Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir has told the country's business community that Pakistan has avoided financial default and will soon witness an economic turnaround

On Tuesday night, the Army chief together with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar met 10 top Pakistani businessmen in Rawalpindi. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the economic situation in Pakistan and reassure the businessmen that the country's economy is not in a dire state.

During the meeting, General Asim Munir explained that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal and financial investments from friendly countries will help Pakistan tackle the economic crisis. It was reported that the chief also made a lot of references to Islamic history and verses from the Quran explaining that tough times have fallen on nations before, but they pass and things return to normal again.

Both Munir and Dar assured the businessmen that they will jointly steer the country out of trouble, as Pakistan has implemented all the measures for the revival of the loan program of the IMF, adding that the agreement would be signed soon.

They further said that friendly countries were willing to invest in information technology, agriculture, mining, and real estate. It was reported that the civil and military leadership worked together to secure these commitments.

Furthermore, the COAS asked the businessmen to remain determined and confident as Pakistan would manage to successfully pass through the trying times.

According to a report by a local TV channel, the business community made a request for a meeting with the Army chief, who invited the finance minister and a select group of businessmen to the meeting. The report further stated that the business community was quite satisfied after the meeting.

Light At End of Tunnel?

Earlier this week, the IMF hinted at approving the weeks-long and debated staff-level agreement between Pakistan and the global lender. The IMF expressed confidence over Pakistan’s attempts to meet the conditions imposed by the lender before releasing the $1.1 billion tranche of the $7 billion under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

Furthermore, the country’s forex reserves improved slightly after China rolled over a $1.3 billion loan to Pakistan, thus helping the country fulfill the last pre-agreement condition imposed by the IMF.

This development comes at a time when the country is reeling from record-high inflation, as millions of people struggle to make ends meet. Over 8,00,000 Pakistanis left the country in 2022 for employment purposes and a better quality of life. Most relocated to the Middle East, including countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.

Army's Interest In Economic Matters

According to renowned Pakistani journalist Kamran Khan, the business meeting lasted for over three hours and is perceived as a display of solidarity of the Army with Shehbaz Sharif's government, who is facing intense criticism for the deteriorating economy and declining foreign exchange reserves.

This is not the first time that Pakistan's Army has become engaged in political and economic matters in the country. Following the meeting, Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, led by former PM Imran Khan, expressed its dissatisfaction, calling the business community a “mafia” and adding them to the list of people whom they have accused of being involved in ousting the Khan-led government last year.

In a tweet on March 7, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry reacted to the meeting, saying, “We know these businessmen well who were involved in the regime change. They only meet to protect the mafia.”

But this stance against the businessmen provoked a reaction from those who attended the meeting. According to a report by Geo News, a few businessmen who spoke to the publication on the condition of anonymity expressed their unhappiness with Khan's negative reaction.

One businessman reportedly said, “What can I say over this weird utterance. The regime change allegation has been shifted to the business community from America.”

Another businessman said, “The Army chief’s interference in the economic matters and practice of business community meetings with him was started by Imran Khan himself. Imran Khan called us and assured improvement when the activities of NAB and the economic policies hit the business community. For a guarantee, he asked us to meet the army chief."

According to one businessmen, the practice of meeting with the Army chief started in 2018. Furthermore, in one case the ISI chief himself allegedly struck deals with power companies. “I am fully aware of them, as I myself own a power company,” the businessman said.

Hence, this is not the first time a COAS has held meetings with the country’s business leaders. In his six years as COAS, General Bajwa has held several such meetings, including with industry titans such as Mian Mansha, Hussain Dawood, Mohammad Ali Tabba, and many others.

Later Bajwa himself said in his retirement speech that the Pakistan Army had been involved in civilian matters and political decision-making for a while, until it made a decision in February 2022 to step away.

However, last week's meeting between Munir and business leaders did not go down well with everyone. Some critics and opposition leaders said the Army chief meeting with the business community shows that no one really trusts Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to do his job right.

Others said that COAS Munir's duty is national security and not interfering in civilian matters, especially as Pakistan faces serious terrorism threats.

Just a few days ago, a suicide bomber riding on a motorcycle rammed into a police truck on a bridge in the district of Sibi in Balochistan province. At least 10 policemen were killed and 12 officers were wounded in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

The officers who came under attack were deployed last week to Sibi, where an annual cultural festival was held amid tight security. Following the attack, an army helicopter was sent to transport the gravely wounded to a hospital in Quetta, where better health facilities are available.

"I think this will happen. India has already made suggestions to the UAE - with whom they trade billions of dollars every year, to switch to trading in Indian rupees and UAE dirhams. This will become more common between countries," Devonshire-Ellis added.

The pundit emphasized that it was not just about de-dollarization but about "a new working model of international finance".

"It's not de-dollarization. There are other issues such as the emergence of cryptocurrency transactions, and having digital financial assets backed by real assets such as gold. Russia is discussing such a system with Iran right now."

"New digital (crypto) currencies and a desire to depoliticize money is both a technical advance and a political advance," he noted.

According to him, the only real question is how fast these changes are going to occur.

He asserted that these shifts are at the very beginning of what will be a global transition to a new working model of international finance, one likely to prove more stable than the US dollar-based, debt-backed system reliant on one economy and its policies.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lekha Chakraborty, professor at the New Delhi-based National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, opined that the dollar would remain the significant global currency even if an alternative currency scenario emerged.

However, she acknowledged that the sanctions against Russia could "erode dollar dominance in the short term as the propensity of regional trade blocs using non-dollar currencies in world trade is on the rise".

"This Moscow-New Delhi economic diplomacy is an ad-hoc 'fuite en avant (escape forward)' given the geopolitical risks and macroeconomic uncertainties," she summed up.