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Civil-military squabbling

Updated October 16, 2017

IT may not be a spat, but it is unseemly and needs to be quickly brought to an end.

The civil and military arms of the state talking to one another via the media is rarely a good idea, particularly if the messages being conveyed back and forth are of an uncomfortable nature.

There is no denying that macroeconomic indicators are not as healthy as they could be or ought to be.

The government, in praising its economic achievements, is looking backwards whereas a forward-looking view of the economy suggests genuine threats that require urgent attention.

Indeed, it is troubling that the government is unwilling to acknowledge the obvious, reinforcing a perception that the PML-N is fixated on the legal troubles of the Sharif family and is perhaps looking to defer difficult economic decisions until a caretaker administration is installed ahead of the next general election.

The problem, however, remains the public manner in which the military leadership is choosing to express its concerns.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi may be clear about where his political loyalties lie, but is no economic lightweight and has demonstrated that he is willing to work with all institutions during his tenure as prime minister.

While there may be some uncertainty about the position of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and his willingness to heed advice from cabinet colleagues, the trade-offs involved in clinging to Mr Dar’s economic prescriptions are relatively clear and he can surely be brought around to recognising the inevitable reality.

Indeed, there can be questions about whether the perception of undue pressure on the government is causing Mr Dar to dig in his heels; perhaps in a more conciliatory environment, more sensible decision-making would occur.

Finally, there is a question of whether a government in the fifth year of its term can truly take the kind of far-reaching economic measures being suggested.

Broadening the tax base, for example, while necessary and perhaps even inevitable is a complicated political process too.

An incoming government with a fresh mandate may be better placed to take decisions that will cause significant disruption to the current state of the economy.

Moreover, the most important long-term goal is to take economic growth to levels that can sustain a significantly growing labour force.

That is less about balancing numbers than introducing sound economic policies that can stimulate growth.

Parliamentary consensus on key economic measures that can last beyond a particular government’s term has been sought by the PML-N.

Perhaps that is an issue that can seriously be taken up at this stage by parliament. Squabbling is not the answer to Pakistan’s problems.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2017