Is Pakistan Army an Efficient Institution?

Military Inc. author feels safer in Karachi not Islamabad
By Urooj Zia: Daily Times, August 27, 2007

KARACHI: Karachi looks like a much safer city, observed best-selling military analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, whose new book ‘Military Inc. – Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’ sold 10,000 copies within its first month. “I think all cities of Pakistan where ‘people’ live, are much safer. I spent almost my entire life in Lahore and I felt much safer there than I do in Islamabad.”

The military analyst, who argues that it is high time the military was sent back to the barracks, talked about her book and answered questions on the military business at a discussion organised Saturday evening at The Second Floor.

‘Military Inc.’ was effectively ‘banned’ by the government even before it was released on May 31. Oxford University Press (OUP) director Amina Saiyid spoke about how difficult it had been to book any public place in Islamabad to host the launch. Siddiqa added how the book is being touted as part of a larger conspiracy to malign the armed forces and destroy the image of Pakistan. “Of course, my claim is that I intend to do none of this. You need a much stronger person for this – I can’t.”

What instead, the best-selling military analyst has tried to do, is understand the political structure of Pakistan, and understand why the military has always remained so powerful for 60 years. The book took her up to five years to write.

‘Military Inc.’ talks about the concept of military capital. As military capital has grown, so has the military’s need to stay in power, politically. The military engaged in economics because of its political power, and not vice versa. The reason why the military in Pakistan tries to maintain power, however, is rooted in political economy, and the fact that economic laws are made according to the preferences [and for the benefit of] the ruling elite.

One argument is that if Musharraf were not in power, who would be? The other options, people claim, are corrupt political leaders. “We have to see the opportunity cost of keeping the military in power – of subsidising its capital, mainly through taxpayers’ money,” Dr Siddiqa argued.

The defence budget is one minor portion of the entire military capital that has become extremely visible, especially in the past 15 to 20 years. Along with this has grown the corporate image of the military. This corporate image, Dr Siddiqa said, has a formal presence (in the form of the five welfare foundations), as well as an informal one, and then there are individual members at the third level, and this is where political power is “critical”.

“The last I heard, they’re even running a beauty parlour. I think they should start looking at marriage bureaus now – that should be a step too,” she quipped.

These interests are run by the ‘military fraternity’ of serving members, retired members, as well as members of civil society directly dependent on military businesses. “Military capital is part of a ‘kleptocratic’ distribution of resources – distribution among the military fraternity. And I would like to underscore that this includes significant members of civil society as well,” Dr Siddiqa said. The size of this capital is not determinable, however, because of limited transparency.

Among the biggest excuses used by the military is that this is done for welfare, the price all countries pay for defence. But what exactly should be the price paid, and secondly, who determines what is ‘enough’? “[’The military] is no longer a benign, subservient institution. It is a powerful institution which is demanding a pound of flesh – an equal share in policy-making and the State itself.”

In the book, Dr Siddiqa said, she has attempted to create a third category of “how militaries are”. “There exists literature about two kinds of militaries. I’ve come up with a third kind – to define the military in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia. This is what I call a ‘parent-guardian’ military. It calls up, creates and generates stories, not just in the economy but also in politics,” she said. It uses its partnership and creates constitutional and legal mannerisms to continue to remain in power. Examples include Article 58 – 2 (b), etc, which give it equal status with decision-making bodies. So there’s no concept of ‘returning to the barracks.’ When you ask it to return to the barracks, you have to be very specific.”

Her beef with them is over the argument that they are very efficient, they use what she calls the ‘national saviour paradigm’: Because the military is more efficient, it cares more about the sovereignty of the State, so it is a comparatively better organisation to be at the helm of affairs. The book shows, however, that the military is not as efficient as it claims to be. “A greater concern, however, is the opportunity cost of military economy. They give rise to ‘cronyism’ – because you have to reward your own kind, you allow other significant groups to reward themselves too; the cause and affect of ‘cronyism’,” Dr Siddiqa explained. “Is it a coincidence that every time the issue of real estate being awarded to generals is brought up, you immediately have a soft response, with housing schemes coming up for the judiciary, civil bureaucracy, the journalists, etc? Basically, it is like saying is that if I give you the same thing, you cannot point a finger at me… And this is happening in a country that has about 20 million landless peasants; a country [with] a shortage of four million houses. This is kleptocracy as its best.”

This also deepens the military’s political interest to remain in power. “I tell you, if the military is generous, it will at least admit that my book has at least brought them together,” Dr Siddiqa said. The reason for this sudden unity is to maintain the hegemony of the organisation – to allow it to remain at the helm of affairs; to allow it to dictate the distribution of resources. “Why then would this power be reduced? Why would they want to see that power brought down? And that is the more real opportunity cost.”

In order to bring this power down, Dr Siddiqa proposed two ‘conservative’ conclusions. “There has to be a mass movement, with the help from outside. The other hypothesis is that is it just a coincidence that in all three countries (Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia), an increase in military power has come side by side with an increase in religious conservatism?”

She hastened to add that she never claimed to have all the answers. The book is just a researcher’s effort and a work in progress. Over the next couple of years, Pakistan has to answer one question: how do we get them to go back to the barracks?

Siddiqa’s talk was followed by a discussion about whether milbus (military business) was “business as usual”. Political economist Dr Asad Sayeed and Engro Chemicals CEO Asad Umer presented their arguments about the book. Four important points were put up: whether milbus distracts the military from its main function, whether it creates an incentive for the military to remain in power, whether it creates an uneven playing field for competing business ventures, and whether milbus results in the non-transparent allocation of taxpayer resources.

During the Q&A session, Dr Siddiqa was repeatedly asked to clarify her notion of “mass movement”. One questioner asked whether the military could be made to let go of its capital ventures and sent back to the barracks under capitalism. However, for several reasons none of these and related questions could be answered fully.

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