Imran mandated COAS in NSP to rescue economy if needed

August 01, 2022

Did not Imran Khan himself mandate Gen Bajwa to secure the country's economy if needed?

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Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the National Security Committee in this file photo. —APP

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan has criticised Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa for seeking help from the US over a much-needed IMF bailout for the country. He said it is not the job of the head of the military to deal with economic matters and his intervention means the country is getting weaker.

It seems Imran Khan is suffering from selective amnesia. His government coined a new National Security Policy which Imran Khan himself signed up to. According to his NSP, the country's security implies economy as much as physical security. Before criticising COAS Gen Bajwa for trying to save the country economically, Imran Khan should read his own National Security Policy. Did not Imran Khan himself mandate Gen Bajwa to secure the country's economy if needed? Moreover, did not Gen Bajwa contribute similarly to the PTI government repeatedly? Answers to both questions are a resounding yes.

Imran Khan may still not remember when the PTI regime came to power in Pakistan in 2018, it had historic backing from the nation's Establishment led by Gen Qamar Bajwa. Saudi Arabia, the US, China, UAE and the EU were all ready to pump billions into Pakistan's economy.

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However, by 2022 he alienated all of these stakeholders in Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy arenas. Two out of P-5 (UNSC) states had refused to send ambassadors to Pakistan. His ministers were embroiled in a public spat with key allies like KSA and UAE.

And worse, through his populist rhetoric, he undermined Pakistan-US relations to the extent that President Biden's administration refused to engage with his government. On the economic front, he doubled the national debt. He dishonored the agreement with the IMF causing huge damage to Pakistan's trust in international markets and left the country tattering on the verge of bankruptcy.

The fact that the Army Chief called the State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and the fact that it was made public show the Pakistan Army is very much serious about addressing Pakistan's economic vulnerability.

It comes against the backdrop of Foreign Ministry spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmad confirming the phone contact between Gen Bajwa and Wendy Sherman, but did not share details. “Well, I understand conversation has taken place, but at this stage, I am not in direct knowledge of the content of this discussion,” Asim told a weekly news conference.

Pakistan last week reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for the revival of a multibillion-dollar bailout package. However, the deal is subject to approval by the lender’s board, which is due to meet late August. Islamabad is expected to get about $4.2 billion under the loan programme, starting with an initial tranche of about $1.2 billion.

A State Department spokesperson in Washington would not directly confirm whether the conversion had taken place. “US officials talk to Pakistani officials regularly on a range of issues. As standard practice, we don’t comment on the specifics of private diplomatic conversations”, the spokesperson said.

Nikkei Asia first reported last Friday on the Gen Bajwa-Sherman contact, saying the Army Chief asked the White House and Treasury Department to use their leverage to help speed up the release of the loan.

The stakes for the Pakistan Army in the economic solvency of Pakistan are higher than probably for politicians, as politicians can run away abroad but Army cannot. Imran Khan's criticism is void of logic this time as well, since Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has always served as an anchor of stability and trust, while the PTI-led government undermined relations with Pakistan's friends, allies and donors for grand political rhetoric to please his base.

That is why many US-Pakistan watchers believe that Washington is taking Gen Bajwa's call very seriously and that the nod to the IMF will go out soon. As a result, funds would likely be released before the scheduled meeting of the IMF board i.e. August 25.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and heads a think tank. He tweets Jan_Achakzai

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