PAKISTAN: by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
Military corruption robs country's poor
, December 18, 2004
The Pakistan army, as an institution, has been a major obstacle to promoting better governance and development.
With defence devouring a major portion of the budget, key sectors like health and education have been squeezed, and more and more ordinary people continue to fall below the poverty line.
General Pervez Musharraf took government on false pretences, promising to relinquish power after three years; but he is still around.
Law and order in Pakistan have not improved. Nor has the economy. Prices are still high; unemployment is rampant; the poor lack health facilities; and the population is exploding. Pakistan is still a mess socially, politically and economically.Power centres
There are three main concentrations of power in Pakistan:
- The feudalists and the elite with their money.
- The army with the guns and the claim to be "protectors of Islam".
- The ulema with its jihadi army which is contesting the rights to be "protectors of Islam".
The Pakistani people are lost somewhere in between.
The basic question of how the country should be run does not seem to have been solved. The country has been torn since birth between conflicting cultures. It has a tribal and feudal social structure, an Islamic ideology and a legal and political system that is British in origin.
Islamic and secular law are at war with each other. Tribal loyalties, religious tensions and feudal social structure distort the democratic process.
The problem of government in Pakistan is that it is controlled by a handful of families, and the system they have created is corrupt and self-serving. Pakistan's political elite has been notably unsuccessful in nation- and state-building, and ordinary people have suffered as a result.
Feudalism is at the heart of Pakistan's problems. The army works in tandem with the powerful landlords, who have been allowed to keep their lands. And the majority illiterate population is not bold or courageous enough to stand up to the army.
The Pakistani army controls 70 per cent of Pakistan's economy. According to reports, the defence budget for the next year is being increased from 131 billion to 150 billion rupees.
But the "buck" does not stop at what is allocated to defence in the annual budget. A system of "legalised corruption" devours a major share of the country's limited resources.
Army officers are allocated plots in affluent localities for throw-away prices, and their children get the best education for free. Their families receive excellent health services without paying a penny, in addition to furnished accommodations, domestic help and rations, all at no charge.
To ensure these luxuries, resources are often diverted from the social sector to the military through covert avenues.
The argument that the military deserves all this for patriotic service rendered to the country's defence has long worn thin. The reality is that the generals wish to remain unaccountable to other institutions and the public at large.
Stories are legion of large-scale corruption within the military establishment; most organs of the military empire are running at a loss because of inefficiency.
General Musharraf presides over a vast industrial, commercial and real estate empire, with assets and investments of at least US$5 billion. This military-commercial complex is based on a little-known network - originally created to promote the welfare of retired servicemen - which has since branched out into numerous money-making ventures employing 18,000 serving and retired military officers.
These run a wide range of businesses from banks and insurance companies to airlines, all under the control of the Defence Ministry or one of the three services.
The armed forces also control powerful businesses in trucking and transport, road-building and construction.
Originally, these firms were established to serve military needs, but grew so fat with military contracts that they moved into the civilian economy and have gradually squeezed out most private competitors.Loss-making
Many defence analysts believe that most of these ventures have incurred losses that are covered by financial injections from the defence budget or various public sector enterprises vulnerable to military pressure.
One interesting point to note here is that almost all the major government and semi-government departments, including diplomatic posts, are today headed by retired or serving army personnel. This more than anything else demonstrates the regime's lack of confidence in the ability of civilians to efficiently run national affairs.
By thus sidelining the civilians, General Musharraf is merely following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq.