By Justice Markandey Katju–
(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)
One would have thought that the job of an army chief is to protect his country’s borders, and render assistance to the civilian authorities in cases of internal disturbances when asked by the latter.
But it seems that the Pakistan army chief, Gen Munir, has other ideas, and believes he can fix Pakistan’s tumbling economy.
Pakistan’s inflation rate is 27%, and food prices went up recently by 40%. The currency has been rapidly depreciating (Pak₹306 to a US dollar). Highly inflated electricity bills have resulted in massive demonstrations and protests all over the country. Traders are on strike.
Pakistan has a civilian government (though a caretaker one) and fixing the economy is surely the task of this government. But Gen Munir has now dropped even the fig leaf of civilian rule, and the army has taken full control.
In his meetings with business leaders, Gen Munir announced a plethora of steps on issues such as corruption, foreign investment (US$100 billion are expected to invested in Pakistan by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE), smuggling of Iranian oil, taxes on forex traders, the ‘grey economy’ curbed, sick government industries privatization, etc.
There are several problems with Gen Munir’s plans.
Firstly, Pakistan’s present economic crisis was largely due to the misdeeds of these very business leaders whom he met, who along with corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and army generals looted Pakistan for decades. Now all they want is reduction in income and sales taxes, and various other concessions for themselves (as they told Gen Munir), and they are least bothered about the public welfare.
Secondly, checking corruption is easier said than done. Much of the corruption is by army officers themselves, as explained here.
Thirdly, it is presumptuous to believe that anyone will invest money unless he is assured that he will get back the money he invests with a reasonable profit. After all, nobody is doling out charity. Gen Munir may give his guarantee in this connection, but what are words when not backed up by deeds? The past performance of Pakistan has been dismal, with its leaders repeatedly going around with a begging bowl to the IMF, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Lastly, the recovery of Pakistan’s economy depends on peace and stability, which is only possible after a free and fair elections.
But Gen Munir, knowing that Imran Khan’s PTI will sweep the polls as he has support of 85% Pakistanis (as all opinion polls indicate), is adamant not to hold elections for parliament or the provincial legislatures.
In fact, the very purpose of holding meetings with business leaders was to convey the message that first we have to fix Pakistan’s economy, however long it takes, and only then can elections be held (which is putting the cart before the horse).
I am afraid Gen Munir has bitten more than he can chew, and is living in la-la land.