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May '06: Exit strategy

 

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Exit Strategy
(May 2006)
On May 14th 2006, the Charter of Democracy was signed between two major political parties of Pakistan. The Charter has a number of useful points but for this month's individu-spotlight, individual-land wanted to pick up the root of all evils: skewed civil military relations. The demand of Army go back is now an old one in Pakistan and has been rightly taken up in the Charter too. However, the question of how can the army be made to go back is one that needs to be examined from various perspectives. The May individu-spotlight attempts to examine it from one such perspective. Individual-land admits that the idea might seem to be half baked but that is why we will eagerly await your valuable views.

The movie, The General's Daughter, has an interesting solution for Pakistan's democracy. The army character in the movie says, "There are three ways of doing something: the right way, the wrong way and the army way." Perhaps, the third way, in the form of civil-military dialogue, needs to be explored in Pakistan.

The Army is a strong and a visible reality in Pakistan. It is believed to have a number of interests. Each army dictator in Pakistan claims that the army has the country's "national interest" in mind which compels it to step in when, in their opinion, the political leadership makes a mess. It also claims to look after Pakistan's "strategic interests" and that is how President Musharraf explains the 1999 Kargil misadventure with India and the pre-September 11 Afghan policy. The political leadership of the country accuses the army of having "political interests" and that is why intelligence agencies like the ISI have a political wing. Of course, some would argue that the political wing in the ISI was initiated by a civilian elected leader. But that is not the point. The point is that the sole purpose of this wing is to regularly keep track of skeletons in political leaders' closets to influence them later. The recently signed Charter of Democracy between former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif rightly calls for the dismantling of such wings.

A huge defence budget is also enjoyed and utilised by the services. The current year's military expenditure was budgeted at Rs 223 billion out of a total national budget of Rs 1,100 billion. In March there was a demand of a 25 percent increase in the defence budget. This 25 percent translates into an additional Rs 61 billion. This demand was accepted by Parliament. Critics pointed out that this additional budget was unjustified, particularly when we are told that we no longer have to be Indo-centric. Now that the so-called Indian threat is minimised, why should there be an increase in the defence budget?

According to newspaper reports, the Defence Ministry itself told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the army paid a commission to strike a Rs 65 million deal to buy 1,053 night vision devices, in clear violation of a policy decision taken by then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1994.

However, according to the Auditor General of Pakistan, commissions could not be paid from the taxpayers' money under the law. But in the case in question, the payment of commission was made formally as part of the contract, which was absolutely unprecedented. Benazir Bhutto banned all commission payments in defence deals after reports of massive commission payments that earned a bad name for the military. However, a commission was paid to an agent in the multi-million rupee deal in 1994.

The Auditor General of Pakistan has asked the Public Accounts Committee to order an investigation into the payment of commission in violation of the PM's directive, and pin responsibility on the military officers who struck the deal. None is holding their breath for the results of that investigation.

The Pakistan Army also has corporate interests. Today, the military is running a major real estate, industrial and agricultural operation in the country. It even runs its own dairy farms, not to mention grocery stores and bakeries as part of the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) which provides slightly subsidised products to army personnel. According to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a noted Pakistani military analyst, "The corporate interests of the military are leading to a situation that can be described as the colonisation of the civilian institutions by the military."

This colonisation essentially translates into jobs for the boys. Pakistan's military ruler of the eighties, General Ziaul Haq fixed a five percent quota in civilian services for retired army officers. This quota was on paper increased to 10 percent later, but some analysts have claimed that presently under General Musharraf there are more than 10 percent retired army personnel in the civilian services. Land allotments at throwaway prices are done, including the disputed allocation of 2,430 acres of prime Islamabad land for the construction of a new General Head Quarters, controversial development of a Defence Housing Authority in Islamabad in addition to regular allotment of residential, agricultural and commercial land to the army officers at subsidised rates all over the country.

The army is also involved in the economic arena through companies like the Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, etc, which are into construction, cement production, real estate and even breakfast cereals!

So well-entrenched are the army's commercial interests that Stephen Cohen, a well-known authority on Pakistan, in his recent book The Idea of Pakistan observes, "Given the omnipresence of the military, Pakistan will remain a national security state unable to change direction because of a lack of imagination and legitimacy."

Political leaders like former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both in exile, regularly come out with calls for the army to go back to the barracks. They have done so in the Democracy Charter too. Interestingly, they speak out against the army's political role and not its economic role. The army's economic role continues unchallenged during military and civilian tenures. In other words, it is the army's political role that severely pinches the political leadership. The army's economic role merely gives them heartburn. This is where Stephen Cohen's yearning for "imagination" comes in.

For 58 years, Pakistan has oscillated between uniformed leaders and political leaders with limited vision. When the applecart threatens to tumble over and affect the Army's economic interests, the army steps into the overt political arena.

Perhaps, the "third way" for Pakistan is to have political and army leaders explore a way to minimise the army political role while still keeping its precious economic role.

Individual-land believes that the army will not go back through calls of the political leaders. Right now, the army is in a position of power because the political leadership is too disorganised and divided to launch street-wide protests, forcing the army to go back. The 2007 elections are not likely to change much if they are conducted in the same environment as the 2002 general, or 2005 local elections. Army-backed political candidates would win given the unfortunately skewed civil military environment of the country. . In such a scenario, individual-land through this individu-spotlight would like to float the idea of discussing an exit strategy for the army from the public political arena.

Why would the army even consider opening of such discussions? Because history has shown that the Pakistan army likes to look after its economic interests from GHQ, and not from the Islamabad Presidency. Each successive army dictator has put together a political fig leaf for himself. It is only when the army perceives a threat to its "unity of command" or its "corporate interests" that it steps in. Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq and presently Musharraf are proofs of this.

Perhaps then the game plan would be firstly to open dialogue with the army. Secondly, conceding that the Pakistan Army has acquired a number of interests, particularly well-entrenched, profitable economic interests. We accept their economic role in return for them agreeing to stay out of the political arena. Food for thought or a juvenile suggestion? Feedback will be most welcome.
 

 

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