Sri Lanka’s prime minister has told that nation’s parliament that the national economy has, for all intent and purposes, collapsed. Ranil Wickremesinghe informed lawmakers that Sri Lanka is “facing a far more serious situation beyond the mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food. Our economy has completely collapsed.” Wickremesinghe’s remarks did not bring any new developments to light. In fact, the rather new prime minister’s words seem intended to remind lawmakers and his critics that the task of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economic foundation will take time and much effort. After being in power for roughly one month, opposition party politicians are attempting to lay blame for the economic collapse upon Wickremesinghe’s shoulders. As the nation slides deeper into economic malaise, the politicians are attempting to cover their own backsides and assess blame upon others.
The collapse of the national economy came about at least partly due to a perfect storm of circumstances. Heavy debt, loss of tourism revenue, a foreign currency crisis and other pandemic-related impacts, as well as the soaring costs of commodities are the main ingredients of Sri Lanka’s economic nightmare. The nation is no longer able to buy imported fuel, even for cash, due to the heavy debt owed by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. There are no nation-states or supranational bodies willing to provide fuel, creating significant fuel shortages.
The Sri Lankan government plans to call India, China and Japan to a donor conference in early August in an attempt to increase foreign financial assistance. An interim budget will be presented around the same time. This is hoped to help Sri Lanka’s position in negotiations with the IMF. August will be when geopolitics takes on a broader and more significant position in Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. India and Japan will seek to raise their influence with Colombo while simultaneously reducing China’s influence. India and Japan, as Quad members, have political and military incentive to work together and push back China’s inroads in Sri Lanka. Beijing is attempting to move deeper into the Indian Ocean and establish basing rights for Chinese warships in an area historically regarded as the Indian sphere of influence.
Protests broke out in different areas of India on Friday as crowds protested anti-Muslim remarks made earlier this month by officials of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The two officials were disciplined by the party, however, that has not quelled the anger brewing inside of India’s Muslim community. The remarks are seen as another example of the pressure being placed on them by the BJP party. Indian Muslims have complained about the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP restricting aspects of their lives from religious worship to the wearing of hijabs. On Friday, protests grew violent in the cities of Prayagraj and Ranchi. Over 100 protesters were arrested in clashes with riot police. The situations in both cities are now reportedly under control. In the Kashmir region protests and demonstrations were calm and peaceful for the most part.
India has faced backlash over the comments on the geopolitical front as well. A number of Gulf states criticized the weak response of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the offensive remarks made by members of his party. Earlier in June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke against the decline of religious freedom in India. The Indian government called his comments ‘ill informed’ and suggested the United States get its own house in order.
The incident, as well as India’s handling of it, marks a shift of India’s strategy back to Cold War times as it attempts to maintain a closer relationship with Russia at the cost of its close ties with the US. India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued purchase of Russian oil does not sit well with Washington. Indian government officials claim they are simply acting in their national interests with regards to Russia even though their long term strategic interests remain tied to the United States.
Sri Lanka is girding for potential shortages of food products and fuel in the near future. Citizens have been lining up for cooking gas, automobile fuel since Friday. As the government attempts to stave off complete economic meltdown, the nation has defaulted on debt for the first time in its history. So, much to the chagrin of Sri Lanka’s leaders, the economic outlook remains bleak as the government lifts the state of emergency decree that has been in place since early May. The state of emergency went into effect as a result of violent street protests and riots in Colombo and across the country in late April and early May. The root cause of the unrest was spiraling inflation and other factors of the nation’s economic crisis.
India and Japan will provide emergency relief to the island-nation in a bid to stave off a complete collapse. The first ship laden with food and other material will depart from India on Wednesday. Japan will provide an emergency grant for $3 million worth of medicine and food. These moves also have geopolitical purpose as both nations would prefer to keep Chinese involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis at bay. Tokyo and New Delhi are wary about offering an opening for China to expand its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region.
It was only a matter of time before growing anxiety over food supplies and prices across the globe induced action by nation-states and citizens alike. As 2022 motors along, concerns about the health of the global economy, the lingering hangover of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its recent return to China, and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine have come together to create a perfect storm. Food prices are going through the roof in a number of nations, and it was only a matter of time before citizens took to the streets and protested.
Over the weekend Iran saw a wave of protests break out across the country over cuts in state subsidies on food. To be fair, Iranians already have a laundry list of grievances with their government and economic conditions always serve as a barometer of the population’s feelings. It comes as no surprise to see Iranian citizens come out in large numbers to protest the subsidy cuts, as well as other issues. The swift and brutal response by the Iranian government, however, has raised some eyebrows around the world. Tehran’s readiness to clampdown on and make an example of anti-government protesters is an indication the government expects prices to rise even more in the coming weeks. With the cut of subsidies last week, prices on a number of flour-based food staples rose in excess of 300%
There are also protests and street violence over rising food prices and inflation going on in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. Those situations will be discussed in more detail later in the week.
Then there is the increasing worry over food supplies. India is moving to take pre-emptive action by restricting exports of wheat to create a safety cushion of sorts for its own population. The Indian government seeks to control rising prices and diminishing output due to global economic conditions and the extreme heat wave that has affected Indian wheat production. Predictably, India’s move has sent global prices skyrocketing and prompted the US and European Union to begin searching for solutions to improve food supply chains. Given the current conditions, Washington and Brussels need to hurry. At the present time, the situation worldwide appears fated to become significantly worse unless measures are taken within weeks.
Pakistan’s new prime minister is inheriting a turbulent situation that will only grow worse in the coming months. Along with a morose economic picture and the fallout generated from Pakistan’s latest constitutional crisis, Shehbaz Sharif is now facing the prospect of a mass resignation in parliament. Over 100 lawmakers who remain loyal to ousted prime minister Imran Khan quit today. If the resignations are accepted by the parliament speaker, 100 new elections will have to take place within two months. This will almost certainly be a major distraction for Sharif early on. It also provides an opportunity for Khan to mobilize his support and set the stage for deeper political turmoil in Pakistan down the line.
Sharif took the oath of office at Pakistan’s presidential residence late on Monday at a ceremony packed with lawmakers and leaders. Unlike his predecessor, Sharif enjoys good relations with Pakistan’s military. Pakistan’s military has traditionally controlled the country’s foreign and defense policies, leaving the prime minister to deal with domestic issues largely unfettered. He is looking to repair ties with the United States and improve relations with both India and China down the line. With regards to India, however, Sharif said warmer ties will not be possible until the Kashmir situation being resolved.
Sharif’s election as prime minister marks the return of political dynasties to the center of power and influence in Pakistan. He is the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from power by the supreme court in 2017 because of undeclared financial assets. The Sharifs and Bhuttos, normally rival political clans, came together to unseat Khan. In essence, the establishment has won out and is now back in power for the moment.
Yet Khan will probably not fade into the background quietly. As mentioned above, this resignation of lawmakers may be the start of Khan’s counteroffensive. It remains unclear if the end result will be his return to power, but at the very least, Pakistan’s political landscape will face some boisterous times in the near future