The year 2021 witnessed quite ups and downs as it was no different from the former year. Where 2021 gave various setbacks it also set the tone for future endeavors. Corona is no hidden phenomenon that still seems in no mood to fade away as the 5th wave has made its way to the country. Already it has extended considerable blows to human lives coupled with economic toll. The piece will try to examine all the developments that happened in the year 2021 and future opportunities for the year 2022.
Embarking from the economic condition of Pakistan, the year 2021 was pretty jovial for the first 6 months, howbeit; it saw an unprecedented dive since July. For the fiscal year 2020-21, Pakistan achieved 4pc fiscal growth and bounced back after plummeting to zero percent growth in the Corona year. ‘The Economist’ too published an index launching a list of the countries that rapidly witnessed growth as Pakistan topped the list. Per capita income saw a boom in the fiscal year 2021 with US$ 1,543 compared to the fiscal year 2020 with US$ 1,361.
Shaukat Tarin presented the budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 following Hafeez Sheikh which was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate amid a commotion from the opposition. However, it has soon witnessed a mini-budget as dictated by the IMF. The IMF has lain before the government a mountain of stark conditions to be complied with in order to seek a $6 billion loan. The condition being put forth is another topic that includes an increase in petroleum levy, power levy, complete autonomy to the state bank of Pakistan, and the list continues.
Globally, the demand and supply gap widened than ever before. The supply chain was hit the most as experienced in Europe, America, and other developed countries. Corona almost paralyzed the entire world as Germany saw the highest level of inflation since 1997, post-Brexit Britain faced a turbulent winter with a gas crisis, labor shortage, and supply chain chaos. Pakistan too was no different as its annual inflation rose to 9.2% in October as global commodity prices hiked. Turkey saw the grimmest plunge in its currency Lira. Recapitulating all in a nutshell, the economy reopens in 2021 and marches towards recovery but due to international economic seismic, Pakistan also had to feel the blows of the seismic particularly after July. All this has led to a decline in the popularity of PTI among the general masses.
Regionally, the biggest event of the year was the Taliban holding sway over Afghanistan on August 15, 2020, as it ended the 2 decades-long war in Afghanistan. The Ashraf Ghani government collapsed fleeing for their lives with the Taliban taking the reins of Kabul into their hands. It all started in May when the Taliban entered Kandahar; when the Taliban entered Herat; when Taliban headed towards the northern province of Badakhshan; when Taliban reached near Chinese borders; when Taliban reached near Iranian borders; and when Taliban reached near Pakistani borders.
After the Taliban takeover, we saw how the troika plus – China, Russia, the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan itself – started to engage with them in Pakistan’s capital. China soon started meeting(s) with the Taliban representatives and asked them to make clean break from ETIM and TTP. Russia and Pakistan also expressed serious concerns for security curbing the TTP rise in Afghanistan.
Apart from demands for curbing terrorism and militant groups inside Afghanistan, the world is also deeply worried about human and women’s rights situations in Afghanistan. Girls are being stopped from going to schools, it is being made mandatory for the females to travel with their male counterparts on longer trips, and most recently, the Taliban has ordered the chopping of heads of the mannequins. The obscurantism shadowing the Taliban’s narrative of all good with the on-ground situation is discouraging. In the face of all this, Pakistan hosted a massive summit of OIC virtually after 50 years in Islamabad. Various discourses took place at the summit as to release Afghanistan’s $9 billion funds plus Pakistan warned the US of the humanitarian crisis that too might march towards Europe.
As far as relations with India are concerned, nothing substantial came out last year. However, one important development took place on February, 26, as both the countries observed ceasefire along LoC and strict observance of all agreements. Expert-view suggests that the agreement also favored India in the sense that it was engaged in a two-front war i.e. with China on the north-eastern side and with Pakistan on the north-western side. LoC was made safe by the observance of agreement, while LAC is still in hot waters as China warned India that there is no chance of winning.
EU DisInfo campaign also held India by the neck but it did not bring something lucrative for Pakistan at the international fora. India continued its propaganda against Pakistan via sundry fake news and Pakistan countered as per the capacity; from 5 floors of Serena Hotel in Kabul to SSG forces of Pakistan in Panjshir to video game clip as Pakistan air force attack in Afghanistan. Kartarpur Corridor was reopened after 1.5 years of restrictions that corona compelled the country to comply with.
As far as relations with friendly countries are concerned, Pakistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan launched joint military drills in Baku. These joint maneuvers, by some means, bothered Iran. Iran uttered some very harsh statements against Pakistan as it was not, quite frankly, happy. Since, both the countries know that they have to work for hand in glove and cannot afford prolonged bitterness, soon settled everything. Relations with KSA were also quite satisfactory as it gave Pakistan a bailout package plus both hosted the OIC meeting.
Regional connectivity and geo-economics philosophy was unveiled in Islamabad Security Dialogue. General Bajwa and Prime Minister Khan stressed upon Pakistan cannot rely solely upon military power owing to our challenges being diversified. Trans-Afghan Railway Corridor was signed among Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan during the visit of Imran Khan to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan showed interest in China’s Belt and Road and Pakistan’s CPEC to connect through Gwadar and Karachi ports. This will provide a channel to the landlocked Central Asian countries to reach warm waters via Pakistan.
Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul railway corridor also holds profound importance for regional connectivity. Besides trade via the corridor, it aims at emboldening people-to-people connectivity. For regional connectivity, it is Pakistan’s 3rd biggest achievement. But again, all this is contingent upon the affable situation in Afghanistan.
Relations with China also faced some minor issues. Dasu’s attack took Pakistan by surprise as it claimed the lives of 10 Chinese engineers along with Pakistan’s security personnel. This greatly disturbed China and Dasu project witnessed a break in progress. According to some reports, China demanded compensation for the damage incurred which stands at almost $38 million.
CPEC saw an immense downfall in the days of corona but as soon as it normalized, both the countries started to engage starting from mega-dam projects which were mostly tendered to Chinese firms for constructions. Nevertheless, massive efforts by the rival country aimed at disrupting the project(s) were launched. The regional goals of both countries are more or less the same as both are eyeing peace in Afghanistan. Region’s countries have realized that the issues of the region must be resolved by them not allowing third party interloping.
For future endeavors, National Security Policy was launched with utmost force. This, in essence, as per the National Security Advisor is a citizen-centric policy that calculates it as national security is equal to economic security plus citizens’ welfare. The interesting thing about this very national security is that it has shifted its importance from the military domain to the economic domain.
Hybrid warfare as a challenge needs undivided attention to be addressed to prevent our important data to be infringed. Measures to curb information and psychological warfare are necessary. The humanitarian crisis engulfing Afghanistan may have spillover effects inside Pakistan and needs to be addressed. The TTP dilemma is another issue that the deal with the TTP has come to an end and the country is witnessing a sharp rise in terrorist activities.
Let’s hope for a better 2022 and till then, Happy New Year folks!