Military and business: the case of Pakistan

Ridwanul Haque | Published: 00:00, Nov 24,2019

Ridwanul Haque, Military doing business: the case of Pakistan

Writer Ayesha Siddiqa coins the term ‘Milbus’ which grossly translates into business involvements of military. She argues from the professional standpoint, the armed forces’ exposure to money-making takes its toll on professionalism. By taking part in these expediencies, military personnel, both present and retired ones are strengthening their intimacy called military fraternity and concentrating so much power in their hands that it is widening the gap between military and civilian incessantly, writes Ridwanul Haque

MILITARY was an indirect ‘force majeur’ in establishing parliamentary democracy. Colonial powers had to deploy huge number of military soldiers in their colonies and used to pay them from the royal treasuries. As time went by and colonial empires expanded beyond the horizons opening up new opportunities for exploitation, increasing budget to sustain ever expanding military was also became an issue of contention for kings, queens and emperors. To pay out the emoluments of the soldiers and conduct colonial expeditions, royal treasuries were running out of money and other allocations. So kings, queens and emperors thought differently to channel resources for the sake of maintaining their colonial might.

The very first idea that came into their minds was to convince their people to consider why such militaries were necessary to maintain their stronghold beyond the borders and how the people were finding it useful for their businesses and other purposes. Levying taxes for all of these on each of them was the proposal that got mainstreams’ approval. But it was hard to go out and ask everyone what rate of tax should be levied and on the basis of what. So to take mass people’s consent, voting system was introduced, politics of representation received nod and these made way to election for representatives.

Now, representatives were elected but how to obtain their aggregate consent? Thereby an assembly or gathering was called upon for the representatives where they all had to come, discuss, debate and make decisions over tax related issues. These led the way to the formation of parliament. Both the ruler and the military were accountable to the parliament for their responsibilities. Thereby, the very unwanted ‘check and balance’ system got established which is now a modern day prerequisite for the ‘rule of law’.

What if, such a military forms and manages its own source of income avoiding mass people’s tax generated contributions or outside state allotted budgets? The epitome of that model of military operation is that of Pakistan’s where its military used to show thumbs to the governments; even to move the military chief’s vehicle early, the prime-minister’s vehicle is gestured to stop! Its military thinks and acts itself like it is a state. Since its independence in 1947, in total on different occasions, Pakistan was under military rule for nearly 35 years.

In many countries, military has closed the door to democracy and intentionally corroded practice of democratic values. Its role, in ruling or in doing business, or both, creates imbalance in socio-economic and political spheres; thus, it generates asymmetric power relation with the civilians and forms a class division between military and civilian which becomes visible through naked eyes.

Prominent Pakistani intellectual Ayesha Siddiqa unfolded the story of Pakistan military’s business ambition and its lust for state power for the appropriation of state resources in her famous book Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. She coined the term ‘Milbus’ by merging two words ‘military’ and ‘business’. She defined Milbus ‘…as military capital used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, which is not recorded as part of the defence budget or does not follow the normal accountability procedures of the state, making it an independent genre of capital. It is either controlled by the military or under its implicit or explicit patronage.’ That means any activity performed without accountability and channelling government and private properties and opportunities for personal use or for consumption of a military personnel or military group fall into the realm of Milbus.

Siddiqa pointed out the activities generally fall under the Milbus — the first, state land transferred to military personnel. The second, resources spent on providing perks and privileges for retired armed forces personnel, such as provision of support stuff membership of exclusive clubs, subsidies on utility bills and travel, and subsidised import of vehicles for personal use by senior officials. The third is diverting business opportunities to armed forces personnel or the military organisation by flouting the norms of the free market economy. The fourth, money lost on training personnel who seek early retirement in order to join the public sector.

Money and resource spent for these purposes or profits appropriated in these ways yet do not get included in defence budget. Developing countries are generally prone to such embezzlements. One of the very important properties of Milbus, according to Siddiqa, ‘Military engagement in non-traditional roles such as farming, or running business like hotels, airlines, banks or real estate agencies: all functions that are not related to security. This occurs mainly in developing countries.’

Pakistan has four military owned organisations — Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation, Bahria foundation and Army Welfare Trust. These control more than ninety companies which run manifold projects. In 1947, Ayub Khan sanctioned three hundred thousand acres of land in Sindh for the army officials. In 2001, numerous fishermen and landless people in the same land stood against the paramilitary force and many lost their lives. This evinces how vile is its military’s intention. They are always ready to declare war against the mass people in order to gain control of resources!

The formation of the state of Pakistan had to use the huge popularity and the might of its Panjab region. Therefore, three-fourth of the military officials was recruited from there, a ratio that is still unchanged. In Bangladesh, its history of struggle for freedom against the West Pakistan is often portrayed as a fight between freedom fighters and Panjabi military infiltrators.

The system under which it is operating is called ‘kleptocracy’; two types of robbers are operational in this system: ‘roving bandits’ and ‘stationary bandits’. Roving bandits do collective robbery and leave nothing behind for the survival of the victims and create negative externality. But stationary ones enter into a mutual agreement with the people by saying that if they are not allowed to build check posts or forts in the area, the roving bandits will come and rob collectively. So, to stay safe from the roving bandits, people go into mutual agreement with the stationary bandits that they will be paid a percentage of their income and that they will have to safeguard them.

In this regard, the Pakistani military portrays the image of India as the roving bandit and presents itself as the stationary one. It says that if Pakistani people do not meet its military’s budget requirement, it will not be able to match India’s ever increasing military power and India will come after them. From the budget allotted, it uses a significant portion for its own interest; it invests money and makes profits, shares profits with senior military officials and later it also shares profits with public and private groups.

Ayesha Siddiqa puts forward, ‘From the professional standpoint, the armed forces’ exposure to money-making takes its toll on professionalism… The protection given to business in the form of immunity from civilian monitoring and prosecution resulted in corruption.’ This is the way the Pandora’s Box is opened up.

Pakistan military is doing businesses countrywide such as dairy products, schools and colleges, universities, banking, transportations, hotels, constructions, real estate et cetera. By taking part in these expediencies, military personnel, both present and retired ones are strengthening their intimacy called military fraternity and concentrating so much power in their hands that it is widening the gap between military and civilian incessantly.

Every military is entrusted with some special power to protect countrymen in the time of crisis, but to abuse this power for their own group interest is neither moral nor legitimate. When these happen, military’s love for the land and professionalism both will come into question.   

Ridwanul Haque is interested in political economy and cultural anthropology

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