KARACHI: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan has improved security situation on the internal front, defeated the challenges to the writ of the state, though residual threat still resides.
Addressing a seminar on the interplay of economy and security, the army chief said that Pakistan needs a comprehensive effort to pursue the National Action Plan and remove vulnerabilities well before they turn into threats.
“Many of the planned measures, if implemented timely, will contribute directly to the economic and even political stability of the country. Police and judicial reforms are obvious examples,” he said.
“Madrassah reforms are also vital. We cannot afford to leave a large segment of our youth with limited options – Madrassahs must enable their students to become useful members of the society who are not left behind in any field of life,” he added.
Gen Bajwa (COAS) said the external front remains in a flux, due a belligerent India and unstable Afghanistan on either due to which the region remains captive due to historical baggage and negative competition.
However, he said that Pakistan is making a deliberate and concerted effort to pacify the western border through a multitude of diplomatic, military and economic initiatives, and the boost to human security provided in FATA and surrounding areas which can be be termed as the best example of a holistic approach to security.
“We have also expressed and demonstrated our genuine desire to have normal and and peaceful relations with India, however, it takes two to tango,” he maintained.
The army chief said that due to the dedication and sustained hard work of the army and other Law-enforcement agencies, the improvements in security environment have started to pay off.
This is evident from the mega events in the country in the fields of sports and culture, peaceful Muharram validated by the Bohri community selecting Karachi for the annual gathering.
Mixed indicators in Pakistan’s economy
However, the army chief expressed concern over the economic situation and the mixed indicators. “Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. Infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour. Our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl, “he said.
He said that it is high time to place economic growth and sustainability at the highest priority which also remains the highest concern even during National Security Council meetings.
Gen Bajwa said that nothing exemplifies the link between economy and security better than the city of Karachi, the economic capital of Pakistan, which generates a significant part of the revenue.
“When our enemies want to choke Pakistan, they try to destabilise Karachi because when Karachi bleeds, Pakistan bleeds,” he said. “It is because of this sensitivity, that peace in Karachi has been our top priority. We have worked very hard to restore peace and now hope that economic activity would return at a fast pace.”
Gen Bajwa said the relationship between security and economy is intricate, and therefore solutions are more complex.
“Pakistan is a strategically challenged state. External actors are attempting to assert control and dictate our security priorities that have strong linkages with our economic future,” he said.
“The centrepiece of this effort is China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” he said which is a complete development platform that has the potential to act as a powerful springboard development in the entire region.
However, the completion of the project and optimisation of its socio-economic dividend for Pakistan and the region hinges on security. “Our region in general and the immediate neighbourhood in particular has failed to take off due to peculiar security challenges,” he said.
Karachi will remain “safe and sound”
He stressed that nations cannot rise together into enduring peace and socio-economic development until the current environment of mutual distrust is eliminated. “Peace and stability is in the interest of all and we must strive for it.”
COAS said that Pakistan is capable of creating sufficient fiscal space to address underlying structural problems through tax reforms, documenting economy, diversifying the export base, and encouraging savings to finance a level of investment that could sustain growth rate higher than the rise of population.
However, he said that we have to rise together and ensure that Balochistan, interior Sindh, FATA, Southern Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan also join us on the trajectory of growth and then move forward.
“In today’s world, security does not come cheap. It is dependent upon economic prowess,” he said adding that the army has done its part on the security front, now it’s up to others to turn the economy around.
COAS assured that Karachi will remain safe and sound.
“Security and economy are interlinked,” he said adding all nations today are reviewing the old dilemma of “Guns versus Butter”, that is how to achieve a balance between economic viability and national security.
However, COAS said countries like Pakistan never had the luxury of such a review as it lives in one of the most volatile regions of the world, dealing with multiple during the last four decades.
Therefore, Pakistan must be able to evolve on the way and continuously ensure a viable balance between economy and security.