Was the military chief indirectly backing the opposition in his recent speech on Pakistan’s economy?
Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa sounded odd commenting on the national economy, not because he was wrong in echoing the opposition’s concerns, but because as head of the armed forces he didn’t avoid associating himself with them. He should have known that the opposition’s policy critique is aimed at getting rid of the current PMLN government. He also strengthened the impression that all the retired Army officers appearing on TV talkshows attack the government on his express behalf without ever disagreeing with each other.
The major thrust of the opposition attack on the economy is led by Imran Khan, who denigrates infrastructure development—where the Chinese role is most significant—by emphasizing the lack of services like hospitals and schools. General Bajwa should have avoided the unintentional support of Khan’s party implied in his speech in Karachi in which he referred to this “flaw” and the mounting national debt, which doubtlessly affects the capacity of the armed forces to play their proper role. He should have realized that no Army chief in India would do this kind of critique without getting fired.
The world knows that Pakistan’s economic malfunction has come in the wake of the instability triggered by street-power tactics adopted by Imran Khan and his party. The economy actually enjoyed good foreign press, including in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Washington Post, before the unrest propagated by endless dharnas—and compounded by the Panama Papers scandal—became commonplace. The general should have been discreet considering that the Khan-Tahirul Qadri sit-in—which unleashed the disorder scuttling the economy—enjoyed some collusion from within the military. This discretion would have gone well with the policy of “normalization” he is pursuing within the state of Pakistan and the region.