Siddiqa, Ayesha ‘Military Inc.’

siddiqaThere is a profound misunderstanding of the role and legacy of the Pakistani military, and its deeply entrenched economic interests in the country. This institution is consistently represented as a purely military arm of the State, when in fact it is mostly involved in running corporate interests, massive real-estate investments, industries, and of course as a resolt, has a powerful hold on the political picture in the country. Siddiqa’s work is an important contribution towards a more intelligent understanding of the priorities of the military, and its hold on the nation’s political future. A review of the book in the New York Times by Stephen Kotkin, pointed out:

Post-independence expansion of Milbus (Military-Businesses) occurred most prominently via welfare foundations, under the guise of providing for the needs of the troops and their families, whether with bakeries or beauty parlors. In addition, land grants, pensions five times the civilian level and post-retirement jobs — “the most significant group involved in Milbus are retired personnel” — were designed to make service attractive. But Ms. Siddiqa writes that “out of the 46 housing schemes directly built by the armed forces, none is for ordinary soldiers.” Milbus acts like an upward funnel.

Milbus justifies its commercial empire by disparaging civilians as incompetent and corrupt and insisting that the military alone promote national development. Just such a developmental apology for Pakistan’s military rule was echoed in American academic and policy circles throughout the cold war.

To refute these claims, which endure among Pakistan’s officer corps, Ms. Siddiqa tallies the bailouts for military-run businesses. When Milbus earns profits, Ms. Siddiqa writes, they often derive from insider access to resources and contracts. A number of top military companies, she shows, were granted outright monopolies, which wiped out competitive civilian companies. Milbus displays all the inefficiencies of crony capitalism, worsened by the military hierarchy.

And it also explains much about the current ‘dedication’ to the ‘War Against Terror’ – a commitment that emerged in the midst of yet another unconstitutional military overthrow of a civilian government. Just as in 1979, when Zia’s tottering regime was ‘saved’ by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Musharraf’s hideous attempts at legitimate power via illegitimate means, was ‘saved’ by the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. In both instances, two unpopular, resisted regimes were entrenched by American aid, and political largess, to serve the greater purpose of American empire. But perhaps what the books help us see are the tentacles of the military into the economic structures of the country, and how these determine and define economic, social welfare, political and geo-strategic policies. Most importantly, how an institution that retains its deep colonial era ambivalence if not outright disdain for the civilian, continues to undermine the country’ economic and democratic possibilities.

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