Just replace the name and the title, and the written keynote address to a Karachi seminar on economy and security by the Army Chief will look like a deeply thought-out and meditative visionary address by an elected Prime Minister, who was seriously worried about the country. That it was delivered in person by the top Army general, with no senior politician or government minister present, gives it a totally different meaning. Was no one invited or did anyone from the ministries of finance, economic affairs, industries, planning, defence, interior or foreign affairs not consider it important enough to be present and give the government version or vision? Was this unofficial or informal boycott because of the fact that the seminar was organised by the ISPR? Economy and security are subjects that should be the prime focus of every serious government, elected or authoritarian. But in today’s Pakistan things are actually topsy-turvy, not that they look to be so to an outsider only. While the Army chief was speaking, media was reporting that Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities had swelled to an alarming level of Rs 25.1 trillion by June this year — with a net increase of Rs 2.5 trillion in a year Normally such an address by the Army chief should have been cleared and vetted by the civilians and then the general would have been allowed to speak. But civilian authority has practically been relinquished by default in view of an untenable political situation. I have written about this in detail on where things stand, and in my last week’s piece, I mentioned repeatedly that the economy was tanking and needed a quick intervention. The Karachi seminar can be taken as the ‘State’s’ response, although it came from an unusual, but not unexpected, direction. In fact this seminar was originally planned for August 31 but was postponed for reasons, which were described somewhat intriguingly as related to the ‘weather’. Whether it was the political weather or the air that was too warm or humid for a serious discussion, has not been explained. The Army chief made some very pertinent and much-needed comments about the economy and its direction. These points were being made ad infinitum by independent economists. Most of them were present in the seminar and gave their views. These eminent speakers included Dr Ashfaq Hasan Khan, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Dr Farrukh Saleem, Dr Ainul Hassan, Dr Salman Shah and Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal, Director General FWO. Since the federal government with the Finance Ministry under Mr Ishaq Dar — who was the all-in-all until recently about everything concerning rupees, dollars, loans, exports, imports etc, – never took the views of these economists seriously and did not respond, it seems that the Army had to finally intervene and give them a serious platform where they could be heard in the presence of the top army brass, followed by the official views of the GHQ. “If I were a statesman or an economist, I would say that this is high time for us to place economic growth and sustainability at the highest priority,” Gen Bajwa told his audience, cleverly not mentioning what he would have said if he were a politician. The company he was in at the seminar, especially one organised by the army itself, told much more than he might have revealed in his speech. “The economy is showing mixed indicators as growth has picked up, but debts are also sky high. Infrastructure and energy has improved considerably but the current account balance remains not in Pakistan’s favour. For a secure future, we must be ready to take difficult decisions. We have to increase our tax base, bring in fiscal discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies. We have to ensure that Balochistan, Interior Sindh, Fata, southern Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan also join us on the trajectory of growth and then move forward,” were some of his key observations. Analysed separately, these points make very interesting reading. Most of these points are similar or very close to the views of the independent economic experts. The high debts, the current account deficit, fiscal discipline, taking difficult decisions, are issues civilians should have been worried about. He just reminded them about their job. It was an indictment of sorts of the Ishaq Dar led economic regime, and the chief was virtually asking for Mr Dar’s resignation, if not in so many words. But his indictment did not exclude others. When he said Balochistan, interior Sindh, Fata, southern Punjab and GB should also be included in the growth trajectory, it was clear what he was saying. He was condemning the Sindh and Punjab governments in particular and others in general for failing to look after what he was trying to describe as the children of a lesser God. While the chief was speaking, media was reporting that Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities had swelled to an alarming level of Rs 25.1 trillion by June this year — with a net increase of Rs 2.5 trillion in a year, exposing the country to many risks attached with repayment of mounting obligations. Country’s total external debt and liabilities increased to roughly $83 billion by the end of the fiscal year 2016-17 — 78.7 percent of the GDP — which is way above the safe level for a developing country like Pakistan, according to the data released by the State Bank of Pakistan. Whether the civilians get a shock treatment after this seminar is yet to be seen but the priorities of the politicians under threat do not appear to include the points raised. They are interested in raising frivolous issues: ‘mujhe kyun nikala’ ; whether Ahmadis should be in the Army; how Imran Khan will govern if he became the PM; what went on between Mr and Mrs Imran Khan decades ago; and so on and so forth. Are not the civilians their own worst enemies? The writer is a senior journalist. Twitter: @Ssehbai1 Published in Daily Times, October 13th 2017.