Geneva conference: the jig is up?
Like clockwork. As reports of pledges began to trickle in from Geneva, Pakistani policymakers and commentators began cautious celebration – like Israelites being delivered from their forty years in the wilderness. By the time these pages hit the press, Pakistan’s delegation was bringing home $10 billion+ in commitments, exceeding targeted financial assistance for post-flood reconstruction. ‘Are Pakistan’s immediate term balance of payment woes over?’, whispered many with disbelief. Is it time to break out the proverbial champagne - that is - roll out the red carpet of an expansionary fiscal bonanza?
Before answering that question, an important segue. The nervous nail-biting by Pakistan’s intelligentsia over the fate of Geneva pledges betrays a sense of desperation. A desperation that has infected both the policymakers and the larger public like an epidemic. If the speeches at yesterday’s conference are any guide, the global community to recognize Pakistan’s problem. Unfortunately, the problem appears to most delegates was not the plight of climate victims, but a drug addict’s need for his next fix.
As impressive as the $10 billion roped in at the conference might appear, Pakistan’s thinly veiled attempt to use the post-flood ‘opportunity’ to bail itself out of the dollar crisis is evident to the donor community. The prime minister used the forum to plead with the IMF, asking the Fund to “have some heart”.It seems neither the Fund nor the world is buying it.
As realization sank in, a last-ditch attempt was made to rebrand the conference from building “climate resilience” to contributing to “reconstruction and rehabilitation”.All hands were on board to play up the humanitarian angle and urgency for aid (read: dollars), instead of securing longer commitments to help build resilience against the effects of climate change. Pakistan’s prime minister, for example, declared that the way out of the catastrophe was “rapid economic growth”, an anathema to climate activists seeking to transform traditional development models. Similarly, the finance minister urged the need for budgetary support and fiscal space, ‘so that commitments to IMF could be honored’ – then went on press the development partners for everything from “debt swaps” to “external debt sustainability”; anything, but long-term treatment.
But if the world didn’t buy it, why would the commitments meet – nay, exceed the target? Consider the following advice from the UK’s secretary of state for International Development, who reportedly urged Pakistan to “swiftly conclude the 9th review of the IMF program to build confidence among partners… that Pakistani taxpayers are seen playing a core part in this effort”.
As the sun set in Geneva, the cautious celebration gave way to muted melancholy back home. Policymakers and commentators realized that dollars weren’t going to flood in after all, at least not like Zia’s war or Coalition Support Fund.
As the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change, Pakistan had asked the world to help build resilience against future disasters. That entails capacity building and a transformation of governance structures, not financing another fiscal stimulus to boost cement and steel demand under the pretense of flood victims’ rehabilitation. In fact, the global community has kept its end of the bargain. Now, it is up to Pakistan to live up to hers.
But that would mean signing up for rehab to address our strongly rooted ways, for which we are simply not ready. Dangerously enough, the world knows it too.
Like clockwork. As reports of pledges began to trickle in from Geneva, Pakistani policymakers and commentators began...