Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in a statement issued by his public relations officer on Friday said that the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, should refrain from commenting on the country's economic situation, DawnNews reported.
Ahsan's response comes a day after Maj Gen Ghafoor's interview on a private TV channel in which he had said: "If the economy is not bad, it is not doing so well either."
"This [economy] is the minister of finance's and government's subject," Major Gen Ghafoor had said in the interview. "At this time, sitting together and discussing how to improve the economy is important. Pakistan Army has to shape the environment of the security in such a way that people come and people in Pakistan can do their business easily."
On Wednesday, army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had addressed the leaders of Karachi's business community, stressing that economic stability was tied deeply to Pakistan's security concerns.
Gen Bajwa had said that Pakistan needs to expand its tax base, bring in financial discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies to be able to break the begging bowl, military's media wing had reported.
“The economy is showing mixed indicators,” he had said before an audience of businessmen and the military leadership of Karachi at a day-long event organised by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and ISPR at the DHA Golf Club.
“Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. [The situation regarding] infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour,” Bajwa was quoted as saying.
The closest Gen Bajwa came to identifying economic priorities was when he stressed the need for widening the tax base, bringing in fiscal discipline and ensuring continuity of economic policies.
"Pakistan's economy is stable," said Iqbal in his statement on Friday. "Irresponsible statements will bring disrepute to the country," Iqbal added, claiming that the economy today was doing a lot better than it was in 2013.
Editorial: Military’s view of the economy
PTI chief Imran Khan was quick to respond to the interior minister's statement in a tweet, calling the "unwarranted attack" on ISPR "absurd".
He blamed Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar for "crushing the nation under debt".
'Necessary to issue clarification'
Later, Iqbal, who is currently in the United States, while talking to DawnNews said that such statements by the ISPR chief can have a serious impact on an international level.
"Imports of the country have increased because we are investing in machinery to increase electricity production," he explained. “I think DG ISPR is in no capacity to comment on the country's economy."
Such statements give an impression that the country's economy is in doldrums, so it became necessary for me to issue a clarification, Iqbal maintained.
“This is not a war of words; we will take up this matter before the national security council as well,” he said.
Talking to Geo News later in the day, Iqbal said, "We have an emerging economy and it is evident from increasing direct foreign investment, increased production, completion of CPEC projects in stipulated time, we have also doubled our taxation in last four years."
We need to portray a better and positive image of the country, instead of raising such voices which creates concerns among foreign investors, he added.
He also defended the Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif's statement saying that it was a fact that we need to put our house in order. Asif's statement showed that we know our vulnerabilities and this realisation will increase the level of trust on Pakistan. "But the DG ISPR's statement was a very strong statement, it could have negative impacts."
Macroeconomic risks in Pakistan
It is pertinent to mention that the World Bank has also warned that macroeconomic risks in Pakistan have increased substantially during the fiscal year 2017, as the external balance is particularly vulnerable given the persistent current account deficit, affecting the country’s reserve position.
Pakistan’s weaker macroeconomic discipline has led to vulnerabilities in the balance of payments. Since the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme came to an end, external indicators of the economy have deteriorated, says ‘The South Asia Economic Focus Fall 2017’ released earlier this month, ahead of the World Bank and IMF annual meetings.