ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor says he was ‘disappointed — both as a soldier and a citizen of Pakistan’ — by the interior minister’s remarks.
ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor says he was ‘disappointed — both as a soldier and a citizen of Pakistan’ — by the interior minister’s remarks.

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: Deflecting criticism from the government for commenting on the state of the economy, the military’s chief spokesperson on Saturday stressed that the economy was inextricably linked to security matters, adding that a weak economy could adversely affect the country’s safety and security.

A day after Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s rebuke, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said that he was “disappointed — both as a soldier and a citizen of Pakistan” — by the minister’s remarks.

The ISPR chief had, on Thursday night, said on a TV programme that while the national economy was not in bad shape, it was not in very good shape either.

• ISPR chief insists no threat to democracy from Army • Rules out possibility of joint operation with US on Pakistani soil • Interior minister says civilians can do better job of economic analysis

At his presser, he clarified that he had not described the economy as “unstable”, adding that he had stressed the need for concerted efforts to set things right. As an institution of the state, the army continued to give its proposals on matters of national importance, he said.

Reacting to the statement, the interior minister had warned the military’s spokesperson to refrain from “such irresponsible statements [that] can dent Pakistan’s global image”.

Giving the context of his remarks, Maj Gen Ghafoor said that his comments on the economy were based on his takeaways from a seminar on the interplay of economy and security, arranged by the chamber of commerce.

The keynote address at the seminar, which he said was attended by three former finance ministers and a former governor of the State Bank, was delivered by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“I stand by my words. All this was within the framework of the Constitution,” he asserted, adding that this was something that should be taken positively. “There should be no reservations, fears or apprehensions,” he said.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said the army would continue to perform its duties within the parameters of the law and Constitution, adding that while a lot was being done to strengthen the economy, a lot more needed to be done.

Dwelling on tax numbers, he recalled that recovery was around 39pc, which included a 95pc reliance on indirect taxes. Out of the total revenue recovered, 60pc came from government employees, he said, adding that the private sector’s 40pc contribution was too meagre.

He said that the army chief, in his interaction with businessmen, had asked them to pay taxes, and stressed the need to broaden the tax base.

He said there was no threat to democracy from the Pakistan Army. “If there was to be a threat to democracy, it would be from not fulfilling the requirements of democracy or the aspirations of the people,” he remarked, cryptically.

He recalled that the army chief was on the record as saying that there was no threat to democracy and that no extra-constitutional measures would be taken.

He also rejected rumours about plans to install a government of technocrats, or to impose a de facto martial law. “If the country is to make progress, stability is a must,” he remarked.

When asked to explain in unambiguous terms whether the army accepted the supremacy of civilian authority, he asked: “Who appoints the chief of army staff and other services chiefs?”

Rangers personnel in Sindh and Punjab were only deployed after the sanction and approval of the respective governments, he said.

He also referred to military operations such as Zarb-i-Azb, Rah-i-Raast and the ongoing Raddul Fassad, saying that these were also launched following the approval of the civilian government.

“Everything is under civilian supremacy and the army does not take decisions on its own. Institutions do not operate in isolation,” he stressed.

Responding to a question regarding Khawaja Asif’s statement on a possible US-Pakistan joint operation against the Haqqani Network, he said that in military terminology, a joint operation means one where a country’s troops act together with the troops of another country.

“There is no concept of a joint operation on Pakistan’s soil. There has never been and will never be a joint operation by Pakistani forces with any other force of the world”, he declared.

Minister’s reaction

Reacting to the army spokesperson’s presser, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that there were civilian institutions in the country — both inside and outside the government — that could do a better analysis of the national economy than the ISPR.

Speaking to reporters at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington on Friday night, Mr Iqbal said he had criticised the ISPR DG’s statement because it was not his domain.

The minister clarified that he had not offered comments on the statement that the army chief read at a seminar held in Karachi earlier this week, pointing out weaknesses in the economy.

However, he said that every institution should remain within its domain. “Such irresponsible statements are not good, as it is the country that has to face the consequences,” he said.

Mr Iqbal pointed out that Pakistan had a very vocal media and a strong opposition, which often analysed the national economy as well.

“Everyone acknowledges that the economy is doing much better now than it was. Our performance has encouraged international financial institutions to upgrade Pakistan’s ratings,” the minister said.

Talking to Dawn after the ISPR chief news conference, the interior minister said all national institutions should highlight the “positive aspects of the country” with “one voice”.

The civilian and military leadership should join hands to provide some hope to the nation, instead of offering negative comments, he said, adding that his government had brought the national economy back on track.

The government, he said, had unified the nation, and now “we need to restore the world’s trust.”

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2017