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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The Milbus (Military-Business) combine has become the enemy of democratisation and modernisation, with Punjab's military dominance fuelling deep regional tensions

Pakistan’s Enemy Within / Army & Business

Pakistan's military-business combine poses the biggest threat to democracy, stability and genuine economic progress.

By B G Verghese

The Tribune, July 2007

The Pakistan Supreme Court has rebuffed General Musharraf’s ploy further to bend the constitution to his own purposes. He had no option but to accept the verdict with “grace and dignity”, especially with the Lal Masjid declaring jihad against the State, though one Maulana tried sneaking away in a burqa and high heels, a “uniform” that says something about the hypocrisy of his ilk.

The Court ruling was greeted with cries of “Musharraf must go”, which some would interpret as signalling the Army to return to barracks. Others, like the US, fear a nuclearised mullah alternative. Yet the Americans are more than convinced that Osama bin Laden continues to shelter in Pakistan’s tribal territory and have hinted at taking him out if the evidence hardens, notwithstanding Islamabad’s angry protestations.

The Courts and lawyers have done well. But whatever happened to academia, the trade unions, NGOs, civil society and even the political parties? Most spoke sotto voce, if at all, barring the PPP to some extent, except that Benazir seeks a self-serving deal with the General. Sections of the media did not buckle under threats. Bravo!

Will the Army make way for a genuine democratic restoration? There is a deep yearning for democracy among growing sections in Pakistan who 60 years after independence worry about constitutional fragility, lack of federalism, controlled freedoms, circumscribed minority and gender rights, rampant feudalism and inequality, regional imbalances, ungovernable tribal tracts – and no restorative mechanism barring a military that is not necessarily socio-economically modernising but compromised and bent on perpetuating its power, much of it hidden.

Apart from the military’s nexus with the Taliban and religious right at various times, the dimensions and menace of this hidden power is revealed in Ayesha Siddiqa’s just published “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy” (Oxford, Karachi. 2007). It is an astonishing story about the licensed loot of a nation by a military-bureaucratic-industrial-landed-feudal complex held together by the power of the gun and sustained by an ideology that needs an external enemy and a “cause” that bolsters the Army and would be seriously inconvenienced by democracy.

A military-industrial complex, or Milbus, is not unknown to democracies but has flowered in military-backed regimes as in Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand and Pakistan some of who have incorporated institutional control over state power through national security councils. Milbus is intended to underpin the lifetime welfare of military personnel for services rendered on an ascending scale of gratification according to rank in terms of jobs, civil appointments, land, housing, shareholdings, privileged access to contracts, subsidies, loans and so forth. It constitutes the internal economy of a corporatised Pakistan military operating without any accountability through an involuntary system of civil-military collusion in which the military calls the shots in an environment where the Defence Budget is beyond any parliamentary scrutiny or questioning. This hidden economy is reportedly among the sources of funding off-budget defence requirements.

The octopus-like Milbus in Pakistan, operating under myriad names, has a mailed fist in every pie. The military owns 10 per cent of all state lands from which land grants (mostly irrigated) range from 32 acres per NCO to 240 acres for Maj-Generals and above. Over 2.3 m acres were so distributed between 1965 and 2003 at enormous profit for the individuals Serving jawans guard and work these “military farms” such as Gen Musharraf’s in Bahawalpur. The top brass get access roads and water and are designated “numberdars” with revenue powers.

The armed forces today control the largest chunk of urban land in Pakistan with plot sizes varying from 496sq yd for captains to 800sq yd for generals. Cantonment lands have been commercialised and privatised for malls and industries – and more can be acquired for “public purposes”. Ayesha Siddiqa estimates the value of such privatised military properties in the Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta cantonments as worth US$8,620 million, the “net worth” of an average general/admiral/air marshal being $172,000 to $860,000 or considerably more at current market prices. Gen Musharraf’s “disclosed landed assets” are reported worth $10.34 million.

Milbus is into a range of industries, mining, oil and gas, electricity, transportation, construction, infrastructure, banking and insurance, travel, the IT sector, real estate development, education, broadcasting, shipping, ship breaking, dredging, aviation, leasing, retail business etc. Banking facilitates money laundering and Milbus, managed through a number of foundations and “welfare” institutions run the three Services, is outside the purview of the National Accountability Bureau. Interlocking interests and favoured contracting has created a tight network of military-led economic cartels serving the elites. Economic efficiencies are low with losses involuntarily underwritten by the State.

Milbus has created a predatory economy based on the “Indian threat” and a related national security dogma. The external threat, reinforced by the Talibanisation of society, is used to justify the economic and ideological militarisation of the State and has become the enemy of democratisation and modernisation, with Punjab’s military dominance fuelling deep regional tensions. Pakistan’s real enemy is within – a rampant military, religious extremism and a corrupt feudal order. This evil partnership must be relentlessly exposed and ended and dictatorship denied external props if democracy is to be secured.

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