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Pakistan army's commercial ventures slammed

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On April 12, 2004, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a leading politician of the Muslim League-N, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for inciting mutiny in the army, forgery, and defamation.

His crime: In October, 2003, he had read a letter that he received in mail, signed anonymously by some active military officers at Pakistan Army's Headquarter, known as The Generals Headquarter (GHQ), calling for an investigation into the corruption in the armed forces and criticizing the President and Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf.

On   August 3, 2007, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry granted him bail after serving approximately three and a half years in prison. Javed Hashmi was released next day from the Central Jail Kotlakhpat in Lahore.

This was the pre-May 2, 2011 era when hardly anybody, like Hashmi, dared direct or indirect criticism of the powerful army that is described by Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy as the largest political party. [P-68]

After the May 2 US operation in Abottabad, close to the capital Islamabad, the fortunes of the army have been changed. The US claims, without providing any proof, killing Osama bin Laden who was said to be hiding there for many years. Since then there has been open criticism of army in parliament as well as in press. Ansar Abbasi, commentator of The News, a leading Pakistani English daily asked:    Why should we raise and sustain the world's seventh largest Army, costing more than Rs 600 billion per year, if it could not or does not counter such a foreign invasion?

Members of Parliament, newspaper editorials and political talk shows are calling for an explanation and challenging the all powerful army and intelligence establishment which is also part of the army, the two institutions previously immune to public criticism.

On June 9, Pakistan Muslim League-N member, Khawaja Saad Rafiq, used what Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called "abusive language" against the army that was expunged from the National Assembly record of the proceedings.   Rafiq called the Army Major General led Sindh Rangers as "terrorists in uniform' for killing an unarmed youth in Karachi.

On June 13, Awami National Party (ANP), an important ruling coalition party went a step further when its Parliamentary Leader in Senate Haji Muhammad Adeel asked the finance minister not only to provide details of the defense budget, but also give details of income of the commercial institutions being run by armed forces. He told the house that today the armed forces were involved in construction of plazas, cement and pharmaceutical businesses and even running petrol pumps, CNG stations and marriage halls. He argued that following in the footsteps of the army, now police and other institutions had also started doing businesses.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa's book Military Inc -- Inside Pakistan's Military Economy provides an insight into the vast and expansive empire that the Pakistani Military has set up in Pakistan over the past six decades. Not surprisingly, the book, published in June 2007 is banned in Pakistan.

The book estimates the military's share of the economy at over 20 billion dollars, besides owning 11.58 million acres.

What has happened in Pakistan is that any sector which could be monopolized, has been attempted by the military. The military is entrenched in the corporate sector. The list of industries where military or ex-military were in charge included steel mills, sugar factories, cement factories, fertilizer factories, cereal factories, banks, logistics companies, construction companies, utilities, even universities and other higher education institutions.

Milbus or military business

Dr. Siddiqa uses the term Milbus or military business to describe the vast economic empire of the army. Milbus is found in other countries as well. However, Pakistan's Milbus signifies internal political and economic predation of the military, she says.

Today the Pakistan military's internal economy is extensive, and has turned the armed forces into one of the dominant economic players. The most noticeable and popular component of Milbus relates to the business ventures of the four welfare foundations: the Fauji Foundation (FF), Army Welfare Trust (AWT), Shaheen Foundation (SF) and Bahria Foundation (BF). These foundations are subsidiaries of the defense establishment. [P-18] 

Retired and serving officers run secretive industrial conglomerates, manufacture everything from cement to cornflakes, and own 12m acres [4.8m hectares] of public land, says Dr Ayesha Siddiqa. Of the 96 businesses run by the four largest foundations, only nine file public accounts. The generals spurn demands by parliament to account for public monies they spend.

Since the four foundations were established under the Charitable Endowment Act 1890 or the Societies Registration Act 1860 as private entities, the accounts of these foundations are not audited by the government's prime accounting agency the Auditor- General of Pakistan. [P-219-220]

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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