The preponderant role of the military in Pakistan is a cause of concern in all quarters of politics. The military institution has evolved from a policy instrument to an autonomous institution, exerting its influence in the ambit of other institutions. Notwithstanding Pakistan being a democratic state, civil-military asymmetry has marked its chequered political history.
Ayesha Siddiqa, in her style, demystifies the burgeoning economic empire of the military. A new word is introduced to the lexicon of economy, “MILBUS.” Milbus is the economic perks and privileges which are reaped by upper echelons of the military and the economic transactions in this remain undocumented and unregulated. Officer cadre of the military -under the camouflage of welfare to the lower rank officers- participate in the economic activities and use institutional influence for favors.
Ayesha Siddiqa elaborates Milbus as,
“Operations involving all kinds of levels of the armed forces. These range from a corporation owned by the military as an institution, to welfare foundations belonging to different services, to enterprises run at the unit level and individual soldiers who use their position for private gains”.
Broadening the prism of analysis, it is not a problem when the military engages in economic affairs. This has happened and continues in many countries: Turkey, Indonesia, China, USA. The hawks in the White House advocate for overseas military adventures which would open a window of opportunity for recruitment of the military retirees and for serving parochial economic interests of few industries which predate on conflicts. The same happens in China and Turkey. In Pakistan, the evolution of the military from an instrument of policy, an equal stakeholder in the decision-making process to an autonomous institution comes at the cost of the erosion of civilian supremacy, which automatically implies to “State within a state.”
The book is categorized into five chapters. Each chapter is connected with the previous one and opens a new horizon of Milbus. The first chapter elucidates the enigmatic term, Milbus, and murky parameters of military welfare. Comparatively, the role of the military in every third world country is the same, however, in Pakistan, it comes at the expense of crumbling of the civilian role. The second chapter sheds light on the evolution of military as an institution in Pakistan and addresses What legacy it inherited from its colonial past? The ineptitude of Muslim League leaders, the early demise of visionary leaders of the nascent state, power tug of war provided leeway to the military to insert its influence and secure place in the political arena. On the other hand, the geopolitical struggle of two ideological-cum-economic giants poured billions of dollars in the begging bowl of Pakistan which directly invested in fortification of the military.
Unfortunately, Pakistan followed a traditional national security paradigm- India as its sworn enemy- which brought military at the driving seats of domestic and foreign policy decisions. Cutting the long story short, populist leaders of Pakistan- Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto- and the debacle of Dhaka successfully pushed military back to the barracks. However, the Bonaparte predilection and personalization of power by Bhutto brought the military back to the mainstream. In less than a decade Military overthrew a civilian leader and executed him on frivolous charges. During the Zia era and the musical chair between prime ministers in the 1990s and in the 2000s, the economic empire grew manifold. The third and fourth chapter describe the foundations of military organizations, i.e. Fauji Foundation, Bahria Housing Society, Army Public Schools, Shaheen Housing Society, Armed Force Welfare Funds, Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), National Logistics Cell (NLC). They also provide an insight into military’s stakes in many other business ventures. The remaining chapters are about the expansion of Milbus and the entrance of people of the military institution into the political fabric of Pakistan to safeguard the interests of the military institution.
The military remains a very attractive occupation because it provided the opportunity to change the social status of people of lower echelons of society. In the initial years of Pakistan, during the colonial rule, the military was an occupation of higher martial races and elites. Youngsters from the middle class entered into the institution in the search of elevation of their social status. Military as an institution owned its people. As Maj-General Agha Masood emphasized,
“Military Behaves like a social organization…it looks after its men.”
The soldiers of the middle class held politicians responsible for all economic deprivation and political chaos. So, the political elites were anathema to their institution and they backed the military involvement in the politics.
The economic ventures by the military inflicted heavy cost to the exchequer. The profits of Fauji Foundation declined on many occasions but the financial transactions were done confidentially and it was very difficult to ascertain the total amount of the loss. No audit was done of the financial transaction owing to the influential retired military officers. The sugar mills at Tando Mohammad Khan and Koshki were sold mysteriously. The special audit reports on the account of audit boards of Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala, and Sialkot pointed out the loss of US $17.3 million as a result of illegal conversion of residential plots for commercial use. In another report, there was a loss of US $2.24 million by the commercialization of land originally allocated for the military’s operations. These acts were unconstitutional and against the code of conduct.
Since 2007, the military has realized that their direct involvement in the politics accentuates the chasm in the society and aggravates the matter. As Musharraf left the country in the political chaos, Frakenisten Monster of religious parties, emaciated and destabilized FATA and Balochistan, as the institution decided to lead from the back. From a disciplined institution, they are constructing a hegemonic discourse of savior of the nation and repeat the one-page mantra. The DG ISPR keeps on a briefing about military issues and national issues of Pakistan.
Dexterously, the meeting of Army Chief with the business community and other civilian leaders is made a common thing which is an indicator of the army’s creeping in the political affairs of the country. The case of Judge Arshad Malik alleged that the military establishment coerced the judge to punish the recalcitrant PM Nawaz Sharif, However, the veracity of the accusation has to be ascertained. Senate Member, Hasil Bizenjo also alleged that floor crossing in the vote of no confidence against the chairman was done at the behest of DG. ISI, Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed. Finally, the egregious and brazen reaction of DG ISPR at the Musharaf’s case verdict signifies how the institution belittles other institutions of the country.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.