News Analysis: Pakistan civil, military leadership at loggerheads again

Ahsan Iqbal

By Aadil Mir

New Delhi– A World Bank report cautioning Pakistan over its $31 billion gross external financing has triggered a fresh rift between the country’s civil and military leadership.

In its twice-a-year South Asia Economic Focus (SAEF) report, released on October 10, the apex bank said that external account pressure has persisted in 2017-18. “The current external situation can become unsustainable in absence of adequate policy response,” warned the global lender.

After the report, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal were in an apparent disagreement over the economic condition of the country.

The country’s finance ministry took an exception at what it called was the Bank’s attempt to paint a “negative picture” of its external account.

Ahsan Iqbal

“Pakistan’s external account has shown a strong performance in the first two months of the current fiscal year and misinterpretation of data (by the World Bank) to deliberately paint a negative picture is uncalled for,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance.

Despite the finance ministry’s rebuttal, country’s powerful army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, expressed concern over the “sky-high” debt, and said national security and economy were interlinked and called for broadening tax base and bringing in financial discipline to break the “begging bowl” syndrome.

The army chief said Pakistan’s economy was showing mixed indicators as “the growth has picked up, but the debts are also sky high”. Infrastructure and energy, he added, had improved considerably, but the current account balance remained not in Pakistan’s favour.

“The common man across Pakistan needs reassurance of benevolent and equal treatment from the state,” he said, adding that it was high time for the country to place economic growth and sustainability at the highest priority.

The statement was followed by Director-General or Inter-Service Public Relations, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, giving an interview to a private channel where he said: “If Pakistan’s economy is not bad, it’s not good either”.

The statement from the Rawalpindi General Headquarters didn’t go down well with the country’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who cautioned the Inter-Services Public Relations not to comment on the national economy.

“DG ISPR should refrain from commenting on national economy,” said the minister , adding that “Irresponsible statements could hurt Pakistan’s global image.”

The ISPR head responded to Ahsan Iqbal’s criticism saying that being a soldier and citizen of Pakistan, he was disappointed in the statement made by the interior minister.

To a query Major General Ghafoor said: “I stick to my words,” adding “If we need to improve the economy, we will have to bring certain changes and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor needs to be supported (holistically),” he said.

Country’s economy wasn’t the only reason of tension between the civil and military leadership. On October 2, paramilitary troops barred their boss — Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal — from entering the court hearing a corruption case against ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“I cannot be a puppet interior minister,” Iqbal said, threatening to resign in protest. “There will be one rule, one government.” Although military spokesman Asif Ghafoor later told reporters the rangers were providing security to Sharif, Iqbal ordered an inquiry on who ordered their deployment.

This maneuvering ahead of elections next year is not only raising concern that the military will tighten its grip on policy, it is reflected in the stock market taking a hit. Already it has slumped to among the world’s worst performers from the best in 2016. The army has directly ruled Pakistan for almost half its 70-year history and, even when not in power, is seen as exerting influence over security and foreign strategies.

The renewed civil-military fight threatens to worsen Pakistan’s economic fortunes, and if the fight between the army and politicians continues, it will certainly spill over to worsening of relations with neighbouring India, Afghanistan and Iran. (IANS)


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