Desperate for funding to fend off a financial crisis fuelled in part by mounting debt to China, Pakistan is playing a complicated game of poker that could hand Saudi Arabia a strategic victory in its bitter feud with Iran at the People’s Republic’s expense.
The Pakistani moves threaten a key leg of the USD60 billion plus Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative.
They also could jeopardize Chinese hopes to create a second overland route to Iran, a key node in China’s transportation links to Europe. Finally, they grant Saudi Arabia a prominent place in the Chinese-funded port of Gwadar that would significantly weaken Iran’s ability to compete with its Indian-backed seaport of Chabahar.
Taken together, the moves risk dragging not only Pakistan but also China into the all but open war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Pakistan’s first move became evident in early September with the government’s failure to authorise disbursements for road projects, already hit by delays in Chinese approvals, that are part of CPEC’s Western route, linking the province of Balochistan with the troubled region of Xinjiang in north-western China.
In doing so, Pakistan implicitly targeted a key Chinese driver for CPEC: the pacification of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslim population through a combination of economic development enhanced by trade and economic activity flowing through CPEC as well as brutal repression and mass re-education.
The combination of Pakistani and Chinese delays “has virtually brought progress work on the Western route to a standstill,” a Western diplomat in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad said.
Pakistani Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, in a further bid to bring Pakistani government expenditure under control that at current rates could force the country to seek a $US 12 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has cut $2 billion dollars from the US$8.2 billion budget to upgrade and expand Pakistan’s railway network, a key pillar of CPEC. Mr. Rashid plans to slash a further two billion dollars.
“Pakistan is a poor country that cannot afford (the) huge burden of the loans…. CPEC is like the backbone for Pakistan, but our eyes and ears are open,” Mr. Rashid said.
The budget cuts came on the back of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party projecting CPEC prior to the July 25 election that swept him to power to as a modern-day equivalent of the British East India Company, which dominated the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century.
PTI criticism included denouncing Chinese-funded mass transit projects in three cities in Punjab as a squandering of funds that could have better been invested in social spending. PTI activists suggested that the projects had involved corrupt practices.
Pakistan’s final move was to invite Saudi Arabia to build a refinery in Gwadar and invest in Balochistan mining. Chinese questioning of Pakistan’s move was evident when the Pakistani government backed off suggestions that Saudi Arabia would become part of CPEC.
Senior Saudi officials this week visited Islamabad and Gwadar to discuss the deal that would also involve deferred payments on Saudi oil supplies to Pakistan and create a strategic oil reserve close to Iran’s border.
“The incumbent government is bringing Saudi Arabia closer to Gwadar. In other words, the hardline Sunni-Wahhabi state would be closer than ever to the Iranian border. This is likely to infuriate Tehran,” said Baloch politician and former Pakistani ports and shipping minister Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo.
Pakistan’s game of poker amounts to a risky gamble that serves Pakistani and Saudi purposes, puts China whose prestige and treasure are on the line in a difficult spot, could perilously spark tension along the Pakistan-Iran border, and is likely to provoke Iranian counter moves. It also risks putting Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who depend on China economically in different ways, in an awkward position.
The Saudi engagement promises up to US$10 billion in investments as well as balance of payments relief. It potentially could ease US concerns that a possible IMF bailout would help Pakistan service debt to China.
A refinery and strategic oil reserve in Gwadar would serve Saudi Arabia’s goal of preventing Chabahar, the Indian-backed Iranian port, from emerging as a powerful Arabian Sea hub at a time that the United States is imposing sanctions designed to choke off Iranian oil exports.
A Saudi think tank, the International Institute for Iranian Studies, previously known as the Arabian Gulf Centre for Iranian Studies (AGCIS) that is believed to be backed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, argued last year in a study that Chabahar posed “a direct threat to the Arab Gulf states” that called for “immediate counter measures.”
Written by Mohammed Hassan Husseinbor, an Iranian political researcher of Baloch origin, the study warned that Chabahar would enable Iran to increase its oil market share in India at the expense of Saudi Arabia, raise foreign investment in the Islamic republic, increase government revenues, and allow Iran to project power in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Mr. Husseinbor suggested that Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran could serve as a countermeasure. “Saudis could persuade Pakistan to soften its opposition to any potential Saudi support for the Iranian Baluch… The Arab-Baluch alliance is deeply rooted in the history of the Gulf region and their opposition to Persian domination,” Mr. Husseinbor said.
Noting the vast expanses of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Mr. Husseinbor went on to say that “it would be a formidable challenge, if not impossible, for the Iranian government to protect such long distances and secure Chabahar in the face of widespread Baluch opposition, particularly if this opposition is supported by Iran’s regional adversaries and world powers.”
Saudi militants reported at the time the study was published that funds from the kingdom were flowing into anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan.
US President Donald J. Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, last year before assuming office, drafted at the request of Mr. Trump’s then strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, a plan that envisioned US support “for the democratic Iranian opposition,” including in Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan province.
All of this does not bode well for CPEC. China may be able to accommodate Pakistan by improving commercial terms for CPEC-related projects and Pakistani debt as well as easing Pakistani access to the Chinese market. China, however, is likely to find it far more difficult to prevent the Saudi-Iranian rivalry from spinning out of control in its backyard.
Dynamics of Current Global Economic Crisis
Global economic architecture is fundamentally weak and fragile and having multiple internal contradictions which emanate in different economic and financial crisis in different time periods, H.P Minsky. Similarly, Marx asserted, sustainability of existing hegemonic economic structure depends on continues revolutionizing and modernizing of means of production and more exploitation of labor. However, because of this process the absolute and relative surplus value is generated which creates wealth. Additionally, because of the destructive patterns of the global structure the wealth shifts in the few hands, which makes and favors the global elite and sends rest of the society in the swamp of hunger and poverty.
Moreover, because of this mechanism, phenomenon of industrial reserve army emerged which creates problem of permanent unemployment and cause reduction in demand and later manifest in the form of crisis i.e. economic or financial crisis. Nevertheless, credit crisis of 1772 which was originated from London and quickly spread to rest of Europe. The great depression of 1929-1939 which is considered the worst economic and financial disaster of the 20th century begin with the wall street crash. OPEC oil price shock of 1973. The Asian crisis of 1997 which is also known as Asian flu which began from Thailand and quickly spread to east Asia and its trading partner and the most recent 2008 financial crisis can be considered as dominant examples. Howbeit, this is the basic contradiction of the existing hegemonic economic structure from where the crisis begins. In this context, Minsky highlighted that stability itself creates instability. Additionally, instability increases uncertainty and that uncertainty causes economic crisis. Though crisis hits different economies (developed and underdeveloped) differently, but it has also some universal impacts like reduction in growth, increase in unemployment, stock market crash, reduction in trade volume and currency crisis etc.
Withal, when economic crisis begins this sharpens contradictions among the capitalists. Consequently, these contradictions are converted into rivalry and manifested in different shapes like price war etc. Furthermore, this scenario has much devastating effects where small, weak and newly established businesses cannot survive and the large businesses convert into monopolies and make strong cartels or syndicates for survival and cause more exploitation of both labor and consumers. Such process can also be analyzed through the different economic crunches; For instance, during the period of financial crisis of 2008 small business went under or were forced to lay off employees, slash spending, halt expansion plans and find new ways to survive which results in the closure of about 1.8 million small businesses during the period of December 2008 to December 2010. Moreover, every year 670,000 business were created before the decade of financial crisis and this figure reached at 715,000 in 2006. But during the period of financial crisis the number felt dramatically and reached 560,000, highlighted by Barbara Weltman in his report.
It is of great importance to understand that due to the weak and fragile foundations, current economic structure cannot resist against any shock, these shocks might demand, supply or financial shock. Demand shock which can be seen after the tragedy of 9/11, supply shock which was caused by rising in oil prices in 1973 and financial shock which created the financial crisis of 2008. Besides, such shocks have more disastrous effects during the period of uncertainty and instability and result in the deep economic recession.
However, same situation can be observed due to the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic. Covid-19 has come up with triple shocks demand, supply and financial shock simultaneously. Ironically, the fragile structure was already suffering from economic instability and shrinking the world economy. under the prevailing uncertainty the various international institutions and think tanks have already been reporting about the effects of uncertainty on the global economy. in the form of conflicts among great powers, trade wars etc. For instance, before the Covid-19, world was facing growth uncertainty and there was tendency of reduction in the global output. This uncertainty created conflict among different powers where the Sino-US trade war is one of the example of those conflicts. Further these conflicts negatively affected the world macro-economic indicators and shrank global growth and trade volume. As warned by IMF “US-China trade war will cut the global growth slowest pace since 2008-2009 financial crisis”. Additionally, in November 2019 financial times highlighted that “because of trade tensions global trade balance shrank 1.2 percent”.
However, this indicates that fragile hegemonic structure unable to tolerate triple economic shock (demand, supply and financial shock) caused by covid-19 and that might lead to recession. According to the world bank global economic prospect 2020“The global economy will shrink 5.2% this year. That would represent deepest recession since second world war with the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870.”in addition it has also been warned in the same report that “Economic activity among advanced economies is anticipated to shrink 7% in 2020 as domestic demand and supply, trade, and finance have been severely disrupted. Emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are expected to shrink by 2.5% this year, their first contraction as a group in at least sixty years. Per capita incomes are expected to decline by 3.6%, which will tip millions of people into extreme poverty this year.”
Nonetheless, the existing hegemonic structure is not only fragile but also complex and standing on the foundation of exploitation of state and society at larger level. Therefore, any single factor cannot be considered as the main reason of the crisis. Rather multiple internal and external factors. However, the internal and hidden contradictions of global economic structure have been playing a significant role in global economic crunch. Additionally, these contradictions have made the recession destiny of the existing economic structure. Hence, whatever may be the situation, the recession is mandatory. This may start from any sector financial or real but it affects the whole economy and the external shocks fasten the process which can be observed during covid-19.
As Michel Robert explained while discussing the Marxist theory of crisis that “Crises of capitalist production are due ‘under consumption’, a lack of spending by workers who do not have enough to spend or due to ‘disproportion’, the anarchy of capitalist production means that production in various sectors can get out of line with others and production can just outstrip demand; or it’s the lack of profitability in an economic system that depends on profit being made for private owners in order for investment and production to take place.” Similarly, H.P Minsky argued in his financial instability hypothesis “financial crisis are endemic in capitalism because periods of economic prosperity encouraged borrower or lenders to be progressively reckless this excess optimism creates financial bubbles than busts”
It can be concluded that covid-19 has severely affected the complex socio-economic structure. Nevertheless, it is not the sole reason of current economic recession as it is being appeared in the contemporary data and literature produced by the world institutions and think tanks. These publications are neglecting the role of fragile structure and its foundations which are not in position to absorb any shock. Thus comprehending the genuine causes and factors influencing the crisis is necessary to develop appropriate mechanism to contain and address the various dynamics of the existing hegemonic structure.
Pandemic “Locked Down” People’s Life in the Developing and the Poor Countries
Due to pandemic pressures, the countries around the world are preoccupied with matters of lack of human resources, medical equipment, and tamping capacity of the hospitals for coronavirus patients. For the community 40 percent of the lower middle class, especially in urban areas of developing and poor countries, large scale of social restriction in dealing with pandemic means losing daily, weekly, even monthly incomes.
Being asked to take two or three months off, that means two or three months of lost income. And their government are not ready to deal with that situation. But in developed and rich countries, with large and strong economic fundamentals, turn out that not all of them are ready to provide guarantees to affected citizens, although they can provide any kind of the provision of pocket money, the provision of food, and all forms of economic protection during lockdown.
In other side, entrepreneurs, for the most part, did not really feel the effects of tax incentives and relaxation, because it seems to be obligations that had to be paid if they were producing. Then if they do not produce and employees are asked to take a day off but still be paid, the story will be different. Entrepreneurs will also be paralyzed. The conditions are very different from the top richest conglomerates in developing countries, for example, whose reserves may be very strong.
What are about medium Enterprises, SMEs, especially micro? Countercrisis schemes have not clearly been seen at all. The countries may not be able to give it in maximum capacity because of zero fiscal support. Pushed a little to the new budget post, instead it became a fiscal deficit. The only option left is debt. And on one hand it will be politically bad for the government, but on other hand it will be new target to corrupt.
With this picture, COVID 19 attacks, economically, accept it or not, directly to the heart of the national economy of developing countries, which are largely supported by MSMEs. If these pillars fall, shake the countries economy. That’s when injections from various major countries and donor agencies are needed. So the conditions are indeed very difficult.
People who are able to buy any needs, the money in their accounts is still abundant, may be angry, even condemning, why there are still those who work or roam around looking for a living. But for them, (daily working class or micro business owner), stay working is also part of saving life, or actually starving to death. On the other hand, they have not yet been able to be certain about what guarantees they will get from the relevant authorities if they are not active.
If there is no more room to work, then asked to take a day off, the choice to survive is to return home to countryside. In the villages, they can make a living in various ways, even if they stop working, for a few months at least. And it turns out that even then the mobility was banned, because it was considered to be expanding the pandemic to the villages. Then what else can they do? The situation is actually already locked down and stand off. The people economy is locked up. The more it moves, the more it twists.
What people requests from the government are to anticipate the spread of the corona virus on the one hand while anticipating an economic downturn that will stop many people from earning income, the business stop moving, then there will be an explosion of unemployment, poverty, living improperly, lack of food, including the needs of any installment, the educational needs, risk of education lost of the children, ect, on other hand
In what ways can the already collapsed economy be brought back, which plunges many people under such poverty, unemployment and hopeless lines? Especially if unemployment and famine spread? No body wanna answer. For example, in Indonesia, the 1997-1998 crisis plunged no less than 10 million people into the abyss of unemployment, which to this day is still unemployed, displaced after being laid off, competing for work with a new workforce, which makes them unsold in the eyes of job providers. Fortunately, there are online motorcycle taxis or online taxis, so now some of them can join in making a living. But in pandemic stand off, all of that little hope is gone.
The crucial note for this pandemic case is that the humanitarian affairs are not just a matter of health, but a matter of the survival of millions of people in decent conditions, not in tragically frightening conditions, without hope and certainty. To be healthy, there are costs. The problem, it is not borne by their state. And for independent isolation, there are also costs, and it is not borne by their government. The best way, it’s best not to judge or blame each other about people who insist on their hearts to keep struggling for a living. The developing countries government should take action to protect them with any health equipment needed.
The second, the majority of people, everywhere in the world, work hard, go home early at night, the reason is the economy, to become more prosperous, so that the need to be able to live healthier and more worthy can be fulfilled, so that the future of children born is more secure because there are costs for education and health, so that their lives in the future are better.
But there are many government of the developing and the poor countries clearly have no “more ability” to deal with poverty and unemployment well amid pandemic. More over if the 60 percent of the countries workers are informal workers, live in vulnerability, just above the poverty line. Let’s assume that their government wish to do all of that, but they have no capacity. So what if they have the authoritarian and non democratic governments?
Conversion of Local Business into E-Business by Effective Use of Social Media
The spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) has affected almost all areas of life. The whole world is facing a crisis because of this pandemic issue. A lot of people have lost their jobs and many are struggling to survive in this situation. All businesses whether working at a large scale or a small scale are facing problems due to the unavailability to resources to operate businesses successfully. The developed countries are somehow managing this situation because of the successful implementation of online businesses from a long-time period. So, for those countries both customers and businesses are relatively ok with the situation by not going in the markets to buy things and place orders online and get it delivered at the doorsteps easily.
Whereas many developing countries like Pakistan have certain barriers in the full acceptance of e-business offered by the local and international companies. As per many studies on this topic, there are a lot of factors that pose hindrances in full acceptance of e-commerce in Pakistan. However, there is one thing worth mentioning that these hindering factors are related to all stakeholders. A few of those factors include insufficient technological resources, Government Policies, legal issues, social acceptability of the online shopping trend because of trust issue between companies and customers whether in terms of provided customer information at online shopping platforms, payment security, or the difference in shown and finally delivered product at customers doorstep, etc. But there has been seen a change in this trend in a couple of years with the development of the telecommunication industry. As most of the people now days have internet access at their places and are following social trends all around the world. So, the trend on online shopping from official brand stores’ websites has developed rapidly due to the trust of customers in brands’ shown and delivered products on their official online websites. But as far as local businesses and third party online shopping websites are concerned they are still a certain group of people consider taking a chance to shop online.
In the pandemic situation, as all the markets were closed due to the lockdown in the country, everyone was worried about the situation whether a businessman or a customer. In this crucial time of survival, there has developed a new trend of conversion of local businesses into e-businesses by using social media effectively. Here are those businesses are under discussion who are owned by the people who are not mostly educated enough to know the value of effective use of social media or those people who even being educated at a certain level didn’t think before that they can utilize social media for their businesses to operate when everything was closed. Talking about the customers who were conscious about all the factors of trust and all before were just considering one thing and that was the availability of their desired products at their doorstep in their required time frame. Somehow, like big brands and businesses, many small businesses managed it quite well and provided online shopping facilities to the customers.
In the period of locked down, these small local businesses used social media i.e. Facebook, Instagram, what’s app, LinkedIn, etc. to display their products online offering discounted prices and free home delivery. This step not only provided them the opportunity to earn money in the time of crisis but also put the foundation of new trends in online shopping i.e. the acceptability of online shopping in the society even in the smaller and backward areas of Pakistan. We hope that this conversion of local businesses into e-businesses will continue to flourish successfully in the future and the acceptability of online shopping in Pakistan will grow over time. Here, in the end, one thing that matters is that all the stakeholders should play their effective role in this growth especially the Government should make policies to support the effective implementation of online business trends in Pakistan.
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