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January 27, 2020

Stockholm Syndrome

Peshawar

January 27, 2020

Let’s first begin to understand what’s Stockholm Syndrome. “It’s a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands.” The name of the syndrome is derived from a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. In August 1973 four employees of Sveriges Kreditbank were held hostage in the bank’s vault for six days. During the standoff, a seemingly incongruous bond developed between captive and captor. One hostage, during a telephone call with Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, stated that she fully trusted her captors but feared that she would die in a police assault on the building.

Pakistan seems to be suffering from the same syndrome. The obsession and the unwavering trust in multilateral agencies, including IMF, and the traditional foreign bilateral partners, particularly Saudi Arabia in the context of helicopter money, and the bells & whistles attached with the helping-hand ever extended by them in the past, fits the bill perfectly to categorise the situation, as such, in the context. There’re broadly two fundamental issues with these ‘physiological alliances’ with our ‘hijackers’ - firstly, they follow their own template to address our economic challenges whilst our issues are very unique (like a typical emerging market country) and it doesn’t necessarily fit into the stereotype constituencies set by these agencies for the other countries, albeit emerging ones. The fact is that they could only provide a plan and attach certain terms and conditions with it for pouring in the committed support in bits and pieces, which may or may not be in the best interest of the country and its people.

The second most important aspect is that the foreign policy of Pakistan shall be in sync with the economic agenda. This also seem to be a victim of “Stockholm Syndrome”. It’s like old wine in new bottle. The result is that we’ve become ‘in love’ with our captors as that provides us a temporary respite for our circular economic problems which keep on cropping up every now and then. These breathers invariably come with conditions which at times are unreasonable and not necessarily in our favor but we tend to accept them due to our physiological break down that the problem of all our ills are offered by our traditional captors.

These psychosomatic shackles of Stockholm Syndrome need to be broken. The sooner we get ourselves free the better it is for our sovereignty and national interest. The challenging bit, however, is that there’re no, or at best very limited, short-term options available to address our economic woes. The fact is that for the implementation of reforms even immediate term is three years or beyond. The public expectation management in this respect is crucial. The economic and political managers must inform masses that only medium-term solutions will bear sustainable development results.

Unfortunately, most of our economic actions are driven by external account exigencies. In the immediate future, the only promising element is harnessing of worker remittances through banking channel. In the medium term, import substitution (local E&P exploration, mining, basic engineering, etc.) and structural changes in exports (promoting value-addition) are the only promising options. All government actions shall move in this direction to achieve the desired results even in medium-term to long-term. The key, therefore, is that we need to develop our own indigenous economic revival and management plan. We can’t continue to be banking on our ‘captors’ for the solutions of our freedom.

Most importantly, the onus of execution of the plan rests with us and our economic and political managers only. This has been our biggest deficit which leaves us vulnerable to arm-twisting by our captors.

This is what our history says and this what will continue to happened in the future too until and unless we have our own indigenous plan in-place with full commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders - Government, Opposition, Establishment, etc. In other words, we need a much needed “charter of economy and reforms”; otherwise, in the absence of that we would continue to wonder around and remain hostage to “Stockholm Syndrome”.