By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
Given the massive onslaught on the Pakistan Army by International media, specifically USA and India and parts of our national media as we saw recently in Hameed Haroon’s recent BBC Hard Talk interview, a historical gallop is essential.
Historically one thing is clear. Our military interventions have sorely impacted the evolution of our State into a genuine and strong democratic polity
Notwithstanding the fact that we had the strongest economic performances during the three military regimes of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf, they used the same category of carpetbagger politicians to further their individual rules. Each blundered us into conflicts which had major impact on our political evolution and development.
Take our five military adventures under our military rulers. 65 war under Ayub, 71 war under Yahya, the Afghan cauldron under Zia, and most recently Kargil and the war on terror under Musharraf.
All these Military interventions grossly weakened the State.
Internally their administrations nurtured and strengtened the political mafias represented by the likes of the Bhuttos, the Zardaris and the Sharifs and gave rise to this kleptocratic and plutocratic class of politicians.
Kleptocracy and Plutocracy means a governing order of the rich and the corrupt, ruling a country!
This evil order has deliberately weakened and destroyed our state institutions, so they could loot and plunder unchecked, leading to the near social and economic collapse we face today.
Thus the responsibility for our current state lies squarely on the shoulders of both our military rulers and our politicians.
So lets get this “but what about the Army….” out of the way!
But today’s Army and its military leadership is starkly different.
The rank and file have been bloodied in a 14 year long conflict, sadly and as a consequence of decisions by its own leaders in the past.
But It has sacrificed with blood, sweat and tears, as have our law enforcement institutions and tragically, as have we, the people of Pakistan.
It has been steeled and forged in battle. It has the highest officer to troops casualty ratio in the world.
This is an Army that has paid and is still paying for the sins of their forefathers and in the process have saved the country from near destruction and total anarchy.
It has withstood the onslaught that destroyed civilian institutions, partly because its leaders ruled for 33 years and partly because it defended its turf jealously even under civilian rule. And thank God for their institutional discipline, for God forbid, had it gone the way of our civilian institutions, I shudder to think of the consequences.
This is a different Army with a different leadership and mindset.
They have seen the follies of their own myopic decisions in 1979 and 2004, as the current Chief has publicly stated.
This is no longer an Army with a “security mindset”. It is now truly a national army, which has come of age.
There is absolute unainimity of views in the Army that Pakistan’s future lies not in any military intervention nor in any backdoor manipulation, but in deep systemic internal reform and long term peaceful relations with its neighbors, especially India and Afghanistan.
Apologies for this tangent.
But its important to share this insight of the so called military economic complex, especially for many civilians brought up on a brainwashed diet of the Army’s domination of the economic sector!
Today our Defence expenditure is 2.5% of GDP vs 5.8% in 1960 and 9% of total expenditure vs 28.3% in 1960.
The collective value of all military owned businsses is a mere 4% of total market capitalization on the stock exchange. A drop in the ocean.
Their main military conglomerate is Fauji Foundation running 18 enterprises.
Four are wholly owned. Fourteen are associated companies. Another nine are public unlisted companies.
The Foundation earned dividends of Rs.13 billion in 2016. Of this Rs.11 billion was spent on ex servicemen welfare. Rs. 1 billion on Corporate Social Responsibility welfare projects. Only Rs. 1 billion was retained as earnings and another Rs. 1 billion on administrative expenses. No money goes into making anybody rich.
The Defence Societies have overwhelmingly benefited the civilians in a housing starved society!
So why do they exist?
These military businesses exist because the State of Pakistan does not provide any post service support to ex service people, except pension.
There is no “Veterans Program” as exists in the USA and all other developed western democracies to cater to the needs of ex-servicemen!
Unlike the private sector and the civilian bureaucracy, where everyone retires at 60, the vast majority of armed forces officers retire at the prime of their life at age 45 and troops at age 37, with no means of income, other than a very small pension, usually a growing family, with children still in school or college or university.
The entire military economic complex caters to these people by providing jobs, health care, education, retraining and most importantly, financial and employment support to the families of shaheeds.
And all this because the State cannot.
The Foundation runs 11 hospitals, 103 medical centers, 104 schools, 2 colleges and 77 technical and vocational training insitutes.
All business enterprises are not money making exercises to fill the pockets of serving officers or troops. Nor is this an attempt to control our economic engine.
No business owned by any armed forces foundation is exempt from taxes, other than what is directly attributable to verifiable welfare spend. The same as for any civilian welfare project.
In 2016 Fauji paid Rs 17.8 billion in taxes. Employing tens of thousands of people. Both civilians and ex service. *Their welfare activities impact over 10 million people, directly and indirectly.*
Can you imagine the disaster if the Army had not catered to their ex employees?
While one can criticise Martial Laws and military interventions as I have done, the terrible propaganda unleashed against the institution is a very deliberate effort to divide the country, sow serious dissension and conduct highly inflammable politics, as Nawaz is doing.
So here we are in 2018, with Nawaz convicted and imprisoned!
Let’s understand one thing clearly.
Nawaz is no innocent lamb or brave gladiator, valiantly fighting the cause of democracy and civilian supremacy over the military.
He is desperately fighting not just to save and his daughter’s political future and his wealth, but to save the sordid and evil kleptocratic/plutocratic order that he, Benazir and Zardari, presided over in turns.
Over 14 articles have been written in the US press and 27 in the Indian press in recent weeks and countless in our national press, all criticising the Army for political interference in the electoral process.
But strangely not a word about the wholescale corruption, loot and plunder and destruction of State institutions by Nawaz Sharif or Zardari.
Not a word about questioning the snowflake defence offered by Nawaz in defence of his Avenfield properties.
Not a word about his and his brother’s misrule and misgovernance. Nor anything about foisting their children on the nation!
Hameed Haroon’s BBC Hard Talk interview was perhaps the lowest depths that the once mighty Dawn has fallen. A media house which was once the pride of our nation, where I also once worked. And sadly, from a person who I’ve known personally, worked under and respect deeply.
A strong Pakistan with strong leadership is not something the USA or India relishes, despite their hollow protestations.
The USA would much rather have a malleable person like Nawaz or Zardari, or even a military strongman, who are easy to manage. But not a strong democratic order!
Internally those whose political and economic stakes are wedded to this mafia, including those in the media, have also come out in their support, masking their financial interests with high sounding defence of democracy, protestations!
And then those tragic souls who are still fighting a Don Quixote “cold war” against militarism, which they commenced during Zia’s rule! A sad and misguided lot, living in cuckooland!
These are the gangs that Nawaz has rallied to his “cause”!
Let’s get real folks.
The kleptocratic /plutocratic mafia has a stranglehold on Pakistan’s body politic.
Nawaz sits on top of this mafia. Zardari a close second!
They will not go easily and certainly not willingly. They will fight till the end, even if it means creating dissension in the country. Even if it means throwing the country into unprcedented turmoil, even civil war.
They will use every ruse, every trick up their sleeve to turn this battle against an evil order into one against “democracy” and “civilian supremacy”.
They will attempt to turn the nation against the Army, using all resources and people in their fight for survival.
And while all this is happening, does anyone seriously expect the Army to sit demurely, hands folded, like a shy blushing bride, while Nawaz, his misguided supporters, and sections of the media and our society, misinformed and ill informed, go on the rampage, putting the State’s existence and future at stake?
Well. Apparently not! And let’s leave it here! This is not a picnic we are talking about. This is about our survival and our future!
Clearly a strong, democratic, well governed and corruption free Pakistan is a political death warrant for Nawaz and Zardari!
Hence the battle!
So where do we go from here?
Pakistan’s salvation lies not in individuals be they Imran, Saqib or Bajwa or any others etc.
Our salvation lies in building strong public institutions, rigorous regulatory regimes with strong accountability and parliamentary oversight.
Our salvation lies in empowered legislatures and local governments.
But most importantly our salvation lies in the alignment of our four key institutions. The Executive, the Judiciary, the Legislatures and like it or not, the Army.
All four standing shoulder to shoulder and fully aligned towards the clear goal of a better governed and corruption free Pakistan.
Yes the Army, has become the fourth pillar in our country with influence far beyond its mandate. Something not to relish and a sad reality!
And it is my considered view that when the three real pillars of the state become strong, the Army’s role as the fourth will automatically diminish and eventually finish and should and must finish.
It won’t happen overnight, but sooner than most expect.
And if Imran wins, this will be the first time in Pakistan’s civilian history that we will have this strategic alignment between these key State institutions which matter!
And herein lies our salvation and transformation from a kleptocracy /plutocracy to a democracy!
Salaams and Prayers