Low on atta, high on nuclear: Pakistan FM’s ‘Bhutto moment’ despite crumbling economy


Pakistan may not have the money to keep the country running but it will not stop its nuclear missile programme. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, while responding to a question on the cash crunch, on Thursday said that his government will not compromise anything on the nuclear or the missile program of Pakistan.

The neighbouring nation has for months been running short of foreign currency, which forced the government to curb imports that in turn has caused a massive shortage of almost all essential items like fuel and flour.      

Also read: ‘Should we eat atom bomb?’: Why Pakistanis are cursing ex-PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Islamabad has been involved in tough negotiations to get part of the bailout package – due since September last year – from the global lender International Monetary Fund (IMF), but so far it has not succeeded.

On Thursday, Dar, who is leading the country’s talks with the global institution, was asked whether there was any pressure on Islamabad to go slow on its nuclear missile programme.

“No way,” Dar said as per the country’s national daily Dawn. “Let me assure you that nobody is going to compromise anything on the nuclear or the missile program of Pakistan.”

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani had raised questions on the reasons behind the delay in the agreement with IMF and lamented that the Senate, the Upper House in Pakistan, had not been taken into confidence on what were the conditionalities of the global lender.

Rabbani termed the delay ‘absolutely out of the ordinary — extraordinary; and said: “The question arises…if the delay is being made because of some sort of pressure to be exerted on Pakistan’s nuclear [programme].”

Responding to him, the finance minister said Pakistan won’t compromise on its nuclear prowess. “Nobody has any right to tell Pakistan what range of missiles it can have and what nuclear weapons it can have. We have to have our own deterrence,” he said. “We represent the people of Pakistan…and we have to guard our national interests”.

Not very long ago, Pakistanis were furious when the country ran out of flour in some parts. The shortage pushed the prices and common people had to line at state-run shops for subsidised atta. Earlier this month, Dawn in its editorial wrote that at least one person died in Mirpurkhas, Sindh, in a stampede at the sale point of subsidised flour stocks.
As the crisis was unfolding, some Pakistanis slammed former Prime Minister PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had once said that “Pakistan will eat grass, and even go hungry but it will develop its own atom bomb”.

Ishaq Dar, who has been in the line of fire for not being able to secure an early release of funds, echoed that sentiment but he looked confident that his deal with IMF will sail through. He said the delay in funds from the lender was not on the part of the government.

Last week, Pakistan’s oil industry warned the government of serious supply disruption due to a constant fall in its currency and forex constraints. Pakistan’s currency has fallen nearly 22 per cent in seven weeks, making imports even costlier.

Dawn reported that the industry was in serious trouble in arranging crude oil and petroleum products, and it had sought an urgent engagement to address the “severe impact of the recent depreciation of the rupee”.

“The (oil) industry is on the brink of collapse, instances of fuel shortages in certain areas earlier this year highlight the fragile condition of the industry,” the Oil Companies Advisory Council – an association of more than three dozen major oil marketing companies and refineries – said.

The government on Wednesday hiked the prices again of all petroleum products by up to Rs 13 per litre for the next fortnight. This was the third hike ever since the talks with IMF resumed. With this latest hike, diesel prices made a new record, reaching Rs 293 per litre.