Pakistan army chief highlights interplay of country’s economy, security

Irshad Salim — Pakistan army chief while addressing a seminar on interplay of economy and security on Wednesday, drew the attention of India and Afghanistan– its eastern and western neighbor respectively, saying “Our destinies are inextricably linked,” and he sincerely believes the region “will sink or sail together.”

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remark comes weeks after Trump announced his South Asia policy hyphenating Pakistan, Afghanistan and India as mutually inclusive geopolitical and geostrategic variables from the standpoint of US security and economic interests in the region.

Bajwa mentioned the upcoming China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which many experts believe is a game-changer and can bring the regional countries together socio-economically, if their disputes can be addressed– Kashmir being the foremost. “It’s a complete development platform that has the potential to act as a powerful springboard for shared development in the entire Central Asia-South Asia region,” the army chief said.

The general also delved into Pakistan’s economy and internal and external security interplay,  urging the government to expand the country’s tax base in order to break the ‘begging bowl’ cycle while mentioning that the country’s economy remains a major concern during National Security Council meetings, and revealing that he reads the business and economy page of the newspaper right after the main page because of its importance.

According to experts, Pakistan’s foreign reserves have dipped to historical low, the foreign debt has increased drastically and there’s a consistently declining export base, raising concerns among the economic managers.

Gen Bajwa said that after the end of cold war people were claiming that economic interests alone would dictate national security but the “reappearance of age-old fault lines and reassertion of ancient parochial passions of race, language, religion and identity” has led to security once again becoming “the foremost business and task of the state”.

“We have to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security,” the army chief said, focusing on the security-economy nexus. “Only then will we arrive at a future that ensures sustained peace and happiness for our people.”

Bajwa said Pakistan needs to bring in financial discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies to be able to break the begging bowl, military’s media wing reported.

“The economy is showing mixed indicators. Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. Infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favor,” the army chief reportedly said while addressing the seminar in Karachi– Pakistan’s economic capital.

He continued, “In today’s world, security does not come cheap. It is dependent upon economic prowess. It is here that our entrepreneurs must contribute by producing and exporting more. We have done our part on the security front, now it’s up to you (entrepreneurs) to take initiative and turn the economy around.”

The task at hand was difficult, the army chief noted, but added that the Pakistani nation had done it before. “We are just finding our feet with improved security,” he went on. “If any nation can survive what we went through, it can also make its mark when the going is relatively easier.”

The army chief pointed out: “Our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl,” read the text of Bajwa’s speech shared by Inter-Services Public Relations.

Bajwa said that Pakistan is capable of creating sufficient fiscal space to address underlying structural problems through tax reforms, documenting economy, diversifying the export base, and encouraging savings to finance a level of investment that could sustain growth rate higher than the rise of population,” but the benefits should also reach all parts of Pakistan including interior Sindh, Fata, Balochistan Gilgit-Baltistan and Southern Punjab, he said.

“We have to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security,” the army chief said, focusing on the security-economy nexus. “Only then will we arrive at a future that ensures sustained peace and happiness for our people.”

The general highlighted many of the planned measures of the National Action Plan (NAP) and said these will contribute directly to the economic and political stability of the country, giving examples of police, judicial and madrassah reforms.

“We cannot afford to leave a large segment of our youth with limited options — madrassahs must enable their students to become useful members of the society who are not left behind in any field of life.”

He cited the peaceful commencement of Muharram, Bohra community holding its annual gathering in Pakistan and sports and cultural events as examples of peace reiterating in the country.

Earlier, on several occasions, the army chief had mentioned the need for supremacy of “rule of law” for stability and progress.

Last week the army chief chaired a 7-and-half-hour-long special conference of corp commanders.

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