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Bury the Begging Bowl Please! -An open letter Nwaz Sharif

(By Abdul Khaliq)

Dear Mr.Shahbaz Sharif! A few days back you announced that “the nation should refuse to accept foreign aid as it had been proved to be a “poison” for the national sovereignty and its integrity. We have mortgaged our sovereignty by accepting foreign aid; therefore the nation had to break the “begging bowl” to live as an independent nation”.

Your words sound music to my ears, and I am much happy with your “radical position”. I respect your good intention, but do these really mean something more than usual political rhetoric as your party record speaks something different from your latest position. I still remember the qarz otaroo, mulk soonwaroo (repay debts to mend the country) campaign, launched by your party soon after the Atomic blasts in 1998. Many people contributed to this campaign by donating their meager savings. We never heard much about this campaign later. Can you please enlighten us what good come out of this campaign? This is second time you and your party are trying to invoking popular public sentiments around the issue of debts. I hope you could do something good to the nation but I fear it may prove once again nothing but political sloganeering.

First time in 1998, your party appeal the public to contribute repay foreign debts from their own pockets in order to maintain national sovereignty in the hour of need. This time you are telling us that US grants are bad and nation should refuse to accept. I agree because grants and loans are generally loaded with strings, however one thing you forgot to make clear whether the foreign aid you reject, include the aid from International Financial Institutions, Western creditors, Saudi Arabia, UAE etc. your later statements indicate that you would continue to have loans from IFIs and other western creditors. Perhaps for you, the loans except from US pose no threat to country’s sovereignty and hence no harm to receive loans from IMF, WB, ADB and other donor countries. This is strange logic you are pushing around the renewed myth of the begging bowl. Different developing countries experiences show that how they were entrapped through multilateral aid by these Bretton woods duo.

You are confident that the decision taken by the most populated province of Pakistan would prove to be a starting point of a national movement for economic independence, national sovereignty and security of the country. But what about the loan and aid Punjab recently got from China? Is it without any strings? Does it count in foreign aid or not? Dear Mr. Sharif! Would you please like to share with people of Punjab that how much PML-N government has already obtained from the multilateral donors like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank? Newspaper reports tell us that Punjab secured a hefty amount of no less than Rs32.27 billion out of the donors’ commitment of around Rs40 billion by April 30, for budgetary support and development works during the fiscal 2010-11. Is not it tenacious delusion? Breaking the begging bowl has been an old and favorite slogan of your party but we see at the end of all your governments, the country plunging further deep down in foreign debts. Why this dichotomy?

My dear CM! You say, that “refusing foreign aid is not easy but this what every Pakistani wants”. Yes, it is right but every Pakistani also wants to get rid of the rising debt burden of the country as well as of Punjab, major part of which comprises odious debt; the debt that secured by the dictators in the name of the people of Pakistan. And one of these dear dictators has been your senior partner in the decade of 1980s.

Sir, for your information, Pakistan’s external debt has never gone down since 1998. The country is in deadly debt trap now with total external loans of over $59 billion and domestic debt is as high as about $ 62 billion. Pakistan is already paying $ 3 billion at average every year under debt servicing to foreign creditors. For year 2010 the debt servicing target was much higher as of $ 5. 46billion. A staggering 37.4 percent of the budget is allocated for debt servicing in latest budget for FY 2011-12. This ratio will further shoot up in 2014, when rescheduled loans (after 9/11) will be back in action, amassing the debt burden to around an estimated amount of $ 75 billion. Even by counting the average debt servicing of $ 3 billion per annum, Pakistan pays Rs. 700 million daily and Rs. 300 million every hour to foreign creditors.

There is no denying the fact with PPP at federal government the burden of the public debt over all has doubled in the last three years and debt campaigners in Pakistan are highly critical of this relentless borrowing. But your party too is no exception, which kept on treading the same path, designed by the international donors. None of the democratic governments, including PML-N ever tried to break away with imperialist creditors.

Dear, Mr. Sharif, if you and your party are really interested to break the begging bowl and help this nation to come out of vicious circle of debt, then you need take some radical steps; surely unpopular from IFIs perspective. Breaking the begging bowl is not enough; it must go with breaking the chains of imperialist debts. You have to address the issue of public debt as a whole. For your information, most part of our foreign debt is odious; contracted by a dictator; that is illegal. Why don’t you and your party call to refuse this portion of debt? Why don’t you call to form a national debt audit commission comprising credible individuals of integrity on the pattern of Ecuador. Norway had to drop the debt of Ecuador after it was found illegal by the audit commission. Such a commission in Pakistan will be helpful in clearing out the mess around the question of debt, by undertaking probe into all loan contracts with bilateral and multilateral donors.

Secondly, the people of Pakistan, the real stakeholders in this debate have been kept in the dark regarding the composition and terms of public debt. The lack of information represents a fundamental failure of the democratic process. The masses that shoulder the debt and bear the costs of debt burden have a democratic right to receive full and true information on public debt. The debt audit commission can also begin to redress this deficiency.


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