Awakened to the power of the military economy
I am one of those people who had never really thought about the economic involvement or economic might of the military in Pakistan until yesterday. I was awoken from my ignorance at an event sponsored by Oxford University Press at The Second Floor yesterday evening.
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc. – Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, was the chief guest. She was there to talk about her book – the background, the research, the possible solutions to the problems she had highlighted in Military Inc., and the reaction from various quarters. As expected, the event was packed to capacity – and included people like Wajid Jawwad (former Chairman of EPB), Asad Umar (head of Engro), Tammy Ayesha Haq (of Business Plus), loads of media people – prominent among them Ardeshir Cowasjee, Ghazi Salahuddin and Asif Noorani and the Dawn News team. The surprise visitor in my view was Zafar Khan, the new Chairman of PIA. Apparently he is also a key member of the Pakistan Fellowship Foundation that sponsored Ayesha Siddiqa’s visit to the United States to carry out research on the subject. Also present were young media practitioners, teachers, researchers, writers, doctors and other people from civil society. Very good turnout.
Military Inc. digs into the vast and expansive empire that the Pakistani Military has set up in Pakistan over the past 6 decades.
The central argument of the book is that `Milbus’ (combining the words military and business) perpetuates the military’s political predatory style, resulting in the military’s influence in all aspects of Pakistani society. Profit, says Dr. Siddiqa, is directly proportionate to power and that this is both a cause and effect of a non-democratic political system.
`Milbus’ is defined by Ayesha Siddiqa as military capital used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity and their cronies. It refers to all activities that transfer resources from the state to an individual, a group or a company within the military or set up by the military. She says that these activities do not figure in the defence budget nor are they subject to the normal accountability procedures of the state. They are either directly controlled by the military or enjoy its patronage.
Although the beneficiaries are primarily senior military officers, both serving and retired, Ayesha Siddiqa says that the `Milbus’ benefits a wider circle of civilian businessmen and politicians who have supported it for their own personal gain.
She says that industries run by military or ex-military officials include steel mills, sugar factories, cement factories, gas stations, boot manufacturing companies, fertilizer factories, cereal factories, banks, logistics companies, construction companies and utility companies.
Some of those present at the event shared stories about how military enterprises had impacted adversely on different types of businesses. There were questions on possible ways to send the military back to the barracks and to expunge them from the economy of the country so as to reduce the excessive influence that they exert on all aspects of Pakistani society.
Most people at the event were not anti-army. However, they were all in agreement that the army should focus on what they were set up to do rather than involve themselves in other activities of the state. According to the author/researcher, politicians, businessmen and civil society needed to take responsibility for the state of affairs that existed and needed to start a movement that would change the status quo if Pakistan is to take the first steps towards becoming a democratic state.
For me the evening was educational as well as scary. I guess there are many like me who are a-political and subconsciously close their eyes to the realities that exist around them. Maybe we should be more involved if we would like to see things change.
Kudos to the courage of the author Ayesha Siddiqa for taking on this task, to the Pakistan Fellowship Foundation for supporting it, to OUP for publishing the book against all odds and to The Second Floor for organizing yesterday’s event (and providing free food and drink – the lemon tarts were superb). Apparently, when the author and OUP tried to launch the book in Islamabad, there were all sorts of hurdles that kept her from doing so. The Islamabad Club cancelled their booking and hotels were advised not to provide space for the event.
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