Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said that Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has every right to express his opinion on the country’s economic situation, as he sought to end a potentially damaging spat between the powerful military and the interior minister. Abbasi’s intervention came in the backdrop of a simmering controversy stirred by a recent spat between Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and chief military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor over the Army chief’s remarks on the woes of Pakistan’s economy.
“There might be difference of opinion… [but] There is no civil-military tension,” Abbasi said. “If everyone is free to give their opinion on economy, then why can’t the army chief talk about economy”, he said in an interview on Aaj television last night. Abbasi’s comments came two days after one of his party’s senior lawmakers, Rana Afzal Khan, said the Army chief should comment on the economy only at the National Security Committee and not publicly.
In an unusual move, Gen. Bajwa had voiced concern at Pakistan’s “sky-high debt” and called for broadening tax base and bringing in financial discipline to break the “begging bowl”. The Army chief said that economic stability was tied deeply to Pakistan’s security concerns. Last week military spokesman Maj Gen Ghafoor told a TV channel that “if the economy is not bad, it isn’t good either”.
Interior minister Ahsan hit back immediately advising the military spokesperson to “refrain from commenting on the economy…[because] irresponsible statements could damage Pakistan’s image globally”. “Disappointed” by Ahsan’s reaction, Maj Gen Ghafoor said he, in his capacity as the military spokesperson, spoke on behalf of the Pakistan Army. He also maintained that he had only repeated what army chief Gen Bajwa said at a seminar in Karachi a day earlier.
He also said that the Pakistan Army poses “no threat” to democracy in the country but cautioned the political leaders that there could be a danger to the democratic institution if feelings of the people are not met. “There is no threat to democracy from the Pakistan Army; [but] there could be a threat to democracy if its [democracy’s] requirements are not being met,” Ghafoor said.
In Pakistan, there was a civilian supremacy and every decision ranging from appointment of army chief and military operations is coming from the head of the government and being implemented, he said. The powerful Army, which enjoys considerable influence over policy decisions in Pakistan, has ruled the country for much of its life since it gained independence.
The verbal duel between the Army and Ahsan provided grist to rumour mill as analysts and TV anchors talked about strain in civil-military relations, Dawn newspaper reported. The World Bank has warned Pakistan that its increasing fiscal deficit could put macro-economic management at risk and said it needs around USD 17 billion to cover the rising current account deficit and debt payments in the year 2018.
“Pakistan is facing headwinds in the external sector and a rising fiscal deficit that could put macro-economic management at risk,” the Bank said yesterday after it concluded talks with a visiting Pakistani delegation on the sidelines of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.