Says infrastructure, energy improved considerably but current account balance not in our favour; No compromise on CPEC; Stresses viable balance between economy and security
Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday said that Pakistan has expressed and demonstrated its genuine desire to have peaceful relations with its eastern neighbour, but “it takes two to tango”.
The Army Chief was addressing seminar on ‘Interplay of Economy And Security’ in Karachi here Wednesday.
Army Chief Gen Bajwa, referring to the situation on the external front, said it continues to remain in a flux. “With a belligerent India on our east and an unstable Afghanistan on our west, the region remains captive due to historical baggage and negative competition,” said Bajwa.
He said Pakistan on its part, is making a “deliberate and concentrated effort to pacify the western border through a multitude of diplomatic, military and economic initiatives”.
Bajwa also said that the security forces have provided a significant “human security” in Fata and surrounding areas. “In fact, what we have done in FATA and started in Balochistan could easily be termed as the best example of a holistic approach to security,” added Gen Bajwa.
The chief of army staff said Pakistan has to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security. He was speaking at a seminar on the interplay of economy and security.
“We have to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security. Only then will we arrive at a future that ensures sustained peace and happiness for our people,” said Gen Bajwa.
He added that countries such as Pakistan do not have the luxury of reviewing the balance between guns and butter.
“We live in one of the most volatile regions of the world, dealing with multiple crises since inception, but increasingly so during the last four decades,” said the army chief.
Referring to national security, the army chief said leaders across the world understand that security is influenced by factors such as political, economic, military, social, human and environmental facets.
He said as the army chief, his primary responsibility is for military security, both external and internal, but he cannot talk about uni-dimensional security without understanding all the other influential factors. “Today, we have a much-improved security situation on the internal front,” said Bajwa while adding that challenges to the writ of the state have been defeated.
General Bajwa also spoke about the National Actional Plan, which came into existence after the massacre at Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014. “We need a comprehensive effort to pursue National Action Plan and remove vulnerabilities well before they turn into threats,” said the chief of army staff.
He said that many of the planned measures, if implemented in a timely manner, will contribute directly to the economic and “even the political stability of the country”. Referring to police and judicial reforms as obvious examples, he further said seminary reforms are vital.
“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.”
Commending the Army and the law-enforcement agencies in their role for ensuring security, Bajwa said that improvements in the security environment have started to pay off.
The economy is showing mixed indicators, growth has picked up but debt is sky high, said Bajwa while referring to the current economic situation of the country. “Infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour.”
Bajwa suggested that the tax to GDP ratio needs to improve as it is “abysmally low” and needs to improve if Pakistan is to reduce its reliance on international monetary organisations.
“At the same time, the common man across Pakistan needs reassurance of benevolent and equal treatment from the state in return,” said the chief of army staff, adding that it is high time to place growth and sustainability at the highest priority. He also said that economy remains one of the highest concerns in National Security Council meetings. “We have to increase our tax base, bring in fiscal discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies,” further said Bajwa. “When our enemies want to choke Pakistan, they try to destabilize Karachi because when Karachi bleeds, Pakistan bleeds.” He said due to such factors, peace in Karachi has remained the top priority.
The chief of army staff, once again reiterating that external factors are trying to dictate security priorities, said strong links exist between security and the economic future of the country exist. “The centrepiece of this effort is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” Referring to CPEC as powerful springboard for shared development in the CASA (Central Asia-South Asia) region, Bajwa said the project is a complete development platform.
“This is the future of our people, a vital national interest on which we will never compromise, regardless of the loudness of opposing voices,” the army chief said while conveying a strong message.
He also referred to CPEC as an example of regional and a break from politics of confrontation. “I sincerely believe that the region will sink or sail together – that is how it has played out across the world,” said the army chief and added that he wants to convey to Pakistan’s neighbours in the east and west that out destinies are next inextricably linked. Bajwa, however, said that until the current environment of mutual distrust is eliminated, Pakistan cannot possibly imagine enduring peace and socio-economic development in the region.
Vision of integrated economic growth
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, explained Gen Bajwa.
Calling on the government to take the initiative and turn the economy around, he said that the Army has done its part on the security front.
“If any nation can survive what we went through, it can also make its mark when the going is relatively easier.” The army chief concluded his address by saying that the debate generated at the seminar will become part of the wider national and regional discourse. General Bajwa said, security and economy are interlinked. All nations are reviewing the old dilemma of “Guns versus Butter”, that is; how to achieve a balance between economic viability and national security.
General Bajwa added, “We have to continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security. Only then will we arrive at a future that ensures sustained peace and happiness for our people.” The Army Chief went on to say we need a comprehensive effort to pursue National Action Plan and remove vulnerabilities well before they turn into threats. Many of the planned measures, if implemented timely, will contribute directly to the economic and even political stability of the country.
Referring to improved security in the country, Army Chief said due to dedication and sustained hard work of Army and other LEAs, slowly and gradually, the improvements in security environment have started to pay off. “We have had mega events in the country in the fields of sports and culture this year. Recently, we not only had the most peaceful Muharram in years but the Bohra community validated our claim of improved security by selecting Pakistan for their annual gathering.”
Similarly, early harvest projects, both CPEC and non CPEC, are nearing completion; with Pakistan Army providing security to our Chinese friends, he added.
“If I were a statesman or an economist, I would say that this is high time for us to place economic growth and sustainability at the highest priority. Let me share with you that during National Security Council meetings, economy remains one of our highest concerns. But in order to secure our future, we must be ready to take difficult decisions. We have to increase our tax base, bring in fiscal discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies.”
At the micro level, nothing exemplifies the linkage between economy and security better than the city of Karachi itself. “When our enemies want to choke Pakistan, they try to destabilize Karachi because when Karachi bleeds, Pakistan bleeds,” the General said.It is because of this sensitivity, that peace in Karachi has been our top priority. We have worked very hard to restore peace and now hope that economic activity would return at a fast pace, the Army Chief hoped. However, in order to maintain sustainable growth and progress, we must ensure law and order in the entire country.
He also shared that economy remains a major concern during National Security Council meetings, also revealing that he reads the business and economy page of the newspaper right after the main page because of its importance.
“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.”