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Dev Nadkarni, Editor-at-Large

A time-worn diversionary tactic of heads of governments whose countries are in deep trouble is to raise the bogey of external threat, foreign aggression and more desperately, even apocalypse. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has done exactly that in the past couple of weeks.

Using the Indian government’s abrogation of the special status for Kashmir, which India rightly maintains is its internal matter and which almost all of the world overwhelmingly agrees, Khan has said that the revocation might well result in a conventional war with India, which he seems sure Pakistan will lose and hence be forced to use nuclear weapons.

A nuclear war is apocalyptic without doubt –– and raising its bogey, more than anything else, indicates Khan’s desperation for the state Pakistan finds itself in. The country is on the brink of financial ruin and the tiresome tack of its three-decade-old geopolitical claim of being the best tactical partner for ending terrorism, which brought in billions of dollars in aid all these years, has come unstuck.

Though India cried hoarse for decades against successive Pakistan governments’ policy to support cross-border terrorism dictated by its all-powerful spy agency ISI, Pakistan convinced western powers, particularly the United States, of its central importance in combating terrorism in Afghanistan, keeping the flow of aid steady ostensibly to fight terrorism on its western borders.

Attacks like the one on the Indian parliament on 13 December 2001 and the ghastly Mumbai attacks on 26 November 2008 failed to adequately convince the United States of Pakistan’s sinister machinations to harm India by killing innocent citizens by the hundreds. This can also be attributed to the repeated failure of past Indian governments to sufficiently raise the pitch on the international stage.

But the momentum to isolate Pakistan and see the government’s helplessness before extra-constitutional authorities leading the charge by sponsoring terror organisations, sometimes brazenly so, has been building up in recent years. The Pulwama attack has been the turning point and India’s unprecedented retaliation in Pakistan’s Balakot went virtually unprotested in international circles, not least because Pakistan was hard put to deny them initially.

The present Indian government has aggressively queered Pakistan’s pitch and the results are showing. Today Pakistan is left isolated, utterly friendless, with even its longtime Islamic middle eastern allies not willing to buy its campaign against India’s move on Kashmir. No western nation or world body (notably the United Nations) that it approached for support has offered or indeed even heeded it. Pakistan has well and truly painted itself into a corner on this issue.

After having successfully hoodwinked successive US governments into doling out billions in its so-called fight against terrorism, the gravy train came to a screeching halt in the Trump era, which has viewed Pakistan with growing suspicion to the point of severely curbing aid and asking it to stop aiding terrorism as state policy in no uncertain terms. Khan’s repeated entreaties to the Trump administration are falling on deaf ears and it is increasingly looking like the US is snuggling up to India for both commercial and geo-strategic reasons.

The latest blow to Pakistan would have come this week with the US administration announcing that President Donald Trump will “drop in” at the ‘Howdy Modi’ rally to honour visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston next Sunday. The rally that will fill up a 50,000-capacity stadium is seen as an unprecedent development in Indo-US affairs, especially the US President himself has decided to be part of what is essentially started off as a diaspora event. Several dozen US Government functionaries will also be in attendance.

Khan’s apocalyptic nuclear war prediction has more to do with the rough and tumble of his domestic affairs, as such pronouncements from crisis-ridden leaders are designed to hide. Pakistan as a nation is staring down a near-empty barrel of foreign reserves. Some financial experts predict that the country could well go bankrupt as early as next year.

Consider this: Pakistan faces potential blacklisting by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) in the next month or so for not coming up with convincing evidence that it has cracked down on terror funding in the country. It has been a watch list for a while now. If it ends up being blacklisted, financial assistance and private investment will dry up.

With a current account deficit of $12 billion and reserves of just $15 billion, it is in a precarious situation. In a world of tumbling, even negative interest rates, Pakistan’s is a whopping 13 per cent. What is worse, repayment of interest on its so called “all weather friend” China’s CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) loan becomes due next year. This amounts to nearly $400 million.

Even worse, the World Bank’s ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes) has fined Pakistan a $6 billion fine in Reko Diq mine case. The mine is considered one of the largest untapped reserves of copper and gold. Another similar case has fined it $700 million.

With a crippling power crisis and no money for investment, its economy is in a downward spiral. One year from now, Pakistan will need a bailout package just as Greece and Venezuela did not so long ago. But despite their troubles, Greece and Venezuela could muster international support for a bail out. Pakistan is a different story. Its bailout requirement will be much larger. And its credibility is at best questionable.

Under these circumstances, what better strategy for a beleaguered leader than to raise the bogey of nuclear apocalypse.