Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, who in August 2019, got a three-year extension in service, has yet once again hit the headlines; this time for having had a talk session with the business tycoons of Pakistan over dinner. The Pak CoAS was giving a pep talk to the heads of leading business houses who in turn apparently conveyed their serious concerns about the state of Pakistan’s economy and the government’s inability to correct the deteriorating situation. Their main grievance was that the government under PM Imran Khan had not go beyond verbal assurances and that its words did not match its actions.
An ISPR release (03 October) informs us that “Sequel to discussions and seminars on ‘Interplay of economy and security’, a concluding session of stake holders hosted by COAS was held at Army Auditorium. Govt economic team and businessmen of the country participated.” The ISPR also said that the seminars and discussions in question were held "in order to bring stakeholders on one platform to formulate recommendations for a synergistic way forward". So this was just one step in the larger game plan to somehow get the Pak economy back on track, but with the Pak Army Chief leading from the front and not the democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.
During the meeting, top industry leaders complained of high-handedness by the Chairman of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), who was later reprimanded by the Army for its lack of capacity and overweening ambition to be the arbiter in all matters. This case, in itself, shows Pak Army’s involvement in internal economic policies rather than political capacity to deal in such a scenario.
Given the gravity of the economic situation that Pakistan faces, one would have expected the government and Army to come up with some innovative solutions. Instead, the Army Chief reportedly “floated an idea that an internal committee be formed comprising military officers to work on the delegates’ complaints so that they could be resolved as soon as possible”. Several things are apparent from such a thought. The dismal state of Pak political and administrative efforts can be seen from the fact that the CoAS is a member of the National Development Council constituted by the Prime Minister this June and also a member of the National Security Committee and the National Command Authority.
Pak CoAS stated during the meeting that “National security is intimately linked to eco while prosperity is function of balance in security needs & economic growth. (The) aim of various discussions and seminars was to bring stake holders at one platform to formulate recommendations for a synergistic way forward”.
The Pakistani media has highlighted the fact that the delegation showed their “anger and frustration” at the government’s attitude towards economy. More importantly, they disclosed that their business units were getting closed one by one leaving countless labourers unemployed. The business tycoons stated that if nothing was done on an “emergency basis” the situation would deteriorate further multiplying the problems. The meeting comes at a point when Pakistan’s GDP growth is touching its lowest ebb while inflation is persistently rising and resulting in halting of economic activities. Furthermore, government’s collective debts (domestic plus external) rose by a cumulative Rs. 454 billion to Rs. 32.24 billion.
Amongst those who were present in the meeting with CoAS Gen. Bajwa included the former president of FPCCI Zubair Tufail, Arif Habib, Mian Mansha, Hussain Dawood, Ali Mohammad Tabba, Ali Jameel, Javed Chinoy, Zubair Motiwala, Ijaz Gohar, Aqeel Karim Dhedi, Zubair Tufail, Siraj Qasim Teli, Saqib Shirazi and some other textile tycoons. While the who’s who of Pakistani business attended the session, there does not appear to be any solution in sight to Pakistan’s economic woes. Thus, not only has PM Imran Khan alienated a section of the business community, it appears that he has also with his words while in the US recently, angered the military community.
Reports have been doing the rounds that ever since PM Khan returned from the US after addressing the UNGA, that the Army Chief was unhappy with the manner in which the Pak PM made statements and remarks which were not part of the official Army brief. This has led to speculation that Imran Khan could be replaced shortly. This speculation was further heightened by unverified twitter comments that the leave of all personnel of the Pak Army 111 Independent Infantry Division had been cancelled and that all personnel had been asked to report for duty by 04 October.
The 111 Independent Infantry Brigade, though officially operates under X Corps in Rawalpindi, actually functions under the Pak CoAS and is tasked with the security of the Prime Minister and the Islamabad region. Point of note is that Lt. Gen. Athar Abbas, current Commander of X Corps is also from the Baloch Regiment, the same Regiment of the Army Chief. Anas Malik writing in “In Political Survival in Pakistan: Beyond Ideology”, states that "Brigade 111 is notorious because it is well-positioned to detain civilian leaders and take over the federal government's administrative centers as a coup unfolds." So there is another drama being enacted, that of a possible coup to dismiss Imran Khan, with perhaps Gen. Bajwa becoming President! The obvious question is would the CoAS want to become another Musharraf and become history? Highly unlikely. More likely that Imran Khan will be replaced by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. What will actually happen only time will tell.
The current situation in Pakistan is best summed up by Hussain Haqqani, currently at the Hudson Institute in the US. He writes: “Pakistan’s generals look at their country as a wholly owned subsidiary of General Headquarters and consider themselves its board of directors. The role of a prime minister in this scheme of things is not to provide political leadership but rather act as a manager implementing the wishes of the board of directors”. This is precisely what Prime Minister Imran Khan is required to do, if this does not happen, he may be shown the exit door sooner than later.