Pakistan’s already powerful military is taking an even greater role in running the country as the economy stumbles.
Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has privately met top business leaders to find ways to bolster the economy, according to people familiar with the matter. The three meetings Bloomberg is aware of took place this year at heavily guarded military offices in Karachi, the financial capital, and Rawalpindi, a northern town that houses the army’s headquarters.
At the meetings, arranged through mutual contacts, Bajwa asked business leaders how to fix the economy and what would lead them to make investments, said the people, who asked not to be identified. Some of the meetings resulted in prompt decisions including sending instructions to top government officials, the people said, without giving any specific examples. They said the general was concerned about restoring confidence among the business community.
An army spokesman declined to comment when asked about the meetings, however on Thursday the military issued a statement after Bajwa hosted a gathering of government economic officials and business leaders on Wednesday.
“National security is intimately linked to economy while prosperity is function of balance in security needs and economic growth,” Bajwa said in the statement.
The military, which has staged numerous coups since Pakistan’s founding in 1947, has seen a direct impact from the economic slowdown: Defense spending was frozen in the 2020 fiscal year budget for the first time in more than a decade. That comes as soldiers are on high alert against terrorists based in Afghanistan and conventional forces in arch-rival India, which has put the disputed area of Kashmir under lockdown.
Many business leaders and economic analysts in Pakistan actually welcome a greater role for the generals. They view Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party — less than halfway through its first term in office — as inexperienced compared with the military, which is the country’s most respected and powerful institution.