PFS 10: The Pakistani Army: Power and Glory in the Family

Chapter 10


The word Army for the Pakistan army is a pitifully inadequate description for an organization that does vastly more, and has diversified into more ventures than most armies in the world could dream of doing. Calling the Pakistan army by that name is akin to describing a 30-course meal as a light snack. There is almost no activity in Pakistan that the army is not involved in doing, and there is no group in Pakistan or among Pakistan’s neighbors that the Pakistani army has not fought, antagonized or disagreed with. But yet, the Pakistani army leads a charmed existence, being admired by most of Pakistan, although that has begun to change recently.

Time and time again, and from many sources, one can find people who have made the quote: Pakistan is not a nation with an army; it is an army with a nation

Of course, the Pakistani army started off as a regular army, with soldiers, guns, generals, tanks and valor. But its tentacles have spread into politics, power, industry, business, religion, terrorism, fighting by proxy, crime, greed, deception, lucre and self preservation. How the Pakistani army changed from a regular army into this Hydra-headed monster has an interesting history.

It has been noted in an earlier chapter (Chapter 5) that due to historic reasons dating from the 1857 war of Indian independence, the British increasingly recruited people from the Northwest of undivided India, which included a large number of Punjabi Muslims from the area that was to later become Pakistan. Because of their loyalty and docility under British leadership, these troops began to be known as hailing from a martial race (57). Thus the Pakistani army was dominated by Punjabis, who began to see themselves as being of a superior martial race.

Apart from the predominance of Muslim Punjabis in the Pakistani army, several other unique observations can be made about the Pakistani province of Punjab (West Punjab) at the time of independence and partition (80).

  • Punjab was the most populous province of Pakistan.

  • Pakistani Punjab was militarized because of the large number of Punjabis in the military,

  • As part of the settlement of retired army personnel, vast tracts of land in West Punjab had been awarded to them.

  • 70% of the voters in Pakistani Punjab had some connection with the military

  • Punjab itself was partitioned so a lot of army personnel had relatives or friends in Punjab who were affected by the events of partition.

  • Pakistani army units from Punjab were tasked with the protection of civilians in the post-partition violence, so the personnel in these army units served both as protectors of the civilians as well as sufferers as their villages or families were affected during partition.

  • Punjabi units were also utilized in Pakistan’s unsuccessful attack to wrest Kashmir from India in 1947.

For these reasons, the military in Pakistan was not merely the military, but had political clout as well as political opinions, especially a deep hatred for India. The military also actually owned a lot of land because of the policy of settling retired soldiers by gifting land. The Punjabi dominated army also considered itself a martial race with superior fighting and leadership qualities compared to the East Bengalis (East Pakistanis) who were considered effeminate, and the Hindu Indians. The army, having been tasked to protect Pakistanis during partition began to consider itself as the protector and savior of Islam. All these tendencies were present or had set in shortly after independence in 1947.

But there was an additional factor that led to the induction of the Pakistani army into the role of absolute rulers of Pakistan.

The areas that constituted West Pakistan were largely rural, and apart from the Punjabi dominated Army, there were not many educated local people to make up the bureaucrats, legal experts, engineers and technocrats that were required in the government of the new Pakistan. These posts were filled by the educated elite migrants from British India, largely mohajirs and Punjabis. These people suddenly had a nation to lead, a new nation, Pakistan - one of the biggest countries on earth. It was a victory for them, and for Islam. They were not about to fritter away that victory by allowing power to pass into the hands of the more numerous uneducated locals in democratic elections, in the same way as they would later refuse to hand over power, and the rule of Pakistan to a Bengali party from faraway East Pakistan. After all, the reason these migrants had left India was precisely because they feared democracy attenuating their privileges.

Democracy was inconvenient for the ruling elite of Pakistan. It was also inconvenient for the feudal lords in Pakistan, who stood to lose their lands and influence. And democracy also brought with it the danger that the more numerous Bengalis, considered an inferior race, might actually end up ruling all of Pakistan. Besides these facts, the migrant elite faced some resistance from the locals in West Pakistan, who had to give up space and resources to the migrants from India.

The ruling elite of Pakistan therefore had a deep vested interest in not handing power to the people of Pakistan. And what better way to do that than to declare a threat to Pakistan, and to Islam itself, from their huge neighbor India. Elections were constantly postponed and the civilian authority used the Army to stay in power until the first bloodless military coup of 1958. And although that was the first year that the Pakistani army officially came into power, the army nevertheless had shared power with the elite in Pakistan for nearly a decade before that.

A report from the International Crisis Group (53) has this to say:

In the first decade of Independence, Pakistan was nominally a parliamentary democracy but civil bureaucrats ruled the state with the military as junior partner. No elections were held ..the President had power to dismiss the Prime Minister and used it liberally. (Governor-General Iskander) Mirza...ruled in league with Army Chief, general Mohammad Ayub Khan. Dispensing even with the pretence of democracy, Ayub ousted Mirza and imposed martial law in October 1958

The military coup by Gen Ayub Khan was a watershed of sorts as it marked the first step by the Pakistani military to gain and retain control of Pakistan. In the period from 1958 to 1971 the Pakistan Army gradually consolidated its hold on power in Pakistan, and stopped being a junior partner to the civil bureaucracy in government. It seems virtually certain that no single individual in the Pakistani army could have been a strongman without the connivance and cooperation of the Punjabi and feudal lord dominated military brass of the Pakistani army. The Pakistani army is like a close-knit fraternity, a family or brotherhood, a biradari, that protects its own from harm and disrepute, while ensuring that its interests, be they power, finances or honour are not harmed. It is a cooperative system, rather than power handed down from a single supremo.

Pakistani security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha writes (90):

It is important to note that Pakistan’s armed forces especially the army operates like a fraternity. In this environment, severe punishments to individuals or extraordinary treatment of a similar nature are viewed as undermining the morale of the institution. Sidelining undesirable individuals or rewarding others discreetly is, thus, a preferred choice.

Ayub exercised total control of Pakistan before, during and after 1965 when he launched and lost a war with India. The Army replaced Ayub Khan when it was sensed that popular opposition to Ayub Khan would harm the Army’s interests, and General Yahya Khan, who oversaw the splitting away of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh after the worst defeat that the Pakistani armed forces have ever faced replaced him.

The International Crisis Group’s paper on democracy in Pakistan (53) refers to the Pakistani Army’s role in this period as follows:

Fearing that its defeat would translate into popular demands for accountability, the (army) high command transferred power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto..The military’s defeat in the 1971 war with India had, however, been limited to East Pakistan. Despite 93,000 prisoners of war in India, its infrastructure in the West was untouched. Military leaders quickly recouped losses and closed ranks against perceived civilian threats to their personal and institutional interests

It is clear that even as early as 1971 the Pakistan Army had enough of a vested interest in retaining power in Pakistan to pretend to hand over power to a civilian government in order to maintain the reputation and interests of the Pakistan army from public scrutiny and accountability. In fact a damning report on the actions and defeat of the Pakistani army in the 1971 war, the Hamoodur Rehman report was never made public until a copy was obtained and published by the Times of India.

All military governments in Pakistan, including the one currently headed by General Musharraf have grabbed power to save Pakistan and bring in a sound democratic system. But the Pakistani army has always grabbed power from elected governments or prevented democracy from actually being established, and have prevented all attempts to check the finances or power of the military in any way.

It is informative to look at the perquisites, businesses and non-military interests of the Pakistan army that are so keenly protected and preserved.

The army ensures that its officer class live in great style and luxury. A report in the Washington Post in 2002 (91) described army life in the following words:

The officer class in Pakistan has always had a strong sense of entitlement stemming from its dominant role in defending the country and in running it... One of the fanciest clubs in Karachi is the Defense Housing Authority County and Golf Club, a sparkling new facility with lush fairways, a two-story driving range and a gracious stone clubhouse overlooking an inlet of the Arabian Sea. Active-duty military personnel can join the club for an initiation fee of $16, compared with $9,166 for civilians, according to the club’s fee schedule

The same paper goes on to say:

the military also rewards its senior officers by allowing them to purchase agricultural and urban land from the army’s vast inventory of real estate at prices far below market value...One of Pakistan’s most coveted addresses, for example, is the blandly named Army Housing Scheme the upscale Karachi suburb of Clifton. A gated community protected by paramilitary troops, the development consists of spacious, Mediterranean-style villas grouped around a playground and an elaborately landscaped Japanese-style garden. Nearby are clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, restaurants and a yoga studio

Describing the decrepit and run-down state of most schools in Pakistan, the Washington Post goes on to compare that with a Pakistani army run school:

Geared toward preparation for the competitive O Level exams required by British universities, the handsome school is an educational showpiece whose computer, physics and biology labs would not seem out of place in an American suburb

There are an enormous number of news media reports of the money and businesses that the Pakistani army controls.

The Independent of London described the contrast between a Pakistani army establishment and the rest of Pakistan (92):

Outside in the street, Afghan refugees and Pakistan’s urban poor root through garbage tips and crowd on to soot-pumping buses to work in sweatshops and brick factories. Inside, behind the ancient, newly painted cannons and battalion flags, rose bushes surround welltended lawns and officers’ messes decorated with polished brass fittings. No rubbish litters this perfect world of discipline. Why should anyone living here want a return to corrupt democracy?

A report in the online edition of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn said (93):

The perks don’t end here: military personnel are entitled to a 50 per cent discount on air and rail fares as well as cinema tickets. Their children have a quota at most public universities, and serving and retired officers are routinely inducted into civilian jobs.

The Pakistan Weekly reported (94): relation to country’s per capita income Pakistani senior military officers are one of the best paid in the world. No other career, with equivalent academic qualifications and so little productivity produces comparable personal affluence as that of the officer cadre of the Pak military...

Where does the money for all this come from? A report in the Daily Times of Pakistan in August 2002 says:

All countries have armies, but in Pakistan the army has a country. Defense expenditures consume between one third and one-half of the national budget. In recent decades, senior military officers have been transformed into powerful landlords through grants of choice agricultural lands and real estate. Retired officers head many, if not most, public corporations. This garrison economy is increasingly unsustainable, as Pakistan’s poor multiply and the economy falters.

Part of the army’s wealth is from the extremely high defense budget that Pakistan has maintained for decades, at the expense of all other expenditure and all other groups in Pakistan. The excuse for the high defense expenditure has been the external threat from India, but the army ensures great personal wealth for its serving and retired personnel especially those of the higher ranks, and those seen as cooperative people who toe the line.

The News International, Pakistan reported on Sunday September 09, 2001:

As a % of GDP, from among the poorest of countries .. Pakistan, at 4.4% of GDP, spends the highest on defense.

Shaheen Sehbai wrote in the Weekly Independent in 2002 (95),

For decades almost 35 to 40 per cent of Pakistan’s revenues have been going into un-audited and no questions-asked defence budget.

For this report and other reports on the activities of the Pakistani army, Shaheen Sehbai, former editor of the English language daily the News was threatened by the army and forced to flee Pakistan and live in exile (96).

The high defence budget is not the only source of income for the luxury loving Pakistani army. It also controls a huge business empire. In her study of the Pakistan military’s economic activities, security analyst Dr. Ayesha-Siddiqa Agha describes why the businesses were started in the first place (90).

..the military’s business empire in Pakistan was created to guarantee welfare of retired and serving personnel. It was a pattern inherited from the pre-independence days.

The Pakistani army’s business enterprises were started for the welfare of retired personnel. Initially only the army had its businesses, with a small quota for the Air Force and Navy. Later these two branches started off their own businesses, and the vast enterprise has grown to gargantuan proportions. They are not necessarily profitable, but they survive on government subsidies and grants; competition is scared off by military threats, and the senior employees make fat salary packets, safe from accountability and questions.

The four key armed-forces run business organizations in Pakistan are The Fauji Foundation, the Army Welfare Trust, the Shaheen Foundation and the Bahria Foundation.

The Fauji Foundation’s businesses include sugar mills, cereal and corn, Natural gas, plastics, fertilizer, cement, power and education and healthcare. The Fauji foundation’s assets have grown from Pakistani Rs. 152 million in 1970, to 9,800 million according to Dr. Siddiqa-Agha, and employs 6 to 7 thousand military personnel, mostly in middle and upper management positions.

The Army Welfare Trust has 26 projects including farms, stud farms, fish farms, rice and sugar mills, cement factories, pharmaceuticals, shoes, wool, hosiery, travel agencies, aviation, commercial complexes, banking, insurance and security with many bearing the name Aksari. Aksari aviation was set up merely to accommodate retired army helicopter pilots who could not get a job in the private sector.

Not to be outdone, the Pakistan air force established the Shaheen foundation which is now involved in air transportation, cargo, airport services, pay TV, FM radio, insurance, knitwear and commercial complexes.

That left Pakistan’s smallest force, the navy, to start its own venture, the Bahria Foundation in 1981. The Bahria Foundation deals in commercial complexes, trading, construction, a travel agency, paints, deep sea fishing, dredging, ship breaking, salvage and even a university.

There is no nation in the world whose armed forces are involved in as many non-military business ventures as the Pakistan armed forces. Banking, insurance, commercial complexes and radio stations are ventures that do not obviously appear to be an essential part of the armed forces of any nation and would not be justifiable in any other nation on earth. But they are normal and routine for the Pakistani armed forces. Like a core business that has diversified, the Pakistani armed forces have diversified into fields well outside the mandate of an armed force.

Dr. Farrukh Saleem, a freelance Pakistani columnist wrote in the Pakistani daily Jang (97):

Fauji Cereal has been part of my daily breakfast for as long as I can remember. The only wrapping that Fauji Cereal ever uses comes from Fauji Poly Propylene Products. During my days at the village, milk use to come from the nearby Okara Military Farms, the 17,000-acre dairy, meat and grain-producing project. The only sugar that I ever liked was either from the four Fauji Sugar Mills or Army Welfare Sugar Mills. Not too long ago, my wife wanted to build a house. I didn’t want to be anywhere but in one of the six Askari Housing Schemes. The only cement I will use is Fauji Cement. I wish I was right next to Fauji Kabirwala Power Company because I hate the power that Wapda comes out with. The paint for my house must come from no one but Bahria Paints. Fauji also owns and operates Fauji Corn Complex, FONGAS, Fauji Fertilizer Company, Fauji Jordan Company, Fauji Oil Terminal Company Project and Mari Gas Company.

The army also operates what is called the National Logistic Cell (NLC) which is a trucking and transportation giant in Pakistan, employing thousands of serving and retired army personnel. The web page of the NLC describes its army connection euphemistically…

…as a unique logistic based Public Sector Organisation which has [a] blend of corporate culture and Army’s discipline. (98)

With the military in government, and the defence ministry manned by retired military officers, the military run businesses of Pakistan are above all accountability.

In her study of the Army’s businesses, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha makes a scathing indictment (90):

The top management of the armed forces jealously guard their interests. Over the years the interests have narrowed down from the greater benefit of the institution to the personal welfare of the generals. A feature peculiar to a number of cases is, the ventures were started not based on any feasibility study but on the whims of the top management to accommodate certain high ranking officers.

The businesses run by the Pakistani armed forces are marked by inefficiency, corruption and self-interest, and are preserved by intimidation that scares away competitors or people who try to question their activities. Corruption in running these businesses has been noted by Siddiqa-Agha and others (96):

“When you dig into them, you find out they are inefficient, and there is evidence of corruption,” Siddiqa-Agha said. “There is also evidence of corruption linked to monopolization of government contracts.

In another report in August 2002, the South Asia Tribune reported (99):

..a list of over 100 armed forces men who allotted to themselves at least 400 or more acres of prime land in Bahawalpur, heart of Punjab, “to defend it from the enemy,” at the throw away rate of Rs 380 per acre (US Dollars Six & 50 cents). The list is only of one District. Such lists exist all over Punjab and Sindh where a new breed of landlords has already been created through similar allotments...This conversion of generals into landlords also explains why no serious effort has been made by the military to introduce land reforms in the country, which could cure many political and social imbalances in the Pakistani society.

An online report in the Crescent International revealed a list of Pakistani billionaires and millionaires with accounts in Swiss banks. Nearly half the billionaires were from the army or close relatives of senior army personnel.

With this degree of money, wealth and power, the Pakistan army’s main problem shifts away from the defense of Pakistan to the defense of their own wealth and power. Which wealthy army general living in the lap of luxury would want to give up his good life for the hardship and travails of war? Besides, the risk to this life is not so much from an attack by India, but by anger and opposition to the corrupt and wealthy army from the desperately poor people of Pakistan, a staggering 85% of whom live on less than US $2 per day (100).

Increasingly under pressure within Pakistan for their greed the Pakistani army has used Islam and the external threat from India to retain their power and wealth. The people must be more Islamic, because the sacrifice of jihad is required to fight India. Poverty and destitution in Pakistan are because India is trying to attack Pakistan and kill Muslims. This Islamization of Pakistan and the Pakistani army accelerated after the 1971 defeat of the Pakistani army by India in the war of liberation of Bangladesh.

Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi noted in an article in the Friday Times of Pakistan (101):

Since the late 1970s, the Pakistan army has maintained a mutually profitable relationship with Islamic elements in the country. The Islamicists have offered two critical inputs to the military: they have provided armed manpower for the military’s security agendas in the neighborhood, as in Afghanistan since 1979 and in India since 1989. And they have been ever ready to join hands with the military to undermine popularly elected and mainstream civilian governments inimical to the military’s corporate view of Pakistan’s interests in one way or another.

A report in the Washington Times recognized this (102):

The Pakistani army, the center of anti-Indian sentiment, rallied radical Islamic forces to the cause. Pakistan is a poor country, and recruitment to the army benefits the poor who are inclined to Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, the hundreds of Islamic seminaries have become breeding grounds for terrorism and centers for the recruitment of junior officers to the Pakistan army. Thus, the army has become a harbinger for Islamic ideological orientations.

Another report in the Asia Times in 2003 (103) reveals the depth to which the Pakistan army’s fighting forces have become intertwined with Islamic jihadi’s.

The jihadi outfits...purpose was to develop a paramilitary force that would assist the Pakistan army in the event of war. However, in the course of the 1989 uprising in Kashmir, these jihadis played so vital a role that they outdid the army, so in the 1990s it was decided that they would act as a front-line force in any India-Pakistan war. First-hand observations by this correspondent in Azad Kashmir camps confirm that the jihadi outfits are in fact paramilitary troops. Each unit has a commander who reports to an army officer. Each jihadi commander is given funds and the brief to devise a strategy for his unit’s combat operations. The commanders have lap top computers in which they store their data, from which they generate summaries of their operations for their military officers.

The Pakistan army has, over the course of the last few decades, subcontracted its fighting to the jihadis. Former Indian Intelligence analyst B. Raman was quoted in the online portal Rediff (104):

Pakistan has two armies... a regular army of around 500,000. But there is an Army of Islam, so-called by Pakistan itself, with a total strength of about 200,000.

As the Pakistani army generals consolidated their financial and business empires, they gradually subcontracted the actual fighting to Islamist irregular forces. During the Kargil conflict of 1999, Pakistan refused to admit that any of their forces were involved in the fighting, saying that Kashmiri mujahideen were doing the fighting. But as Pakistani soldiers bodies began appearing in Pakistan the truth leaked out. Pakistani troops withdrew in the face of defeat, but not before the Pakistani Northern Light Infantry was virtually wiped out. The latter fact was confirmed in an interview with deposed Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in an interview at his place of exile in Saudi Arabia (105).

Finally, information regarding the Pakistani army would be incomplete without mention of the criminal activities and genocide that they have been involved in:

G. Parthasarathy, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan wrote (106):

The Pakistan army is today the largest investor in the Karachi Stock Exchange, controls the largest network of elite public schools, owns the largest construction company and the largest transportation company the National Logistics Cell— that has the dubious distinction of not only transporting weapons for the ISI and the CIA, but also heroin from Peshawar for export from Karachi.

In another article, Parthasarathy outlines the role of the Pakistani army in genocides and the killing of its own people (107):

The Pakistan army has killed more of its own citizens in the past three decades than any other armed force, except the Khmer Rouge led by the genocidal Pol Pot. Documented evidence of the numbers of Pakistani citizens killed following the carnage by the Pakistan army in Bangladesh (1971), Baluchistan (1972-1974), rural Sind (1983 onwards) and the urban centres of Sind against the MQM (in the 1990s), confirms this fact.

In conclusion, it may be said that the Pakistani army retained a great degree of respect among the people of Pakistan from the time of independence. Based on this the army repeatedly took power in Pakistan with the promise of setting things right, promising to bring back democracy and to fight and defeat the number one enemy, India. But the army did none of these things. It started unwinnable wars, and built up a huge business empire for its senior officers and sycophants while the actual fighting was given over to jehadis fired up with Islamic zeal. This Islamic zeal has gradually entered the ranks of the Pakistani army. A large number of men in the lower ranks of the Pakistani army now have fundamentalist Islamic leanings, and these lower ranks will be senior officers with the passage of time. In late 2003, Indian Intelligence analyst B. Raman was quoted in a report (108):

..two or three of the 10 corps commanders are seen as Islamicists. B. Raman, RAW’s former Pakistan expert, says only one of the 30 officers of lieutenant-general rank and above is definitely a jehadi.

The Pakistani army has set itself on the course of a serious split. On the one hand are the rich and corrupt generals, with their businesses and lands. On the other hand are the Islamists, who are indoctrinated on the exclusivity and superiority of their brand of religion. In short the Pakistani army has people who are serving two masters, the army commanders on the one hand and Allah on the other. One of these masters will lose out, and it is unlikely that the followers of God as the supreme army commander will give up without a fight. With the Pakistani army being the only viable institution that seems to be represented almost all over Pakistan, it is difficult to imagine what could be in store for Pakistan other than serious instability when differences begin to show up between the Islamists and the corrupt mafia of the Pakistani army.

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