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Why India-Pak ties can’t improve

The Pakistan army tells the Pakistani people that the army is the sole bulwark against this enemy, and without it Pakistan will collapse.

Markandey Katju | New Delhi |

Isubmit that India can never have good relations with Pakistan as the army, which is the real ruler of Pakistan, will never permit it. Also, the Pakistan army will never accept effective civilian rule in Pakistan, for if it does, it will have to account for its large-scale plunder over several decades of the economy, and its officers (serving and retired) will have to return the wealth they have amassed. So it has to keep peddling the idea to the public that the army is the sole bastion of Pakistan, without which the state will collapse, and therefore its personnel must be rewarded by huge privileges and perks (a euphemism for loot) for doing their ‘patriotic duty’ to the nation.

And to divert attention from its rapacious plunder it must depict India as the eternal enemy of Pakistan. Here are the facts. For decades the Pakistan military has steadily infiltrated into almost every sector of the economy, and ruthlessly looted it, benefiting military personnel, particularly the senior officers, most of whom have become millionaires and even billionaires (see online Eliot Wilson’s article ‘The military millionaires who control Pak Inc ‘ published in The Spectator). Ayesha Siddiqa in her widely acclaimed book ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy ‘, as well as in her video interviews on YouTube, has given a detailed account of the predatory domination of Pakistan ‘s economy by the military, which owns hundreds of commercial enterprises worth over $20 billion, from fertilizer, cement and hosiery factories, bakeries, petrol pumps, banks, milk dairies, cereal production, travel agencies, power, coal, mines, construction, entertainment, etc. to stud farms and golf courses.

It operates usually through opaque trusts, for example the Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, Shaheen Foundation etc. at the heads of which are senior military officers (serving or retired). Thus, the Army Welfare Trust owns the country’s largest lender, the Askari Bank, as well as an airline, petrol pumps, construction companies, mines, power plants, etc. The plum share of the Pakistan army loot is in the real estate sector. Gen Ayub Khan, who seized power in a coup in 1958, started the practice of allotting large tracts of prime land to military officers, and this practice has since grown .

Today over 12 per cent of Pakistan’s land is owned by the military, mostly prime land in fertile Punjab and Sind, most of which is in the hands of senior officers, serving and retired. Some very senior retired Generals are reportedly worth $ 3.5 billion. There are several housing societies whose land was given to military officers at highly subsidised rates. On retirement, a major general (who usually owns a Mercedes car) is expected to receive a present of 240 acres farm land worth £550,000 as well as a residential plot worth £700,000. In addition to this, retiring generals and other senior officers are each given a parting present of over Rs 1 crore in cash tax free (this is apart from their pension). The Pakistan military never discloses these details to Parliament or anyone else, and even asking questions about them is dangerous and taboo.

A political leader who tries to eliminate this scandal is invariably himself eliminated e.g. Z A Bhutto (who was hanged) and Nawaz Sharif (who is in jail). Journalists who investigate these matters are often found dead in mysterious circumstances, e.g. Syed Saleem Shahzad who investigated the link between the Navy and Al-Qaeda, and was allegedly bumped off by the ISI. Zahid Husain, who wrote an article in Newsweek documenting the military corporate and real estate empire, that gave the senior officers enormous wealth, had to suffer. The late lawyer, Asma Jahangir, who raised these questions was imprisoned and her family business targeted. Ayesha Siddiqa, who wrote the book referred to earlier, was told by someone that by doing so she may have signed her own death warrant.

State institutions like Parliament, the judiciary, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB, which looks into corruption cases e.g. against Nawaz Sharif, who was convicted for not being ‘ Sadiq and Ameen’), and the Securities Exchange Commision of Pakistan, dare not investigate corruption by army officers. The fate of Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif is known to all. The Pakistan army is like no army in the world. It has become a veritable predatory vampire, sucking the blood of the Pakistan people. Its senior officers have acquired enormous wealth, and so it knows that if it comes effectively under civilian rule it will have to render accounts and gorge out the huge wealth it has swallowed and amassed.

So it follows the dictum of Mao Ze Dong, “Power flows out of the barrel of a gun”. However, it has a problem. While it knows that most people are scared of it because it has guns, a time may come when the impoverished people of Pakistan may say enough is enough, and there may be a popular uprising against the army loot, somewhat like a French Revolution. So the Pakistan army has to have an enemy, a scapegoat, towards which it can divert the people’s anger, and this enemy is India.

The Pakistan army tells the Pakistani people that the army is the sole bulwark against this enemy, and without it Pakistan will collapse. And as a reward for doing its ‘patriotic duty’ it must get special privileges and perks, a euphemism for loot. The Pakistan military will therefore never permit good relations between India and Pakistan, for if there are good relations the enemy will disappear, and with it the justification for its loot, predation and rapine.

(The writer is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India)