Pakistan’s already powerful military is taking an even greater role in running the country as the economy stumbles.
Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has privately met top business leaders to find ways to bolster the economy, according to people familiar with the matter. The three meetings are reported to have take place this year at heavily guarded military offices in Karachi, the financial capital, and Rawalpindi, that houses the army’s headquarters.
At the meetings, arranged through mutual contacts, Gen. Bajwa asked business leaders how to fix the economy and what would lead them to make investments, said the people, who asked not to be identified. Some meetings resulted in prompt decisions, including sending instructions to top government officials, they said.
An army spokesman declined to comment , however, the military issued a statement after Gen Bajwa hosted a gathering of government economic officials and business leaders on Wednesday.
"National security is intimately linked to economy while prosperity is function of balance in security needs and economic growth," Gen Bajwa said in the statement.
The military, which has staged numerous coups since Pakistan’s founding in 1947, has seen a direct impact from the economic slowdown: Defence spending was frozen in the 2020 fiscal budget for the first time in a decade. That comes as soldiers are on high alert against terrorists based in Afghanistan and conventional forces in India, which has put Kashmir under lockdown.
Many business leaders and economic analysts in Pakistan actually welcomed a greater role for the generals. They felt Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party - less than halfway through its first term in office - as inexperienced compared with the military, which is the country’s most respected and powerful institution.
But others are concerned about what an increasing role for the military means for Pakistan’s democracy and the future of civilian institutions that haven’t been given the space to develop.
"The growing role of the military in the economy’s management in addition to its traditional dominance of the security matters is nothing but a soft coup that is a setback for the democratic process," said Yousuf Nazar, a former Citigroup banker and author of a book on Pakistan’s economy.