Last week, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Asim Munir met dozens of prominent Pakistani businessmen, assuring them of resolution of their concerns and vowing the country’s economy is on the right track. The meetings have triggered headlines praising Gen. Munir’s “vision,” with the participating businessmen telling various media outlets they feel positive the country’s economic turmoil can be overcome if it is fulfilled. This is not the first time an Army chief has stepped into realms normally considered to fall in the domain of the civilian leadership. A key reason for such meetings is decades of poor governance from Pakistan’s perennially brawling political parties, who enter government with tall claims but rarely, if ever, deliver on them. Another factor is the apparent preference foreign investors have for dealings with the military leadership over engagements with civilians.
During his meetings, the Army chief has emphasized the significance of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), claiming it can attract up to $100 billion in investment from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Kuwait. He also voiced an intent to privatize loss-making state-owned enterprises—a rare show of fiscal responsibility from the military leadership—and a desire to shift away from further loans from the International Monetary Fund. This was music to the ears for businessmen reeling from conditions imposed by the global lender, including massive devaluation, rampant inflation, and a punishingly high policy rate.
What has been ignored amidst all the bonhomie is how the reaction to Gen. Munir’s meetings comes across as an indictment of Pakistan’s political forces. Both Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif, during their respective stints as prime minister, lamented the increasing reluctance of “friendly” nations to bail out Pakistan, as the country has repeatedly failed to utilize past interventions to plug the gaps in its economy. They also expressed an inability to tackle smuggling, hoarding and extortive business practices, unlike Gen. Munir whose directions have already seen the rupee recovering against the dollar, indicating an efficiency that political forces have lacked. With Pakistan now increasingly appearing to have reached a make-or-break point, it is time for decisive actions to fix all that ails it. Unfortunately, no one expects civilians to have the wherewithal to achieve this. It is hardly a surprise, then, that businessmen are more likely to buy into the promises of the Army chief than they ever have been of assurances from elected governments.