Pak Army Chief Bajwa gives pep talk to worried business leaders on state of the economy
Islamabad, Oct 4: With Pakistan's economy facing serious woes, army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has stepped in to give a pep talk to prominent business leaders, who vented their anger at the Imran Khan government's tepid response to their problems, media reports said on Friday.
Bajwa hosted a group of top businessmen on Wednesday night at the Army Auditorium in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and discussed major challenges faced by Pakistan, the Pakistan Army said. The Pakistan Army chief, who is a member of the National Development Council (NDC) headed by prime minister Khan, apprised the participants about improved internal security environment of the country which has enabled space for increased economic activity, the army said in a statement.
Bajwa was flanked by the government's economic team, Financial Adviser Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Shabbar Zaidi and Minister Economic Affairs Division Hammad Azhar, the Dawn newspaper reported.
Khan appointed Bajwa as a member of the high-powered National Development Council in July as part of the government's efforts to come up with a plan for Pakistan's long-term economic growth.
During the meeting, Bajwa said the accessibility and responsiveness of the government economic team to the business community and the understanding between the public and private institutions were good signs for the "intended positive trajectory" in economic activity. He said that national security was intimately linked to the economy.
The Pakistan Army chief said that aim of the various discussions and seminars was to bring stake holders at one platform to formulate recommendations for a synergistic way forward. The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
With Bajwa becoming a member of the NDC, the military is now actively involved in matters concerning the economy as well. "The army chief personally lending his battle-trained ears to the beleaguered businessmen to extract a first-hand account of economic horrors facing them is an extraordinary event, signalling that the country's powerful establishment is not very pleased with the way economy is being handled," The News commented on Bajwa's unusual meeting.
"The economic managers are confidently boasting a turnaround in economy is round the corner. However, the ground reality is totally different. Investment is declining, workers are losing jobs regularly and job creation is negligible," the newspaper noted. Wednesday's meeting between Bajwa and the business leaders was aimed at conveying their serious concerns about Pakistan's stagnating economy and the government's tepid response to the debilitating situation facing the drivers of the country's economy, it said.
The main concern for the businessmen was that the government does not go beyond verbal assurances and that its words do not match its actions, Geo News quoted sources as saying. The businessmen told Bajwa that their recommendations were heard in a meeting with the prime minister Khan earlier, but no action was taken on them as yet.
Their main gripe was that the government does not go beyond verbal assurances and that its words do not match its action, it said. Bajwa also 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, The News quoted sources as saying.
Bajwa advised the business tycoons that they should cooperate with the government and do not side with anti-government forces, it said. "He (Bajwa) was good humoured, was very well-informed," one participant told the Dawn newspaper.
"He had a very strong message that they are on the same page with the government, and asked the attendees to look ahead, not backward, and help sort out the economy." He reminded those present at the meeting that years of excess will not change overnight, things will take time to rectify, but business as usual cannot continue, one participant summed up Bajwa's comments at the dinner meeting.
In July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) formally approved a USD 6 billion loan to Pakistan, which is facing significant economic challenges on the back of large fiscal and financial needs and weak and unbalanced growth. Cash-strapped Pakistan has also received billions of dollars in financial aid packages from friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent months. According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, Pakistan's economy grew at an average rate of 3.29 per cent in fiscal year 2018-19 against an ambitious target of 6.2 per cent set in last year's budget.