Alarmed by the failing image of the army among the masses, Ex-Servicemen’s Society which include generals, air marshals and admirals, is trying to distance the army establishment from the unpopular regime of their retired colleague, President (Retired General) Parvez Musharraf.
On January 23, the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society issued a statement blaming President Pervez Musharraf for the current crisis in the country and said the former army commander no longer represents the unity and the symbol of the federation as president.
"This is in the supreme national interest and it makes it incumbent on him to step down," said the statement signed by more than 100 former generals, admirals, air marshals and other retired officers and enlisted men. The statement was issued after a meeting of the Society.
A week later, the statement was followed by another meeting of the Ex-Servicemen's Society which urged President Pervez Musharraf to step down immediately and hand over power to the deposed and imprisoned Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Reading out the resolutions unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Ex-Servicemen’s Society, Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan said Justice Iftikhar was still the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
The Ex-Servicemen's society normally limits itself to dealing with pensions and other issues relating to retired military personnel and does not speak for serving officers. Its tough stance is not only an embarrassment to Musharraf but it shows army’s growing concern over its fading image because of government’s unpopular policies and army’s current botched operations in FATA and Swat, last July’s Lal Mosque operation and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Contrary to the government claim about her assassination, nearly half of Pakistanis surveyed recently suspect that government agencies or government-linked politicians killed her.
Retired General Mirza Aslam Beg was blunt in admitting this concern when he said “the army’s image as an institution had to be improved and the president’s ouster from power was essential for it.” Why the retired generals are so impatient? Not surprisingly, they are concerned about losing army’s grip over power and accruing huge economic benefits.
The Army has built up a far-flung empire of economic enterprises in all parts of Pakistan with assets in billions. The Pakistani military's private business empire could be worth as much as 20 billion dollars, according to a study, Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy. Retired and serving officers run secretive industrial conglomerates, manufacture everything from cement to cornflakes and own 12 million acres of public land, says Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the study. The Pakistan military, as a single group, owns more land than any other institution or group, amounting to about 12 per cent of total state land.
Dr. Siddiqa estimates that the military controls one-third of all heavy manufacturing and up to 7% of private assets. The military businesses thrive, thanks to invisible state subsidies in the form of free land, the use of military assets, and loans to bail them out when they run into trouble.
In a 2004 speech to open a new industry owned by the Fauji ("Soldier") Foundation, President Musharraf boasted of "exceptional" military-owned banks, cement and fertilizer plants. "Why is anyone jealous if the retired military officers or the civilians with them are doing a good job contributing to the economy?" he said.
The Fauji Foundation, with its 25 projects, has declared assets of $169 million. It employs 6,000-7,000 retired military personnel and is run by a governing board dominated by the army. The Army Welfare Trust began in 1971 with slightly over $12,000. Its specific purpose was to generate jobs for disabled soldiers, army widows, orphans. Today the Trust boasts of five financial sector companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange, out of a total of 41 projects. It has assets worth $62.1 million.
The military runs National Logistic Cell, the biggest freight transportation company in Pakistan. Its fleet of 1,689 vehicles is one of the largest in public sector transportation in Asia. The company is also engaged in construction of roads, bridges, and wheat storage facilities. The NLC is technically a department of the Ministry of Planning and Development but its ground operations are run by the army, and it is staffed by serving army officials.
Then there is the Frontier Works Organization, established in 1966 to construct the 805 km Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan with China. It is now the biggest contractor in the country for constructing roads and collecting tolls. Staffed by army engineers, it comes under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defense. There are also cooperatives that carry out small- and medium-sized profit making activities and are handled at the level of the military commands. The businesses range from bakeries to poultry farms and markets, commercial plazas and gas stations.
The 619,000-strong Pakistan military (Wikipedia), seventh largest in the world, has been at the heart of power since its independence in 1947.Generals seized power in 1958 and have ruled intermittently since. Field Marshal Ayub Khan struck in October 1958 to pre-empt scheduled elections next year, while General Yahya Khan snatched power from him in 1969 at ‘virtual gunpoint’ to prevent a handover to a National Assembly Speaker from then East Pakistan in the midst of a national democratic movement. General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq seized power on June 5, 1977 a day after the then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the opposition Pakistan National Alliance had agreed to hold fresh elections. General Musharraf, after being sacked, toppled the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999.
Tellingly, the retired generals, who strongly urged Musharraf to quit, refused to apologize for their past roles against democracy. Air Marshal Asghar Khan, who presided over the ex-servicemen’s meeting was annoyed when he was asked about his past role and whether he was ready to apologize. “These were individual acts of different individuals,” he said. He did not respond when a journalist questioned their moral authority to preach others when they did not feel embarrassed on the wrongdoings of their past.