Pakistan: Five major issues to watch in 2023

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January 13, 2023

1. Political instability, polarization, and an election year

Politics will likely consume much of Pakistan’s time and attention in 2023, as it did in 2022. The country’s turn to political instability last spring did not end with a dramatic no-confidence vote in parliament last April that ousted then Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan from office. Instability and polarization have only heightened since then: Khan has led a popular opposition movement against the incumbent coalition government and the military, staging a series of large rallies across the country through the year.

The struggle for power in Pakistan continues into 2023. While the incumbent government has not ceded to Khan’s demand for early elections, country-wide elections are constitutionally mandated to be held by October this year. It benefits the government politically to hold them off as long as it possibly can as it tries to dig itself out of Pakistan’s urgent economic crisis and its lackluster domestic performance (its diplomatic foreign policy approach has fared better, but that may not matter for elections). The last year has cost it precious political capital, and Khan’s party did very well in a set of by-elections held in July and October. The state has tried to mire Khan and his party in legal cases, relying on a familiar playbook used against opposition politicians in Pakistan, albeit to limited effect, with the courts’ involvement.

Khan’s party still controls two of Pakistan’s four provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and the incumbent federal government’s (extra-legal) efforts to try to wrest power from it in Punjab, the largest province, have been unsuccessful (thanks to the courts). The year is off to a dramatic start, with Khan’s party initiating the process to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies this month to pressure the federal government into early elections.

For politics-obsessed Pakistan, the biggest question remains who will win the next general election. Will former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (brother of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif) return to Pakistan to run as the head of his party, the PML-N? Can Imran Khan win on the strength of his popular support, despite his confrontation with the military? Regardless of the outcome, we can say this much given the histories of the main contenders: The direction of the country is unlikely to change.

2. A precarious economic situation

Pakistan’s economy has been in crisis for months, predating the summer’s catastrophic floods. Inflation is backbreaking, the rupee’s value has fallen sharply, and its foreign reserves have now dropped to the precariously low level of $4.3 billion, enough to cover only one month’s worth of imports, raising the possibility of default.

An economic crisis comes around every few years in Pakistan, borne out of an economy that doesn’t produce enough and spends too much, and is thus reliant on external debt. Every successive crisis is worse as the debt bill gets larger and payments become due. This year, internal political instability and the flooding catastrophe have worsened it. There is a significant external element to the crisis as well, with rising global food and fuel prices in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The combination of all these factors has spelled perhaps the greatest economic challenge Pakistan has ever seen. Yet the government has been mired in politicking, and the release of a $1.1 billion loan tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remains stalled as Islamabad has pushed back on the IMF’s conditions. The government has now resorted to limiting imports and shutting down malls and wedding halls early, small measures that fail to adequately address the problem.

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Pakistan may end up avoiding default for the time being with IMF help and loans from friendly countries, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. But those won’t address the clear underlying malaise of the economy – and the fact that something fundamentally will need to change, in terms of how much the economy produces versus how much it spends, to avoid default down the road. But none of Pakistan’s political parties seem to have the political will or ability to bring about such change.

Pakistan must reportedly pay back $73 billion by 2025; it won’t be able to do so without debt restructuring.

3. Flood recovery

A “ monsoon on steroids ” – directly linked to climate change – caused a summer of flooding in Pakistan so catastrophic that it has repeatedly been described as biblical. It left a third of the country under water – submerging entire villages – killed more than 1,700, destroyed homes, infrastructure, and vast cropland, and left millions displaced.

More than four months after the worst of the flooding, nearly 90,000 people are still displaced from their homes, and the floodwater is still standing in some areas. It would be enormously difficult for any country to recover from such a disaster and rebuild lost infrastructure, including roads and schools, let alone a government dealing with a cash crunch like Pakistan’s.

But the Pakistani government – in particular the foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has visited the United States twice since the summer, and the minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman – has done an admirable job bringing awareness of the flooding catastrophe to the world stage. A donors’ conference Sharif co-hosted with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Geneva this month raised pledges for more than $9 billion for flood recovery over the next three years (the money is mostly in the form of project loans). Pakistan has also played an important role in discussions about the devastating effects of climate change on developing nations, spearheading the effort to place loss and damage on the agenda at COP27 for the first time, and pushing for COP delegates in Egypt to agree to a loss and damage fund.

With billions of dollars in help promised, the government has passed one hurdle. But the road for recovery ahead will be tough: Displaced people are still sleeping under open skies in Sindh province. Implementing a sustainable recovery will require enormous capacity, resources, and transparency in a country already mired in other troubles.

4. Mounting insecurity

The Pakistani Taliban (or TTP), the terrorist group responsible for killing tens of thousands of Pakistanis from 2007 to 2014, have been emboldened – predictably so – by a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and once again pose a threat to Pakistan, albeit in a geographically limited region (for now). The group engaged in at least 150 attacks in Pakistan last year, mostly in the northwest. Because the TTP have sanctuary in Afghanistan, the Pakistani state increasingly finds itself out of options when it comes to dealing effectively with the group. The state’s negotiations with the TTP have failed repeatedly, as they are bound to, because the group is fundamentally opposed to the notion of the Pakistani state and constitution as it exists today. The Afghan Taliban have, unsurprisingly, also not proved to be of help in dealing with the TTP – and Pakistan’s relations with the Afghan Taliban have deteriorated significantly at the same time over other issues, including the border dividing the two countries.

At this point, Pakistan’s first preference will be to strike kinetically at TTP targets within its borders, but that will be limited by TTP movement across the border into Afghanistan. That movement is what leaves Pakistan with the difficult-to-resolve TTP issue and complicates things beyond the military operation it launched against the group in 2014. Still, the Pakistani Taliban at this point is not the biggest threat Pakistan faces, given the country’s major political and economic challenges – but left unchecked, it could morph into a significant crisis.

5. Civil-military relations

Pakistan has a new chief of army staff as of November 29 last year. General Asim Munir replaced General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who had held the all-powerful post for six years (due to a three-year extension). The appointment of the army chief was a subject of considerable political contention last year; a major part of the reason Khan was ousted from power was his falling out with the military on questions over the appointments of top army officials.

All eyes are now on how civil-military relations shape up under Munir. Under Bajwa, the military solidified its control over all manner of policy behind the scenes. Bajwa presided over a close “same-page” relationship with Khan; when that frayed, the PML-N was eager to take Khan’s place as the military’s ally and head of the civilian government. Bajwa left office saying the army would no longer be involved in political matters; few in Pakistan believe him. With politics set to dominate the agenda this year and an election imminent, Munir has a chance to show the country whether he will follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, or chart a new course for civil-military relations in Pakistan. Pakistan’s history indicates the former.

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An Economic Crisis in Pakistan Again: What’s Different This Time?

Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Critical Questions by Daniel F. Runde and Ambassador Richard Olson

Published October 31, 2018

Pakistan’s newly-elected government is already dealing with a balance of payments crisis, which has been a consistent theme for the nation’s newly elected officials. Pakistan’s structural problems are homegrown, but what is different this time around is an added component of Chinese debt. Pakistan is the largest Belt and Road (BRI) partner adding another creditor to its already complicated economic situation.

Pakistan’s system is ill-equipped to make changes which would avoid future excessive debt. A bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is probably the safest bet for the country although it is unclear whether the United States will support the program. How Pakistan decides to handle its debt crisis could provide insight into how the U.S., IMF, and China will resolve development issues in the future. Beijing is a relatively new player in the development finance world so much is to be learned from how it deals with Pakistan and how it could possibly maneuver in other developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Q1: What is Pakistan’s current financial and economic situation?

A1: Pakistan held its most recent elections in July 2018. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party gained over 100 seats in the parliament, and its founder Imran Khan , a famous cricket team captain, was installed as prime minister. Prime Minister Khan has inherited a balance of payments crisis , the third one in the last 10 years. By the end of June 2018, Pakistan had a current account deficit of $18 billion , nearly a 45 percent increase from an account deficit of $12.4 billion in 2017. Exorbitant imports (including those related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)) and less-than-projected inflows (export revenues and remittances) have led to a current account deficit widening, with foreign currency reserves levels covering less than two months of imports—pushing Pakistan towards a difficult economic situation .

Part of Pakistan’s financial crisis stems from the fact that 2018 was a poor year for emerging markets. Global monetary tightening, increased oil prices, and reduced investor confidence have negatively impacted the country’s already precarious economic situation. But the country’s deep structural problems and weak macroeconomic policies have further exposed the economy to an array of debt vulnerabilities.

Pakistan has had an overvalued exchange rate, low interest rates, and subdued inflation over the last few years. This loose monetary policy has led to high domestic demand, with two-thirds of Pakistan’s economic growth stemming from domestic consumption. An overvalued exchange rate has led to a very high level of imports and low level of exports. Pakistan’s high fiscal deficit was accelerated even further in 2017 and 2018 because elections have historically caused spending to rise (both of the most recent fiscal crises followed elections). Perhaps the greatest financial issues facing Pakistan are its pervasive tax evasion and chronically low level of domestic resource mobilization. Taxes in Pakistan comprise less than 10 percent of GDP , a far cry from the 35 percent of countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Pakistan also suffers from impediments in the energy sector through frequent and widespread power outages that hurt its competitiveness.

In Western media, Chinese investment is often cited as the main driver of Pakistan’s debt crisis. This is somewhat true as China’s BRI makes Pakistan a key partner through the shared CPEC. The CPEC is a $60 billion program of infrastructure, energy and communication projects that aims to improve connectivity in the region. CPEC infrastructure costs have certainly placed a greater debt burden on Pakistan, but the current structural problems are homegrown; the root cause of the energy shortages is now less a matter of power generation, and more of fiscal mismanagement of the power sector .

Q2: What are Pakistan’s options?

A2: Pakistan appears to be in perpetual crisis-mode, and for too long the Pakistani government has been overly reliant on U.S. bilateral assistance. While it may not be the first choice of the Pakistani government, an IMF bailout is the most likely outcome of this financial crisis because it is probably the only path for Pakistan to regain its macroeconomic stability. Any “bailout” from a bilateral donor (meaning China or Pakistan’s Gulf State friends, including Saudi Arabia which has recently provided Pakistan $3 billion for a period of one year as balance-of-payment support) will not get at the root issues that Pakistan faces—its loose macroeconomic, fiscal, and monetary policies. Pakistan needs to get its house in order and remedy many of its domestic economic issues. 18 out of Pakistan’s 21 IMF programs over the last 60 years have not been completed despite obtaining over $30 billion in financial support across those programs. Just like today’s current financial crisis, Pakistan’s last two IMF packages (in 2008 and 2013) were also negotiated by incoming governments.

Q3: Would the U.S. support a new IMF Pakistan program?

A3: The current U.S. administration and Congress would not be supportive of additional bilateral funding to Pakistan—meaning money coming directly from the United States. Since 2001, Pakistan has been the beneficiary of the U.S. Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which reimburses allies for costs incurred by war on terrorism. The CSF is used to reimburse Pakistan for U.S. military use of its network infrastructure (e.g., ports, railways, roads, airspace) so that the United States can prosecute the war in neighboring Afghanistan, as well as certain Pakistani military counter-terrorism operations. The CSF for Pakistan has been as high as $1.2 billion per year, and, in recent years, $900 million per year. With nearly $1 billion in CSF distributed every year, along with $335 million in humanitarian assistance, it will be difficult to convince Congress to appropriate more funds for a Pakistan bailout yet. However, due to inaction on the part of Pakistan to expel or arrest Taliban insurgents operating from Pakistani territory, the United States has recently cut another $300 million from the CSF, bringing the total to $850 million in U.S. assistance withheld from Pakistan this year. In fact, all security assistance to Pakistan, whether it is international military education and training, foreign military financing, or the CSF, has been suspended for this year according to one State Department official.

An IMF program for Pakistan faces resistance from some members of Congress. A group of 16 senators has already signed a letter to President Trump that outlines their opposition to bailing out Pakistan because the IMF package would, in effect, be bailing out Chinese banks.

The Trump administration has also taken a hardline stance towards assisting Pakistan with its financial crisis. Secretary of State Pompeo stated this past July that he would not support an IMF bailout that went towards paying off Chinese loans. In September, Secretary Pompeo visited Pakistan, and there were indications that the United States would not block an IMF program. If an IMF program is enacted, there is no doubt that it would have stronger conditionality and a greater insistence on full transparency of Pakistan’s debt obligations.

Q4: Would an IMF package be a bailout of the Chinese?

A4: The terms of Pakistan’s loans with China are currently unclear and multiple news outlets have reported that Pakistan has refused to share CPEC information with the IMF. However, it is not unreasonable to presume that the terms in those contracts would be more demanding than terms typically asked by the IMF. Unless the terms between Pakistan and China and its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are disclosed and made clear to the IMF, then it is unwise for the IMF to proceed with a bailout package.

The IMF’s focus is not in projecting power and influence; rather it seeks to help struggling nations get back on their feet. The same cannot be said for China. China appears to be most interested in spreading its influence and gaining valuable assets for its military and expanding economy, while at the same time exporting its surplus capacity for infrastructure building. In its annual report to Congress, the Department of Defense reiterated this concern, “countries participating in BRI [such as Pakistan] could develop economic dependence on Chinese capital, which China could leverage to achieve its interests.”

Of Pakistan’s nearly $30 billion trade deficit, 30 percent is directly attributable to China . If China were concerned about the economic crisis in Pakistan, it would make immediate concessions which Pakistan Finance Minister Asad Umar says China is working on . To help with the crisis, China could readjust its trade surplus with Pakistan in different ways. For example, China could buy Pakistani cement and other purchases in the short term to illustrate that they are aware of and swiftly responding to the economic turmoil in Pakistan. Other nations have struggled with debt obligations to China. For instance, in July 2017, Sri Lanka signed over a 99-year lease for Hambantota Port to a Chinese SOE because of Sri Lanka’s inability to pay for BRI costs. Malaysia took a different path and decided to cancel major infrastructure projects with China in August 2018 due to worries that they would increase its debt burden .

Q5: What are the consequences if there is no IMF package?

A5: It is likely that China will provide even more assistance to broaden Pakistan’s dependency. Chinese banks and SOEs have already invested heavily into Pakistan, so much so that state bank loans have not been fully disclosed to the global community. In fact, Pakistan’s Status Report for July 2017 through June 2018 shows that Chinese commercial banks hold 53 percent of Pakistan’s outstanding commercial debt. However, that percentage may be even higher than the report depicts. While China and Pakistan have agreed to make all CPEC projects readily available to the public, the information is scattered and often left blank on essential financial reports (see July-June 2017 document ), and so it is difficult to obtain a full sense of the degree of Pakistan’s indebtedness to China. Again, much of the loan information provided by the Pakistani government, especially concerning China, is not entirely transparent.

If China chooses to follow through and become the “point person” for an assistance package, the pressure will be taken off the IMF. But, if the United States does not support an IMF package, it will forego major geopolitical potential in the region to its main competitor, China.

Pakistan represents a litmus test of all future cases in which the IMF, United States, China, and any emerging market country are all involved. Depending on how Beijing chooses to navigate Pakistan’s financial crisis, China may soon find itself responsible for rectifying the debt burdens of Zambia and many other BRI countries.

Q6: What are U.S. geopolitical “equities” in Pakistan?

A6:  The United States is invested in Pakistan because of its significant geopolitical importance.

  • Pakistan is an important component of the balance of power in South Asia. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons capabilities. Moreover, China, India, and Pakistan have been in dispute over the Kashmir region since 1947. Regional stability is in the interest of the United States.
  • Despite its ambiguous stance on militant groups, Pakistan is ostensibly an ally of the United States because of its proximity to Afghanistan. Since the War on Terror began in 2001, Pakistan has been an active partner in the elimination of core al Qaeda within Pakistan and has facilitated aspects of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.
  • The United States now seeks a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. To accomplish this, perhaps the United States will come to Pakistan with a simple offer: “deliver the Taliban, and we will give you the IMF.”
  • Whereas previous administrations may have tried to “play nice” with Pakistan, under the Trump administration, there is a chance that the U.S. government will push the IMF to adopt stricter terms for a Pakistan bailout, citing the Pakistani government’s failures of the last two programs.
  • Other than strategic military importance, one of the most important national security challenges to the United States is Pakistan’s demographic trends. Currently, over 64 percent of Pakistanis are under the age of 30—the largest percentage of youth in the country’s history. Over the next 30 years, Pakistan’s population will increase by over 100 million, jumping from 190 million to 300 million by 2050 . The spike in youth population presents an opportunity for the U.S. government and private sector to increase investment in Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy must generate 1 million jobs annually for the next three decades and GDP growth rates must equal 7 percent or more per year to keep up with the population boom. Were Pakistan’s economy to collapse, the world would see the first instance of a failed state with a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons.
  • An economically healthy Pakistan could be a large market for U.S. goods and services. If the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is strained as a result of this financial crisis, it will not only harm the United States militarily but will also harm U.S. businesses and Pakistani consumers.

Q7: Should the U.S. support an IMF package to Pakistan?

A7: Given the geostrategic importance of Pakistan for the United States, we should support a package but with stronger conditionality than in 2013 along with full transparency and disclosure of its debt obligations.

Daniel F. Runde is senior vice president, director of the Project on Prosperity and Development, and holds the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Richard Olson is a non-resident senior associate at CSIS. He is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan; most recently he served as the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Obama administration. Special thanks to CSIS Project on Prosperity and Development program coordinator Owen Murphy and intern Austin Lucas for their contributions to this analysis.

Critical Questions   is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2018 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Daniel F. Runde

Daniel F. Runde

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Pakistan’s economic crisis

  • Sonia Mishra

Graph Falling Down in Front Of Pakistan Flag. Crisis Concept. Image credit: NatanaelGinting, iStock

FACULTY Q&A

Pakistan is facing a multidimensional crisis. Its economy is teetering on collapse due to a possible political crisis, the rupee plummeting and inflation at decades-high levels, devastating floods, and a significant shortage of energy.

Offering his insight on the situation is John Ciorciari, professor and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He is also director of the Ford School’s International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center.

How bad is the economic crisis in Pakistan, especially after the floods?

Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and clearly requires external support. Foreign exchange reserves are at dangerously low levels—enough to pay for only a few weeks’ worth of imports. Inflation is at its highest levels in decades, growth is sagging and the central bank has raised interest rates sharply to address a weak currency. Food and fuel prices are causing real pain to ordinary people, and the country’s economic challenges are only exacerbated by the devastation wrought by the floods.

The economy was struggling even before the floods. What are some of the other causes?

Pakistan’s economic crisis has numerous causes. Weak governance and political instability have been significant factors, weakening investor confidence in the country and contributing to corruption and pork-barrel politics that undermine the country’s fiscal position. Pakistan is also highly import-dependent, particularly with regard to energy, which renders it acutely vulnerable to hikes in global oil and gas prices. The pandemic did not help, and Pakistan’s tense relations with India continue to deprive it of a potentially transformative trading and investment partner.

The international community has pledged $9 billion to help them. Some of the biggest donors are Saudi Arabia and China. Do you think these governments will expect support in any way from Pakistan in return?

Donors such as China and Saudi Arabia may not include many explicit conditions to their aid, but implicit strings are always attached. China will look to Pakistan for favorable development opportunities, such as the energy corridor running from the Arabian Sea to China’s western provinces and the strategically vital port of Gwadar. China will also seek Pakistan’s support on geopolitical issues ranging from the Taiwan Strait to Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan not only as a key oil purchaser and source of migrant labor but also as a key Sunni-majority ally vis-à-vis Iran. Riyadh will expect Islamabad to support Saudi initiatives in the Persian Gulf and Saudi leadership stemming from its role as guardian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

Is $9 billion enough to help them rebuild and make it out of the crisis?

Pakistan will need an infusion of more than $9 billion to climb out of the crisis. However, much should come from private sources. The value of IMF funds is to provide a stopgap, rebuilding confidence in a way that encourages private flows to resume.

Will Pakistan be able to protect itself from inevitable future climate disasters?

Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate-linked disasters and cannot alone build a fortress against climate change. Stronger domestic preparedness and resilience are clearly needed, but ultimately Pakistan’s fortunes will hinge primarily on global progress to address the drivers of climate change.

Will all the money pledged to Pakistan be used towards flood recovery, or do you expect some might help their federal reserves that were at dangerous levels before the flood?

First and foremost, IMF funds will help Pakistan avoid default on its international obligations, which could have seismic consequences for its economy and its people. Replenishing foreign reserves is crucial in this regard. Aid programs will also help address the flood recovery, but this will be much more manageable if Pakistan’s reserves rise to levels that instill confidence in its ability to pay its debts.

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The World Bank

The World Bank In Pakistan

Pakistan has important strategic endowments and development potential. The increasing proportion of Pakistan’s youth provides the country with a potential demographic dividend and a challenge to provide adequate services and employment.

Pakistan’s strong post-pandemic recovery came to a halt in FY23 with large accumulated economic imbalances that resulted from the delayed withdrawal of accommodative policy, and a series of domestic and external economic shocks. Pressures on domestic prices, external and fiscal balances, the exchange rate, and foreign exchange reserves mounted amid surging world commodity prices, global monetary tightening, recent catastrophic flooding, and domestic political uncertainty. Confidence and economic activity collapsed due to import controls, periodic exchange rate fixing, creditworthiness downgrades, and ballooning interest payments. Poverty is estimated to have increased due to deteriorating wages and job quality, along with high inflation that eroded purchasing power, particularly for the poor.

Pakistan’s economy is estimated to have contracted in FY23, after two consecutive years of stellar growth. Overall, real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have declined by 0.6 percent in FY23 after growing by 6.1 percent in FY22 and 5.8 percent in FY21. Floods caused heavy damage to crops and livestock, while difficulties securing critical inputs, including fertilizers, further slowed agriculture output growth. With 44 percent of poor workers relying on agriculture, weak agricultural performance had significant poverty impacts. Supply chain disruptions due to import restrictions and flood impacts, high fuel and borrowing costs, political uncertainty, and weak demand affected industry and service sector activity, and dampened private investment. Private consumption also shrank with weakened labor markets and surging inflation. This likely reduced the labor incomes of millions of workers, especially those who moved to lower-productivity informal jobs.

Economic growth is expected to remain sluggish and downside risks to the outlook will remain exceptionally high. The approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) in July 2023 unlocked new external financing and averted a balance of payments crisis. Even with the SBA, reserves are expected to remain low, necessitating continued import controls and constraining economic recovery. Real GDP growth is projected to reach only 1.7 percent in FY24 and 2.3 percent in FY25. The agriculture sector is expected to recover on the back of higher production of important crops, including cotton and rice. Marginal easing of import restrictions is expected to support some recovery in the industrial sector, particularly large-scale manufacturing. Flow-on impacts from the strengthening agriculture and industrial sectors will support a revival in associated services sectors including wholesale and retail trade, and transport and storage. However, high inflation due to increasing domestic energy prices and continued depreciation is likely to keep economic activity subdued. Recovery in private investment and exports will be marginal in the absence of broader reforms. With the resumption of growth, poverty expected to decline to 37.2 percent in FY24.

The economic outlook and short-term macroeconomic stability are predicated on the robust implementation of the SBA, continued fiscal restraint and external financing inflows. Financial sector instability and policy slippages due to social tensions pose significant risks. Continued high inflation, localized insecurity, and weak growth increase vulnerability to falling into poverty and worsen the situation of the existing poor. More than 10 million people are currently just above the poverty line, and at risk of becoming classified as poor if the situation deteriorates. Without further reforms, risks will remain exceptionally high, economic activity will remain constrained by import controls and weak confidence, while low investment and exports will undermine medium-term growth potential.

A more robust recovery will require an ambitious medium-term reform agenda focused on fiscal consolidation and enhancing competitiveness , supported by strong political ownership and commitment. The reforms would include measures to increase revenues by broadening the tax base, including from closing exemptions and tapping increased revenue from agriculture, retail, and property. It would also entail measures to rationalize fiscal expenditures, such as by reducing wasteful and regressive subsidy spending, and to restore private sector confidence through business regulatory reform and reforms to state-owned enterprises, and to address inefficiencies and high costs in the energy sector.

Last Updated: Oct 04, 2023

The  Country Partnership Strategy  (CPS) for Pakistan for FY2015-20 is structured to help the country tackle the most difficult—but potentially transformational—areas to reach the twin goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity.

The Pakistan team continues to engage with stakeholders on the next Country Partnership Framework (CPF). The CPF will draw from several analytical works, including Pakistan Systematic Country Diagnostic: Leveling the Playing Field , and the recently published Country Climate Development Report and Country Economic Memorandum .

The four results areas of the current CPS are:

Transforming the energy sector:  WBG interventions are supporting improved performance of the energy sector by supporting reforms and investments in the power sector to reduce load shedding, expand low-cost generation supply, improve transmission, improve governance and cut losses.

Supporting private sector development:  A mix of budget support, investments and analytical work supports improvements in Pakistan’s investment climate, in overall competitiveness, agricultural markets and productivity, and skills development. 

Reaching out to the underserved, neglected, and poor:  Investments support financial inclusion, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), women and youth (including through enrollment outcomes), fragile provinces/regions and poorer districts, social protection, and resilience and adaptation to the impact of climate change.

Accelerating improvements in service delivery:  At the federal and provincial levels the Bank supports increasing revenues to fund services and setting more ambitious stretch targets for areas that are not producing change fast enough (especially education and health). At a provincial level, this involves support to better service delivery in cities.

Cross cutting themes for the program include women’s economic empowerment, climate change and resilience, and regional economic connectivity.

The WBG has its third-largest portfolio of $14.8 billion in Pakistan ($10.8bn IDA, $3.8bn IBRD, $0.2mn in Trust funds and co-financings). The portfolio is supporting reforms and investments to strengthen institutions, particularly in fiscal management and human development. Partnerships are being strengthened at provincial levels, focusing on multi-sectoral initiatives in areas such as children's nutrition, education and skills, irrigated agriculture, tourism, disaster risk management, and urban development. Clean energy, and social/financial inclusion, both remain major priorities.

ENHANCING DISASTER RESILIENCE

Being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change Pakistan is recurrently affected by catastrophes, including the unprecedented 2022 floods which affected an estimated 33 million people and resulted in US$14.9 billion in damages and US$15.2 billion in economic losses . Pakistan’s economy continues to suffer chronic strain from prevailing and likely future threats of hazards. Since the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which led to nearly 73,000 deaths and caused damages to over 570,000 houses, the Bank has been supporting the Government of Pakistan in shifting to an anticipatory risk management approach. Initially, the Bank provided technical assistance to the government to highlight physical and fiscal risks from hazards, including risk assessments of federal and provincial capitals. In parallel, the Bank also used grant resources to build the capacity of Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Balochistan.

Following the floods of 2014, at the request of Government of Pakistan, the World Bank prepared the US$125 million IDA-funded Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project (DCRIP) to support the restoration of flood protection infrastructure and strengthen government capacity to manage disasters and climate variability in Punjab. The project was successfully concluded in November 2021,achieving its intended development objectives and surpassing the targets for several key results indicators. DCRIP directly benefitted more than 8 million people, half of which are women. The project also repurposed US$7 million to support the Government of Punjab in the pandemic emergency response through procurement of personal protection and healthcare equipment.

In 2016, the Bank also prepared and delivered the US$100 million IDA-funded  Sindh Resilience Project  (SRP) to mitigate flood and drought risks in selected areas, and strengthen Government of Sindh's capacity to manage natural disasters. About 5.75 million people across the province have benefitted from project interventions till date. The drought mitigation component of the project, comprising construction of small groundwater recharge dams, has already started generating strong development impacts for the target communities. In 2021, the Bank approved an additional financing of US$200 million to scale up the small groundwater recharge dams component and set up an emergency rescue service for Sindh.

The Bank has also prepared and delivered the US$188 million IDA-funded Pakistan Hydromet and Climate Services Project which aims to strengthen Pakistan’s public-sector delivery of reliable and timely hydro-meteorological services and enhance community resilience to shocks. The Contingent Emergency Response Component (CERC) was activated under this project to disburse US$150 million in response to the 2022 floods to provide cash assistance to 1.3 million flood affected families.

Furthermore, as part of comprehensive emergency response and rehabilitation support for 2022 floods, the Bank delivered two emergency projects for the province of Sindh, which was disproportionately affected by the catastrophe. The US$500 million IDA-funded Sindh Flood Emergency Rehabilitation Project aims to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure and provide short-term livelihood opportunities through cash-for-work in selected areas of Sindh affected by the 2022 floods. The project will also strengthen the capacity of the Government of Sindh to respond to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards through expansion of the Sindh Emergency Rescue Service (Rescue 1122) and enhancing the preparedness of relevant line departments. The Project is expected to benefit 2 million people through rehabilitated infrastructure while short term livelihood support will be provided to 100,000 households.

Similarly, the IDA-funded US$500 million Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project aims to deliver beneficiary-driven, multi-hazard resilient reconstruction of core housing units damaged or destroyed in the floods of 2022 in selected districts of Sindh. The Project will support the provision of an estimated 350,000 housing subsidy cash grants and strengthen the capacity of the Government of Sindh by providing technical assistance for the overall housing reconstruction program.

The flood emergency response projects have made satisfactory progress till date. US$ 160 million has been utilized for infrastructure rehabilitation, benefitting more than 3 million people, and about US$100 million has been committed for tranche-based cash grants for housing support to 160,000 beneficiaries.  Efforts are ongoing to ensure the inclusion of eligible beneficiaries and putting emphasis on infrastructure resilience in design standards, which represent important steps towards enhancing overall resilience and building back better.

The Bank has also launched the Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR) for Pakistan. The Pakistan CCDR provides analyses and policy recommendations on harmonizing efforts to achieve further economic growth and lower poverty rates, on the one hand, with the pursuit of a climate-resilient, low-carbon, and equitable development path, on the other. In light of the devastating 2022 heatwaves and floods and the country’s vulnerability profile, the CCDR strongly emphasizes the need to build long-term resilience. Further, it explores pathways for Pakistan to achieve deep decarbonization by 2050, and eventually reach net-zero emissions by 2070 without undermining its development ambitions.

Pakistan has made progress in mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in national policies and strategies, however, there is a slow progress in improving health outcomes. According to the maternal mortality survey in 2019, the country’s maternal mortality ratio  was 186 deaths per 100,000 live births down from 276/100,000 live births in 2006-07. Large gaps exist across provinces with Sindh and Balochistan having twice the number of maternal deaths as compared to the national average. The country also has one of the highest infant and under-5 mortalities in the region (62 and 74 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively). Twenty-two percent of the children born have low birth weight with variations across provinces.

On average, access to quality reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health with nutrition services in Pakistan is inadequate, with regional disparities. About 49 percent of pregnant women do not receive the recommended four or more anti-natal care (ANC) visits essential for a safe and healthy pregnancy outcome. With 33.8 percent of births outside of health facilities, the risk of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity is high. 42 percent of women of reproductive age in Pakistan have anemia due to poor nutrition. At 3.6 births per woman, Pakistan’s fertility rate is still relatively high, and except for Punjab, adolescent fertility has increased, and modern contraceptive prevalence rate (mCPR) has been low in the last decade at 25 percent. High fertility rate and teenage pregnancies contribute to poor maternal and child health outcomes which pose risks of death and illness.  Poor health affects all facets of women’s lives including delayed development milestones, education, learning skills and gainfully participating in the labor force.

Stunting rates for children under age 5 have dropped from 45% to 40.2% from 2013 to 2018. However, it is still high and large disparities exist among provinces. This prevalence varies from 36.4% in Punjab to 46.6% in Balochistan. The average annual rate of reduction since the last 2018 National Nutrition Survey has been estimated at only 0.5 percent, which is frighteningly slow to reach the national targets. Although the situation is worse in rural and poor households, more than 20 percent of under-5 children in the wealthiest income quintile are also stunted, meaning poverty is not the only driver of stunting.

Immunization coverage for children aged 12-23 months, increased considerably over the past 8-9 years from 54% in 2013 to 77% in 2022. In Punjab 89.6% of children are fully immunized while in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan 61%, 69.2%, and 37.7% are respectively fully vaccinated.

The World Bank has been supporting the health sector in Pakistan through national and provincial projects. The National Immunization Support Project (closed in June 2022) had supported immunization of children across the country and the Pandemic Response Effectiveness Project (closed in June 2023) prepared to respond COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness. The National Health Support Program , approved in Fiscal Year 2023, supports the strengthening of equitable delivery and quality of essential health services at the primary level and the Sindh Integrated Health and Population Project , approved in Fiscal Year 2023, supports to improve quality health services in selected areas and restore and rehabilitate healthcare services impacted by floods. Provincial Human Capital Investment projects are being implemented in Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they aim to improve utilization of quality health targeted and social services to the poor and vulnerable population. The World Bank recently signed (September 2023) a Punjab Family Planning Program, with the aim to improve modern contraceptive prevalence rate (mCPR) in the province.

Sources: Pakistan Demographic & Health Surveys 2006-07 , 2012-13 & 2017-18 , Maternal Mortality Survey 2019 , National Nutrition Survey 2018 , Third-Party Verification Immunization Coverage Survey 2022

Actions to Strengthen Performance for Inclusive and Response Education (ASPIRE) is a 5-year US$200 million program that became effective in August 2020. The program is aimed at enhanced targeting of COVID-19 education response, generating improved learning opportunities for out-of-school children (OOSC) and at-risk students, and enabling stronger federal-provincial coordination and management. To date, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) and the provincial education departments have achieved four Disbursement-Linked Results (DLR): adoption of National School Health and Safety Protocols, approval of National Education Response and Resilience Plan, provision of distance learning kits to 50,000 students across the country, and provision of hygiene and cleaning kits to 20,000 public schools nationwide. The activities planned in in FY23 mostly focused on construction and rehabilitation, communication campaigns, teachers training, multi-modal programs, and specific intervention related to Out of School Children (OOSC). The ASPIRE program has also been successful at leveraging the Inter-Provincial Education Ministerial Conference (IPEMC) and the Technical Steering Committee (TSC) platforms for improved coordination between the Federal and Provincial Education Departments.

Pandemic Response Effectiveness in Pakistan project (PREP) , initiated in April 2020, was closed in June 2023. Different donor organizations extended their support in the form of grants and loans to overcome the pandemic situation all over the world, especially to support the education sector. PREP was a US$187 million project of which US$17 million is the education component. The education component introduced distance-learning activities and the development and implementation of plans to ensure the continuity of learning including remote learning options, at all levels of education. These included TV /radio broadcasts, virtual networks of teachers, and other means of distance delivery of academic content at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. The key activities that are being procured under PREP included: i) Teleschool initiative through Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), ii) Content procurement for Teleschool, iii) Strengthening of E-Taleem portal including Virtual Teacher Training (VTT) and Learning Management System (LMS) modules, iv) Development of VTT Training Modules/Courses v) Smart classrooms vi) Procurement and distribution of hand-held devices vii) Communication campaign viii) School on wheels, and ix) the monitoring and evaluation activities.

Data and Research in Education (DARE) is a US$10 million Bank Executed Trust Fund (BETF) provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office alongside the ASPIRE program. The project supports Pakistan education sector’s response and recovery by providing technical assistance to the Federal Government, in order to strengthen the education data infrastructure and coordination mechanisms between the federal and provincial governments, enhance evidence-based decision making and improve targeting of programs to reduce inequality and gender-gap. The main components under DARE include strengthening the provincial-Federal education data management processes, enhancing sector coordination on student learning outcomes and improvement of sector monitoring, evaluation and decision making by supporting policy research and impact evaluations.

COVID 19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience in Education Project (RRREP)   - a Global Partnership for Education funded grant of US$19.85 million was successfully closed in November 2022. The project ensured learning continuity through a) broadcasting the digital content on National TV and Radio which reached around 2.7 million children across 58 lagging districts in Pakistan; b) contributed to the evolving EdTech ecosystem at the Federal level by enhancing the Ministry’s digital content library (6000 lessons for grades K-12) and mapping them to the National and Provincial Student Learning Outcomes; and c)  providing adequate infrastructure for the delivery of digital content. Moreover, to ensure safe school reopening post COVID-19, around 1.8 million children in over 12,000 primary schools received sanitizing and hygiene kits, as well as learning materials to lower barriers for re-enrollment and attendance. The Bank has also supported the government’s communication campaign on safe school practices as well as re-enrolment campaigns to encourage families to send their children back to schools once schools re-opened. The project also supported National strategic policy dialogue on strategies to mainstream Out of School Children (OOSC).

Under the 5-year Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP) the World Bank supports research excellence in strategic sectors of the economy, improved teaching and learning and strengthened governance in the higher education sector. The project has been successful in bringing some key reforms in the sector, including: introduction of an Undergraduate Education Policy which established the criteria for Associate Degree and transition of all Bachelor’s Degree programs from two-years to four-years; research capacity development by providing competitive research, innovation, and commercialization grants, such as the Rapid Research Grants, for research on critical COVID-19 related topics and Innovative Seed Fund to support startups and entrepreneurs; expansion of digital connectivity and remote learning systems to ensure continuity of education during COVID-19 and capacity building trainings of faculty, especially females under the newly established National Academy for Higher Education. HEDP closes on June 30, 2024.

The World Bank supported Punjab with an reform program through the  Punjab Education Sector Project-III program (US$300 million), which closed  in June 2022. The Bank also supports interventions in the education sector in Punjab through the Human Capital Investment project (US$200 million, with US$30 million supporting strengthening and scale-up of early childhood education in 11 districts in South Punjab). The project supports the development of a 2-year early childhood education (ECE) curriculum and strengthening of ECE services in Punjab. Currently a minimum of 11,000 ECE classrooms meet new quality standards, which include the presence of a trained teacher and caregiver as well as a kit with instructional material. In addition, content for teaching and learning materials is being updated to ensure alignment with evolving curricula and standards.

The 5 year Sindh Early Learning Enhancement through Classroom Transformation (SELECT) project of $155 million, financed in part by the Global Partnership for Education grant ($55 million) supports the Sindh Education Sector Plan & Roadmap (SESPR) 2019–2024, focusing on 12 of 29 districts in Sindh, with the lowest performance on educational outcomes. Prioritized areas under SELECT include foundational literacy; teaching quality; classroom and provincial assessments improving access to elementary schools and enhancing the school learning environment, including in 250 flood-affected schools; proactive dropout mitigation (especially for girls) and transition from primary to secondary schooling through the development of a student attendance monitoring and redress system; and improved school and district-level governance which contribute to the achievement of its targets.

Balochistan

The Balochistan Human Capital Investment Project (BHCIP), which became effective in 2021, is implemented together with the health sector. The education component (US$17.75 million) focuses on the improved utilization of quality education services in selected refugee hosting districts. BHCIP funds the rehabilitation of schools and upgrading of primary schools to middle and high schools, merit-based hiring of additional teachers and strengthening of the education sector stewardship. To date, BHCIP has initiated the procurement of supplies for schools, including basic furniture, ECE classroom materials, science, and IT laboratory equipment. The project also aims to improve student assessment and teacher training across the province by supporting the Balochistan Assessment and Examination Commission and Provincial Institute of Teacher Education. Use of data for decision making and schools’ capacity to contribute to generating reliable data is another important element of the project that strengthens governance at school and district levels.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

In March 2021, the Government of Pakistan approved the US$200 million Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Human Capital Investment Project (KPHCIP) – a five-year project that aims to improve the availability, utilization, and quality of primary healthcare services and elementary education services in 4 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The districts were selected because they have some of the highest refugee populations in the province. This financing includes a grant of US$62.5 million from the IDA18 regional sub-window for refugees and host communities (IDA-18 RSW). The education component (US$115 million) of the project will focus on improving the availability, utilization and quality of education services in selected districts for all children, especially refugees and girls. US$15M from the education component are being reallocated for flood rehabilitation and reconstruction in the original districts as well as 9 additional flood-affected refugee-hosting districts. A project restructuring is underway to accommodate flood response activities.

OPERATING IN CONFLICT AREAS

In the aftermath of the militancy crisis in 2009 in Pakistan, the Multi-Donor Trust Find (MDTF) for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan was established in August 2010 to support the reconstruction, rehabilitation, reforms, and other interventions needed to build peace and create the conditions for sustainable development. Round I of MDTF projects was implemented from August 2010 to March 2017 and focused on helping the provinces come out of the crisis and take strides towards conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Subsequently, Round II commenced in April 2017 and continues the drive towards reconciliation, peacebuilding and enhancing state- citizen trust by focusing on three pillars: (i) Growth and Jobs Creation; (ii) Improved Service Delivery; and (iii) Policy Reforms and Improved Governance.

The MDTF has approximately $283 million in net resources.

As of September 30, 2023, approximately US$252.1 million (99% of allocated funds) has been disbursed for government-executed activities, and approximately US$24.5 million (97% of allocated funds) for World Bank-executed activities.

The MDTF will close after over a decade long engagement on December 31, 2023. The work of the MDTF was particularly important after the passage of the Thirty-First Amendment to the Constitution by the National Assembly on May 24, 2018, which has merged the seven agencies of FATA with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The MDTF helped address an array of challenges faced in its target areas including the COVID-19 emergency. This included procurement of 55 ventilators, 19,000 N-95 masks, 1,500 canes for sanitizers, 25,000 gloves, 10,000 face shields, 1 million surgical masks, 60,000 viral transport medium kits, and five automated RNA extraction machines. Moreover, the ERKP project supported small and medium enterprises (SMEs) impacted by COVID-19 through provision of matching grants (MGs).  

The MDTF continues to achieve results towards under its three results areas of (i) Enhanced productivity and job creation (through entrepreneurship and skilled labor); (ii) Improved livelihoods and access to basic services; and (iii) Enhanced transparency and accountability in public service delivery, and effective resource management.

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