Islamabad: Unfazed by Pakistan's powerful military, a leading newspaper has criticised army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa for "encroaching on the political realm" by taking sides, after he blamed "fiscal mismanagement" by the previous governments for the country's financial woes.
"We are going through difficult economic situation due to fiscal mismanagement. We have been shying of taking difficult decisions," he said at a seminar held at the National Defence University here on Friday.
This was Gen Bajwa's first comments on the cash-strapped economy of Pakistan after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan last month nominated the Pakistan Army chief as a member of the National Development Council (NDC).
The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy. But now, the military will play a greater role in the economic affairs of Pakistan as the government grapples with serious financial woes.
The NDC, head by the prime minister, is tasked with steering Pakistan out of the economic crisis. Pakistan is trying hard to avoid a balance of payments crisis, with the help of close allies like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Islamabad is also negotiating a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
Gen Bajwa, in his keynote address, counted "perpetual security threats, inconsistent economic policies, poor economic discipline and lack of will to take difficult decisions in the past as major contributors to the economic situation the government is facing today."
The Dawn newspaper, in an editorial on Sunday, commented that Gen Bajwa's remarks "unnecessarily expose the military to accusations of encroaching on the political realm".
"The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI), by including the army chief in a top economic consultative body the first time this has happened in a civilian government will be much to blame if there are negative repercussions for the military's public standing, and Gen Bajwa's legacy," the editorial said.
Prime minister Khan was widely seen as the Pakistan Army's favoured candidate in the 2018 general election.
Warning that there is a rough road ahead for Pakistan, it said that national institutions must play their role in reviving the economy.
On that score, at least, everyone is on the same page. There is, however, a difference of opinion about how we have arrived at this juncture, the editorial said.
It noted that Gen Bajwa contended that "fiscal mismanagement" and timid decision-making in the past are responsible for the dire straits the country finds itself in.
Further, the army chief endorsed the PTI government led by Prime Minister Khan for the "difficult decisions" it has taken to resuscitate the economy, citing examples of other countries having overcome similar challenges with the same approach.
"The military leadership should not allow itself to be sidetracked from its core responsibilities which include keeping the eastern and western borders secure and instead apply its energies to its area of expertise," the editorial commented.
"Maintaining the separation of powers as defined in the Constitution strengthens institutions and, in turn, the overarching governance framework. However, by endorsing the PTI government's actions, the army chief is expressing an overt political opinion. That is undesirable for more than one reason," the editorial underlined.
Further, it noted that "politics is seen as the art of the possible, which means it can even in the most evolved democracies require some bending of principles and the forging of improbable alliances. That is why it is best left to the politicians while other institutions remain above the fray," it noted.
Moreover, the armed forces play an important role in the conduct of elections; the appearance of impartiality on their part thus has a critical bearing on the credibility of the polls, it said.
The PTI government has thrown itself with gusto into the task of attacking the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for the alleged mismanagement of the economy when they were in power; the Opposition has responded fiercely to its accusations.
"This is the nature of the political back and forth in a parliamentary democracy, even a dysfunctional one as ours," the editorial said.