By Sri Krishna
In a major and significant development, Pak Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa held private meeting with Business Tycoons to boost an ailing economy. The country has been facing military coups dating back to 1958 since its creation in 1947, having spent several decades under military rule (1958 – 1971, 1977 – 1988, 1999 – 2008).
The meeting comes in the wake of Prime Minister Imran Khan failing to deliver on the economic front even a year after coming to power.
With the country’s economy on a downward spiral for the past couple of years and facing massive debts, rampant corruption and unemployment, inflation and widening fiscal deficit, the Army has been taking keen interest in the revival of the economy.
Apart from this, the increasing rhetoric by Imran Khan and the apparent failure of the government to deliver on the economic front even after one year in power has apparently not gone down well with the Army which had played a major role in the former cricketer turned politician becoming the prime minister.
Pakistan’s economy is on a downward spiral for the past couple of years. From the country’s massive debts, rampant corruption to unemployment, inflation and widening fiscal deficit, there seems to be little hope for the Islamic country’s shaky economy.
Pakistan’s overall budget of Rs 6 lakh crore for this financial year had a fiscal deficit of Rs 3.5 lakh crore. Its GDP has now hit a nine-year low. Despite touching a maximum of 5.8 per cent growth in FY18, its economy’s growth for FY 19 plummeted to 3.3 per cent, well below a target of 6.2% set last year, with major sectors all performing poorly.
The budget also projected the economy to grow at a rate of 2.4 per cent in FY20, while inflation is estimated to remain between 11-13 per cent this fiscal. The inflation rate in Pakistan increased to 9.11 percent year-on-year in May 2019. In wake of rising inflation, the Pakistani government has imposed a lot of different types of taxes on the Pakistani citizens. The taxes are imposed based on IMF’s bailout conditions. The country is also facing possible sanctions from the Financial Action Task Force – a money-laundering monitor based in Paris – for failing to contain terror financing.
Addressing the businessmen at the concluding session of a series of discussions and seminars titled ‘Interplay of economy and security’ Gen Bajwa said that aim of discussion with them was to create a better understanding, according to a statement issued by the army.
“National security is intimately linked to the economy while prosperity is a function of balance in security needs and economic growth,” Gen Bajwa, who is also part of the National Development Council, told the audience.
Army has been taking keen interest in the revival of the economy after apparent failure of the Imran Khan government to deliver on the economic front even after one year in power.
Gen Bajwa was appointed as a member of the high-powered National Development Council, put in place in July to set Pakistan’s long-term economic plan.
In July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) formally approved a US$ 6 billion loan to Pakistan, which is facing significant economic challenges on the back of large fiscal and financial needs and weak and unbalanced growth.
Cash-strapped Pakistan has also received billions of dollars in financial aid packages from friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent months.
According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, Pakistan’s economy grew at an average rate of 3.29 per cent in fiscal year 2018-19 against an ambitious target of 6.2 per cent set in last year’s budget.
“Accessibility and responsiveness of the government economic team to the business community and the displayed understanding between public and private institutions is a good sign for the desired positive trajectory in economic activity,” Gen Bajwa said.
The economic team of the government and businessmen of the country participated in the seminar and discussions.
“The aim of various discussions and seminars was to bring stake holders at one platform to formulate recommendations for a synergistic way forward,” he added.
The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
Besides, Imran Khan’s rhetoric on Kashmir since the revocation of Article 370 by Indian Parliament too does not seem to have very much pleased Army as they would rather see some action on the ground rather than loud sounding nothing at the U.N. General Assembly or elsewhere.
But, it must be to the credit of the country’s Supreme Court that it had in January last warned the military and intelligence agencies not to exceed their mandate and meddle in politics, an apparent rebuke over their handling of Islamist protests in 2017.
The judges’ comments were a rare public ticking off for the powerful armed forces, which have ruled for nearly half of Pakistan’s history and have in recent years been criticized for resuming a more active role in politics.
The Supreme Court was investigating the so-called “Faizabad protest”, which saw a hardline Islamist group paralyze the capital Islamabad accusing a minister of blasphemy.
The army’s role came under criticism after video footage shared on social media showed a senior officer from the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency giving cash to Islamist protesters after a deal was struck to end the blockade.
“The involvement of ISI and of the members of the Armed Forces in politics, media and other ‘unlawful activities’ should have stopped,” Supreme Court Justices Mushir Alam and Qazi Faez Isa said in their verdict.
“Instead when (protest) participants received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of their involvement gained traction.”
The Supreme Court also criticized the military’s influential media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), for commenting on political matters such as the contested 2018 election, where the military was accused of helping Prime Minister Imran Khan into power.
“The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” the justices said.
Whatever the comments or verdict of the Supreme Court, but, the Pakistan Army continues to wield power in the country and the comments by General Bajwa is indeed a clear indication to the political set up in the country of the continued role of the Army.