May '06: Exit strategy
Individualland spotlight is a monthly monitor on
political affairs printed on the 17th of every month
by individualland.com. Individualland would welcome
reproduction & dissemination of the contents of this
report after proper acknowledgment.
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
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
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
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.