Can the cat be belled?

  • Rauf Klasra
  • Sep 09, 2023

If yet another army chief had to hold a series of engagements with business leaders in Karachi and Lahore, it means nothing has changed between 2008 and 2023 and leaders like President Zardari, the Sharif brothers, and Imran Khan have miserably failed to live up to the public’s expectations. But, having said that, it is nothing new. General Bajawa, for example, has undergone the same exercise multiple times in the recent past, with almost no results.

The announcements and assurances of the COAS have also started an equally important debate between those who argue that economic affairs should remain the domain of elected governments and those who’s growing sentiment necessitate such intervention, given the persistent disappointments stemming from the string of political figures.

It is true that it is not the job of the army chief to fix Pakistan’s economy or conduct such meetings. However, today’s businessman or industrialist is not willing to trust anyone less than someone in that office. The growingly sharp criticism against politicians accentuate a perceived self-serving agenda, marred with corruption and a stark abandonment of the public’s interest. 

Delaying elections beyond six months could expose Pakistan to international sanctions. It is also not beyond imagination that a delay beyond this could also mean  a full-fledged martial law

Politics was once pursued to serve the public, but then it became a business. Interestingly, when industrialists became politicians, they aspired to be landowners and acquired vast expanses of land, and conversely, landowners realised the real money was in business and industries, so they started running in that direction. Regardless, politics eventually became an industry too where a new ‘deal’ had to be made everyday, infecting the system with the virus of corruption to epidemic levels. 

If you’re a keen observer, it will be impossible for you to miss out on the fact that every major political leader has their own sugar mills, factories, shares in power plants, banks, and stock exchanges and, with such glaring conflict of interest, they sit to draft policies for the very industries. How is the public going to believe that the policies reflect the interests of the public instead of these individuals?

Politicians are kept at the tip of the spear simply because they claim to draw their power from the public but they alone are not to be blamed. The bureaucracy is an accomplice in bringing the country to its knees. Many of them can be seen as good examples of fully oiled money minting machines who prefer to settle their families abroad. It is said that Pakistani officers from the administrative side prefer British and European passports while those from the Police like the red Canadian maple leaf on their travel documents.

Our military officers preferred staying in Pakistan post retirement but that has also changed.They are looking for a flight out no sooner than their retirement documents are signed and it is yet to be seen if there is a mechanism that can prevent that because we have observed that even high ranking retired intelligence officers have started taking jobs abroad. Those who are left behind are mostly employed by real estate tycoons to ‘smoothen’ their affairs.

A poor person, who may never have seen a dollar bill in his life, is now stuck in this circle

Gen Asim Munir hence, emerges as a figure carrying a humongous burden on his shoulders of undoing what has been done to the country in fifteen years and guide Pakistan towards economic stability within an ambitious timeframe of merely six months. Not just that. He is also tasked with arresting deep-seated issues like a high spike in terrorism and smuggling against a backdrop of soaring expectations.

Why six months? Because Pakistan is under strict international scrutiny that can be seen through the meetings of the likes of the US ambassador with the ECP as well as political leaders. Delaying elections beyond six months could expose Pakistan to international sanctions. It is also not beyond imagination that a delay beyond this could also mean  a full-fledged martial law.

On the other hand things like individuals within our institutions in cahoots with rackets are also evident from the fact that despite the large presence of security machinery and customs officials stationed on our western border large quantities of trucks carrying sugar, wheat, and fertiliser are crossing into neighbouring countries. Not just that, Pakistan also faces a severe shortage of dollars, driving the exchange rate due to a similar flight of foreign currency. And when the dollar appreciates, inflation soars. 

Since payments to IPPs, and buying of oil both are done in dollars, electricity bills, gas bills, and petrol prices – everything revolves around the dollar. Fluctuations in the exchange rate directly impact the common man. And as a grave consequent injustice, a poor person, who may never have seen a dollar bill in his life, is now stuck in this circle. 

With Pakistan standing at such a precarious juncture, the thought of election might also mean that the new government might or might not agree with the policies that are being promised by the COAS. But notwithstanding that, If he manages to pull a miracle by stabilising the economy somewhat in the remaining half year, partially curtails inflation, or attracts investments from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and China, it will not just restore his own image but, most importantly, that of his institution. It is, hence, his trial period, a critical phase where actions will speak louder than words.


Rauf Klasra Pakistan

Rauf Klasra

The author is a senior Pakistani journalist and anchor. He posts on X as @KlasraRauf

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