In a last-ditch effort to address Pakistan’s deepening economic crisis, its military leadership has intervened, as the nation grapples with widespread protests stemming from soaring food and fuel prices. This crisis has disproportionately affected the underprivileged segments of society.
General Asim Munir, Pakistan’s army chief, recently convened a series of meetings with 50 influential businessmen in response to mounting protests by traders protesting against exorbitant prices. While Pakistan’s military has frequently dabbled in politics, their newfound involvement in economic matters raises eyebrows among experts. Some are skeptical about the military’s ability to resuscitate the economy.
Haris Gazdar, a senior researcher at Karachi’s Collective for Social Science Research, remarked, “We are on an IMF (International Monetary Fund) program, and it requires a lot of stakeholders onboard for success. If the army chief is willing to play this role, fine. But ultimately it is not helpful for any state institution to go it alone when there are going to be painful economic consequences.”
On July 12, the IMF approved a $3-billion bailout package for Pakistan, rescuing it from potential debt defaults. However, the conditions attached forced Pakistan to reduce fuel and power subsidies, impacting its citizens already reeling from inflation and a depreciating currency.
An anonymous economist expressed skepticism about the military’s initiative, describing General Munir’s assurances as “A lot of bluster without anything substantive to back it with.”
General Munir revealed during his meetings with businessmen that Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman had pledged a $25 billion investment in Pakistan, with hopes of securing further investments from the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait. However, experts like Asad Sayeed remain cautious about such prospects.
Sayeed stressed the need for structural reforms in taxation, energy, and resource allocation for export enhancement, rather than relying on foreign investment. The protests over high electricity charges have escalated across Pakistan, contributing to the nation’s economic turmoil.
Pakistan’s economic challenges have also led to a significant brain drain, with over 800,000 people leaving the country in the first six months of the year, including highly trained professionals.
Pakistan’s economic crisis has been a long time in the making, largely due to historical trade imbalances and an overdependence on geopolitical aid. The military’s intervention in economic matters raises concerns about accountability, given its past association with financial aid distribution.
In summary, while Pakistan’s military leadership attempts to address the economic crisis, experts remain skeptical about the effectiveness of their efforts, emphasizing the need for comprehensive structural reforms to stabilize the nation’s economy.