Thursday, May 31, 2007

Government bans launch of book on Pakistan military's business interests

Pakistani author defies govt with military book
(Reuters)- 31 May 2007

ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani analyst launched her book on the military’s penetration of the economy on Thursday after she and her publisher said they were forced to change the venue at the last minute due to government pressure.

The book by Ayesha Siddiqa, a political analyst and former director of research at the Pakistan navy, tackles the virtually taboo subject of the military’s huge business empire, which she estimates is worth $10 billion.

Siddiqa had to cancel the planned launch at the capital’s top private club, the Islamabad Club, and had to scramble to find an alternative venue.

She later said while writing the book, many of her friends had tried to warn her off the sensitive subject.

“What has happened to the launch today bears witness to the fact that my friends’ apprehensions were correct,” she told the launch, held in a crowded office of a non-governmental group.

“Not only was the Islamabad Club told to cancel the reservation but all hotels in Islamabad were yesterday told not to give their halls,” she said.

She said the instructions to venues not to host the launch had been issued by the Ministry of Interior. But Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said they were not aware of any ban.

The Pakistani military has ruled the country for more than half its history since it was carved out of British-ruled India as a home for Muslims in 1947.

The book’s publication comes at a sensitive time with a campaign for the restoration of full democracy gathering pace since President Pervez Musharraf, who is also army chief, tried to dismiss the country’s top judge in March.

Supporters of the suspended chief justice bitterly criticised the military at a televised lawyers’ seminar on the weekend and the government has filed a legal complaint in response.

Speaking before the launch, Siddiqa said the military owned hundreds of businesses across the country, many run by five big conglomerates, and it also owns 12 million acres (4.8 million hectares) of land.

“Not about criticising”

The business empire, much of which Siddiqa said was inefficient and run virtually without any transparency or accountability, underpinned the military’s political power, she said.

“Basically, it’s about penetrating society and its economy. The financial economy is essentially a part of political power,” she said.

But Siddiqa said her book was not intended as an attack on the military. “This is not about criticising the military, this is about bringing improvement to it,” she said.

Pakistan’s main military spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The state-run APP news agency put out a report on Wednesday citing unidentified analysts as saying the book was “a plethora of misleading and concocted stories” aimed at giving the military a bad name and creating a rift with the civil sector.

The agency appeared to question Siddiqa’s patriotism by saying she was a frequent visitor to arch rival India. It also said she had quoted wrong figures at least 250 times in the book.

Asked about the news agency report, Siddiqa said: “I think they haven’t even read the book.”

For a glimpse of Ayesha's work, click here

No comments: