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June 18, 1998


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Bombs blow a hole in Pakistan's morale

Last month's nuclear tests may have boosted the morale of Pakistani nationalists, but it also burst the bubble of the country's borrowed prosperity.

Ever since he ordered the tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief has been trying to shield his nation from the economic sanctions imposed by aid donors.

Within hours of announcing that Pakistan had gone nuclear, Sharief imposed a state of emergency in the country and froze foreign currency accounts, fearing a run on local banks.

That unexpected step shattered the confidence of the people who had deposited some 11 billion dollars in Pakistani banks on Sharief's assurances that it would be safe and always at their call.

Analysts said the government in fact wanted to use the $ 11 billion lying in the accounts as a cover to meet foreign currency demands for the repayment of loans and imports.

Pakistan has been groaning under a foreign debt of $ 40 billion and an internal debt of $ 26.5 billion. In the new fiscal year beginning July 1, 45 per cent of the national income will go toward servicing these debts.

On assuming power in 1997, Sharief, an industrialist, launched a debt retirement fund, offering a handsome return on the contributions made. The fund attracted $ 350 million in short-term deposits.

Sharief put up a brave face after the sanctions were announced by the G-8 group of industrialised nations, saying they would only force Pakistan to stand on its own feet.

But his government continues to depend on foreign assistance.

Though the G-8 has threatened to choke off the aid pipeline of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, the Sharief government last Friday projected an inflow of $ 3.2 billion, or 23.4 per cent of the total federal receipts, from donor agencies and countries during the 1998-99 fiscal year.

At the same time, Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz announced that alternative sources were also being tapped by the government.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi was reported to have offered Sharief full support when he visited Pakistan, offering congratulations for giving the Muslim world the so-called Islamic Bomb .

Premier Sharief then visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, reportedly in search of petro-dollars. His close aide, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, went to Kuwait to make a similar plea.

Over the weekend Sharief flew to Britain to appeal to the 400,000 Pakistanis working there to donate 1,000 dollars each family to the National Self-Reliance Fund that he launched to make Pakistan stand on its own feet and to beat the sanctions against its nuclear tests.

But he dropped a similar fund-raising trip to the United States and Canada. The comparatively more educated and wealthier Pakistanis who live there reportedly echoed the popular demand that the filthy rich back home should be made to cough up first.

Pakistani newspapers are filled with demands that the rulers should set an example in austere living, recover the more than four billion dollars in defaulted loans, taxes and utility bills from the influential people and hold accountable those who bled Pakistan white for 50 years.

Some feeble attempts are being made to meet the growing demand for cleaning the stables, but the measures remain largely symbolic.

Even army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, has been quoted as saying: "We should not confuse economising with the economy."

General Karamat said the symbolic austerity measures taken by the rulers were good but a battle had to be waged against the mindset which led to extravagance and wastage of resources over decades.

Meanwhile, a publicity campaign is on at home and abroad to raise funds for making Pakistan stand on its own feet.

In the Gulf countries, where 100,000 Pakistanis work, the appeal is being made through newspapers.

An advertisement put in by Pakistan's Self-Reliance Fund shows Sharief hailing the nuclear blast pictured in the background under the headline 'we do it our way'. Below the picture of the test site follow excerpts from his speech of May 28, announcing that Pakistan has become a nuclear power.

"We have never accepted anyone's supremacy like a coward nation .. Our people have laid their lives for honour and prestige ... We have always preferred liberty over servitude, trial over comfort and gallantry over gluttony ... And now we have adopted the way to self-sufficiency."


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