recommend

  • Humza

    It’s a shame that you cannot understand that a statesman does not play petty domestic politics abroad when you are required to act as a representative for all Pakistanis, including those of use who did not vote for PTI and disagree with its policies of populism. This type of behavior of learning to represent all strata of a country including those who disagree with you only comes with maturity which is a trait sorely lacking. I believe strongly that the last government gave us much needed improvements in energy and infrastructure along with CPEC. That’s why the nation was upgraded to middle income status by international financial houses. Imran Khan has no plan apart from blaming others and brazen populism which will need nowhere when he is surrounded by sycophants who are more corrupt that other parties. Just like Trump supporters chant drain the swamp of corruption in Washington US, Imran Khan supporters keep shouting the same corruption line without looking at the mirror and what is staring back at them!Recommend

  • Humza

    I think the most fortunate day will be when Imran Khan is served a dose of his own medicine and he is charged with treason. What goes around, comes around!Recommend

  • Patwari

    sterry, even the village idiot knows that no one can bring back $2 billion dollars, from the West, in two days. The paperwork alone would take
    months. That was said in the heat of an argument. Keeping in mind the
    passionate resolve to bring back part of the $200 billion dollars looted and
    taken off shore, which is the priority of PTI, foremost and center.
    Former finance minister Dar, [Nawaz’s brother in law] owns 14 properties
    in UAE. Do you know that a steel mill owned, allegedly, by Nawaz, was disassembled in UAE, sold and taken to Saudia. There is no record or paperwork on this steel mill being shipped. To pay for the Avenfield Apts. in London.Then there is the Qatari prince’s letter…would you like to keep going?
    And Nawaz owns 19, repeat, 19 rental properties in and around London.
    You can can easily call him a slumlord of East London
    The 4 Avenfield Apartments, with the walls knocked out and made into one huge, plush, luxurious residence, is actually just one whole floor of the apartment complex. Taken over by Nawaz and family.
    Should we go into Jati Umra and the road built at govt.’s expense, by the
    former Chief Minister of Punjab?Recommend

  • Patwari

    You should be worried about your Afghani brothers and how to fly dried fruits to New Dilli. Since Paks will not allow overland transportation through Pakistan. Or even over flights.
    It’s too expensive to fly cheap dried fruits to Hindustan from Aghani Land. You can get dried fruits at a cheaper rate from Nepal, Bhutan. But Lord Modi wants to keep a sinking, Afghani economy afloat. So he can build more Bharati consulates along Pak’s western border.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Some facts:
    1) There are exactly 4 Indian consulates in Afghanistan
    2) They were all built in 1949
    3) Pakistan has consulates in the exact same cities.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Thanks for your input Gp65. Who said they ‘must’ be called consulates?
    They can be called Bharati House of Commerce and Trade. Or Hindustani
    Cultural Missions. Or All Dilli Businessmen Trade Unions. Or Greater Bharati Tourism Councils. Shiv Sena Houses of Worship. Or Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Library. Or Bal Thackeray’s Cultural Development Missions. Or Rashtreya Swayamsevak Sangh Madrassas for Disadvantaged Afghani Children… this can go on and on.
    See, as long as these missions serve their nefarious purposes of infiltrating terrorists into Pakland, supporting and supplying extremists, the job is done.
    Who cares what you call them.
    Sorry Gp65. Value your opinions. But do not have to agree with them.
    Saw some great Bollywood movies on Netflix. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Huma Qureshi is good. And Ittefaq, with Sidharth Malhotra, great movie.
    Will be visiting South Hindustan, this winter. Starting with Madras which is called Chennai now and Pondicherry plus other points south.Recommend