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ISLAMABAD: While endorsing tough economic measures of the government and seeking public support for them, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa on Friday blamed financial indiscipline and timid decision-making in the past for the current fiscal mess in the country.

“We are going through difficult economic situation due to fiscal mismanagement. We have been shying of taking difficult decisions,” Gen Bajwa said at a seminar on ‘Pakistan’s Economy: Challenges and Way Forward’ at the National Defence University (NDU).

The participants attending the seminar discussed the current economic situation and possible ways for dealing with critical issues such as budget deficit, low tax collection base, circular debt, haemorrhaging public sector enterprises, undocumented economy, low exports, and meeting federal obligations within the existing arrangements of the National Finance Commission (NFC).

Army chief says government has gone for difficult but quintessential decisions for long-term benefits

Army chiefs have in the past also weighed on the economic situation, but Gen Bajwa’s comments were particularly significant as he is the first army chief of the country to have been included in a top economic consultative body. The general was inducted into the National Development Council (NDC) just two weeks ago. The NDC has been set up to formulate policies and strategies for development activities aimed at accelerating economic growth; to approve long-term planning for national and regional connectivity; and to provide guidelines for regional cooperation.

Gen Bajwa’s views during deliberations in the NDC would help civilians in understanding the army’s opinion on the economic situation.

“We understand that government has gone for difficult but quintessential decisions for long-term benefits and what we are doing is playing our part. We all need to fulfil our responsibilities in this regard so that these difficult initiatives succeed,” he maintained and contended that “no individual alone can succeed” and the nation has to contribute and stand united.

“It’s time to be a nation,” the army chief added.

Gen Bajwa cited examples of other countries which when confronted with similar challenges took difficult decisions and successfully overcame them. “We shall also wade through these challenges,” he said.

He recalled military’s sacrifices for dealing with economic crisis and said that the institution forwent the annual defence budget increment. He quickly added that defence budget freeze was not the only way, as the army was contributing to resuscitation of economy.

A statement on the event issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) did not mention if the other contributions of the army towards reviving economy were also listed by the general at the seminar.

In an important statement, Gen Bajwa endorsed the opinion that the country needed to have greater connectivity with all neighbours for Pakistan and the region at large to develop. Currently, except for China, Pakistan has no significant trade with any of its neighbours due to political disputes and security issues.

Earlier on Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, too, while speaking at a think tank in Islamabad, laid emphasis on developing regional connectivity. He called for Pakistan and Afghanistan to develop ‘political alignment’ so that hurdles in regional connectivity could be removed. He asked Pakistani leaders to introspect why Karachi and Gwadar could not become Dubai, which was seen as a model for logistics hub.

Gen Bajwa mentioned Pakistan’s efforts for regional peace and expressed the hope that those efforts, if they succeed, would lead to better trade connectivity.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said perpetual security threats, inconsistent economic policies, poor economic discipline and lack of will to take difficult decisions in the past contributed to the difficult economic situation being faced by the government.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2019