The Pakistan State, carved out of the erstwhile British Indian empire on 14th August 1947 has, for over thirty of the seventy four years been under the direct rule of its Army (over three extended periods: 1958-71, 1977-88 and 1999 until 2008). In the years it has not directly ruled, the military has dominated governance and strategic decision making. The question to ask and seek reply to, is whether a ‘fighting force’ that has shown such propensity is a ‘professional’ Army? Are they driven by the sacred motive to defend the nation or by other factors that afford them luxury and a special status in society? Samuel Huntington has outlined an interesting theory regarding the conduct of militaries. In his view, nations where there is anti-military ideology and low military political power the prospects of military intervention are not there, and in those where a pro-military ideology, high military political power exists, the prospects of military intervention are high. No better example that the Pakistani polity as becomes clear from a quick run down through developments in Pakistan’s post-Independence history.
In 1947 the Pakistan Army was asked to establish the Civil Secretariat in Karachi, the first capital of the new-born nation. The Army vacated their barracks and renovated them to house the Secretariat and the staff coming from Delhi, an act of ‘kindness’ the Pakistan State has not yet redeemed. The military’s initial frustration with the way the civilian government was handling matters of the state first emerged in the Rawalpindi conspiracy case of 1951 in which over 50 officers and a few civilians with leftist leanings were found guilty of attempting to stage a coup.
Not much later, in 1953 there were two major developments. First, a clash between the central and provincial leadership in Punjab resulted in imposition of Martial Law in Lahore. The second, induction of the then Army Chief, Gen Ayub Khan into the Federal Cabinet. Though Gen Ayub Khan voluntarily relinquished his position in the Federal Cabinet in 1955, he remained powerful and having tasted power, took over as the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), in the first of the three military coups in 1958.
Field Marshal Ayub himself was succeeded by Gen Yahya Khan whose disastrous tenure saw the humiliation of Pakistan Army in the Indo-Pak war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh. The Pakistan Army was briefly compelled to ‘step aside’ and allow the formation of an ‘elected’ civilian government headed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The military, who found Bhutto’s style brusque and overbearing, waited in patience for an opportunity to return to power which happened when Gen Zia ul Haque, appointed by Bhutto himself as Army Chief treacherously not only ousted Bhutto but had Bhutto hanged to death for his alleged ‘crimes against the state. Zia had the 1973 Constitution suspended and introduced the 8th amendment. On the face of it, this amendment was aimed at bringing about a ‘balance of power’ by empowering the President to dissolve the National Assembly, dismiss the Prime Minister and provincial governments, and order them to seek a fresh mandate but it altered the very system of governance from Parliamentary democracy to Presidential and made the Prime Minister subservient to the President.
With Gen Zia’s mysterious death in a plane crash in 1988, power did return to elected civilians but ‘back room’ political interference by the military continued. The infamous case of the then Army Chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, having showered money borrowed from Mehran Bank upon several politicians to help defeat the Pakistan People’s Party from returning to power points to such intervention. Civilian rule that followed saw the elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif being overthrown and replaced. Interestingly both bureaucrats and known ‘agents’ of the military — Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghar were Pak Army stooges another malaise of the Pakistani polity — the silent ‘league’ of the bureaucrats with the Pakistan Army. Military resumed power with a stunning vengeance when Gen Pervez Musharraf took over as Chief Martial Law Administrator in 1999 and anointed himself President in 2001.
A semblance of civilian rule returned in 2008 and with Gen Musharraf being made to undergo a trial it appeared on the surface that it had finally come to stay. The military bounced back to ensure that Musharraf is not convicted — to preclude a dangerous precedent being set. Post-Musharraf rule, the Pakistani military changed tactics and chose to adopt a silent but commercially much more lucrative role. It continues to enjoy ‘shared decision-making’ with the elected civilian government but now controls a vast corporate empire that has interests in virtually every major sector of Pakistan’s economy.
Foremost to mention here is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), touted as a ‘game changer’ with several promises and spin-offs. However, as several Pakistani economists have repeatedly emphasised, it is riddled with terms and conditions that place the Pakistan nation in a state of such heavy debt to China that in effect the CPEC makes it the latter’s ‘vassal state’ that pays the price for usurious interest rates for loans granted by China, induction of old technology, environmentally destructive technologies for power generation, the high unit costs for that power.
Also, the Chinese companies bring their own manpower resulting in no employment generation for local youth as had been touted as a major benefit. The Diamer Basha Dam, estimated at $15 billion, is the latest edition to this list of such mega projects. And who ensures Government approval of these projects and that the security of these projects is assured? – the Pak Army, who are the sole direct ‘gainers’ from the CPEC.
Famously known as the Pakistani MilBus, there are over 100 independent businesses operated by subsidiaries of five Foundations of the military, viz. Fauji Foundation (run by the Ministry of Defence), Army Welfare Trust (run by Pakistan Army), Shaheen Foundation (run by Pakistan Air Force), Bahria Foundation (run by Pakistan Navy), and Pakistan Ordnance Factory Board Foundation (run under the Ministry of Defence). These had been set up with the noble intention to support the families of poor soldiers and particularly the ‘Shaheed’ (martyr) families but have become large corporate conglomerates earning rich dividends. Taken together, the Foundations constitute Pakistan’s largest industrial and trading complex and the range of these business empire is from cement to cereals, general insurance to gas, fertilizers to fish farms, seeds to stud farms, apparel to aviation, meat to medical equipment.
Noteworthy is that these Organisations are registered under the Charitable Endowment Act of 1890 as charities or societies, and not as companies, though they operate as commercial enterprises. Each Foundation is administered by a Committee of Administration chaired by one of the Armed Forces Chiefs.
It is an open secret that profits from these enterprises go towards sustaining high perks as also lining the pockets of the top brass. There is a huge network of ‘Consultants’ from amongst ex-service officers who are side beneficiaries to their bosses. Instances of direct involvement of senior military Pak leadership in various commercial deals are abundant. Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak (Retd.) allegedly having received kickbacks in the purchase of 40 old Mirage fighter jets is well known as is General Jahangir Karamat (Retd.) having pocketed kickbacks of more than US $20 million from a Ukrainian tank company.
More recent are the cases of General Pervez Musharraf acquiring a commercial plot worth PKR (Pakistani Rupee) 20 million at Defence Housing Authority in Lahore, as in 2016, of former Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani being accused for being involved in a major land scam in a defence housing scheme to benefit a real estate company linked to his businessmen brothers. Also well-known is the fact that Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the former ISI Chief owning several commercial plazas in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), is referred as “Bajwa Airlines” as it is run by the family members of the present Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Its President and CEO, Former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Arshad Malik being a brother of the brother-in-law of Gen Bajwa.
Some actions of the Pakistani MilBus have led to problems, as in October 2019 when Askari Bank Limited, part of the MilBus, was penalised by the State Bank of Pakistan for non-compliance of regulatory requirement at a time when the country’s anti-money laundering and counter terror-financing laws were under review for compliance by the Financial Action Task Force.
The Pakistani Military’s ‘welfare’ entrepreneurship is actually a self-serving racket, whose costs is borne by the common man in Pakistan.
So much for a ‘professional’ Army – not of fighters for the nation, but of polished and sophisticated businessmen.
The large number of contracts for exploration, mining, infra and power projects being awarded to Chinese companies with the tacit support of the Pakistan Army is well known. Is this the ‘Force’ that people of Gilgit-Baltistan should lookup to as their defenders? Or as their potential ‘exploiters’? The people of Pakistan must decide.