Civil-military squabbling

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In Pakistan, where the political situation is quite uncertain, a new debate has started with the apprehension s that in given scenario, the powerful Army may step in if the situation continues go beyond control. The latest statement by the Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa that the army is keenly watching developments in the country’s economy and shares some of the apprehensions being voiced about it strengthens these trepidations. Addressing an audience of businessmen and the military leadership in Karachi, he was of the view that the economy is showing mixed indicators. Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. [The situation regarding] infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour. The closest Gen Bajwa came to identifying economic priorities was when he stressed the need for widening the tax base, bringing in fiscal discipline and ensuring continuity of economic policies.
The event was held to discuss the intermingling of economy and security in today’s Pakistan and the keynote address by the chief of the army staff was preceded by a rather wild and roving discussion among various panellists about where the economy stands today. Almost all the speakers spoke at length about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the cornerstone of Pakistan’s economic future. His criticism over the unsatisfactory economic situation was taken as an absolute signal towards the future strategy of the Army which is considered a forceful force and having power to implement its plans. The army chief told the audience that in the past it was “fashionable” to say that economics had subsumed security, but with the reemergence of “parochial passions” today “security has once again become the foremost business and task of the state”. A little later he underlined the importance of the economy for sustaining the security gains of the past few years, adding it “is high time for us to [give] economic growth and sustainability the highest priority.
He described Pakistan as “a strategically challenged state” where “external actors are attempting to assert control and dictate our security priorities that have strong linkages with our economic future. The centrepiece of this effort is the CPEC. The allusion appears to point towards the growing closeness between China and Pakistan, which is shaping up to be a security as well as an economic relationship. Most recently, US Secretary of Defence General James Mattis told Congress that the United States opposed CPEC because “it goes through disputed territory”. Gen Bajwa also spoke on police and madressah (seminaries) reforms and terms them vital for the security and suggested that seminaries must enable their students to become useful members of society who are not left behind in any field of life. Gen Bajwa described Pakistan’s external situation as “a belligerent India on our east and an unstable Afghanistan on our west”, and twice called for peace with neighbouring countries and his “genuine desire to have normal and peaceful relations with India; however it takes two to tango”.
Meanwhile, commenting on Gen Bajwa’s speech, the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal termed it unnecessary but the matter had been sorted out and that he had no intention to offend anyone. He claimed that Pakistan was now rated as the 5th fastest growing economy in the world, adding that the country had made remarkable progress in the macroeconomic sector as a result of prudent fiscal policies of the PML-N government. Mr Iqbal said he had great respect for the country’s security agencies, adding that they were making enormous sacrifices for the establishment of peace in the country. In the meantime, clearing the cloud of misunderstanding, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said the armed forces pose no threat to democracy in Pakistan. There is no threat to democracy from the Pakistan Army, but there could be a threat to democracy if its requirements are not being met. Referring to an earlier statement about the country’s economy that garnered harsh criticism from Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Ghafoor said that he felt disappointed by the minister’s reaction. According to him, he was disappointed, both as a soldier and citizen, at what was referred to as an irresponsible statement by him.