This column by U. Mahesh Prabhu was first published by BW Businessworld magazine.
The terror strikes India – yet again – this time in Pathankot. Our soldiers are killed by terrorists, television channel are busy covering their funerals and the politicians are busy giving obsolete advices besides levelling bizarre allegations on their opponents. Least to say – we’ve learned zilch from our own history and, therefore, as George Santayana had said, “… are condemned to repeat it.”
The question every sane individual must be asking is “… isn’t there any sane way to bring the perpetrators to justice besides bring in lasting peace between the two nations?” As wise men say, winners aren’t the ones who do different things; they are the ones who do things differently. And to do things different; one has to think differently.
Be they political pundits, diplomats, politicians, journalists or even columnist; in India everyone has a naïve way of looking at things. Like a family or business feud everything here is in black or white – no grey areas! We want to believe that Pakistan is just like India. Little do we know that Pakistan’s constitution is barely in effect most of the time, great many don’t even know that most of this nation’s “post-independence years” was ruled by its Army – not by election but through coup. That their army is an important and, by far, the most powerful element is still unknown to many Indians. We don’t understand that their elected governments, including that of Nawaz Sharif’s, is at the mercy of the army. Ignoring army in Pakistan, which Indian policy makers often do, is absolute stupidity.
But what makes army the most influential and powerful element? Even without being a formal political party, it has been able to influence or manipulate circumstances to its own benefit. From managing its nuclear weapons programme to conducting census, Pakistan Army is everywhere. It’d not be wrong to state that it’s omnipotent as well as omnipresent even in the absence of a successful civilian government in power.
In the Islamic Republic wearing Khaki uniform endows unprecedented status, and transforms an individual into being part of that tiny bit elite cops of Pakistanis whose writ run everywhere. From running businesses to finding ghost schools, the army is the ubiquitous face of the Pakistani government. Besides, it also builds roads and fights insurgencies; less important to say that its membership is superior to any exclusive club. From one phase of military regime to another, the army has ever taken care of its own. It has hardly needed anything substantial from its own government like in India. The very reason why every Prime Ministers have been terrified by their own Army in Pakistan.
Given the failing of other institutions, even civilian governments have taken recourse to using the military to get their jobs done. In the process they have succeeded in further undermining Pakistan’s already weak civilian institutions.
Since late 1980s, Pakistan Army has been running a comparatively low-cost war against India by backing militants in Jammu & Kashmir. At the same time, it saw no contradiction in running the massive Fauji Foundation, said to be the ‘largest private sector employer in Pakistan’. Success, be it material or otherwise, was something the military establishment in the nation has aimed for without minding the means to achieve it. The Annual Report of the Foundation would make you realize how far the Army has gone in controlling the nation and stakes it had in the economic stability of Pakistan. While Pakistani Air Force runs the Shaheen Foundation, the Navy has Baharia Foundation, but it is Fauji Foundation that commands greater attention.
The Fauji Foundation is at the heart of the military’s economic machine. With an annual turnover of more than $500 million and profits of $41 million, Fauji provides womb-to-tomb benefits for more than 8.5 million ex-military men and their dependents. Retired servicemen get preferential hiring for the 10,000 jobs at the foundation’s wholly owned companies. Thousands more find work at Fauji subsidiaries, while top management jobs are reserved for retired generals… Just how big a slice of the economic pie the military controls remain a well-guarded secret, but it’s safe to say that it is by far the single biggest player. Fauji Fertilizer companies have an average earning $44 million on sales of $170 million. Outside of the Fauji network, Askari Commercial Bank, controlled by the Army Welfare Trust (AWT), is the country’s largest private bank in terms of assets and profits. Military companies enjoy access to prime real estate, easy bank credits and tax breaks, and routinely beat out of civilian companies in bidding for contracts.
Started in 1947 with a $3.6 million endowment from the departing British colonial administration to provide for the needs of World War II widows and their families, the Fauji Foundation remained a modest institution until the late 1970s, when it started expanding aggressively. Using money made by its 20 companies, the foundation spends $18 million a year running some of Pakistan’s best hospitals and schools. As per Colonel E. A. Bohari (retd.), in his article, on January 1999, in the Defence Journal a very brief business profile of the Fauji Foundation would include the following:
Fauji Sugar Mills, Tando Mohammad Khan
Fauji Sugar Mills, Khoski
Fauji Sugar Mills, Sangla Hill
Fauji Sugarcane Experimental & Seed Multiplication Farm
Fauji Corn Complex
Fauji Polypropylene Products Foundation Gas
Fauji Fertilizer Company Limited
Fauji Oil Terminal and Distribution Company Limited
Fauji Cement Company Limited
Mari Gas Company Limited
Fauji Kabriwala Power Company Limited
FFC-Jordan Fertilizer Company Limited
Scholarships 1, 30, 942
Technical Training Centers 9
Vocational Training Centers 66
Fauji Institutes of Computer Sciences 2
Day Health Centers 24
Mobile Dispensaries 48
Static Dispensaries 21
Owen Bennet Jones, in his book “Pakistan: Eye of the Storm”, asserts that the asset of the Pakistan Army is at nearly $2 billion. Former BBC Correspondent, Jones, has argued that the army’s economic operation was profitable to such an extent because they could obtain both tax breaks and subsidies. Institutionally, military personnel in Pakistan, as they rise up the ranks, are said to be eligible for cheap plots according to their rank.
The army is, thus, well networked and, over the years, has perfected the job of protecting its institutional interests. Even as it allowed a civilian façade of government since 1988, it retained the clout to influence decision making on key domestic issues or when it came to overseeing Islamabad’s India policy. The aforesaid are an iota of information about the strengths of the Pakistan Army in economic domain, that which makes it the most power establishment by itself, and also helps it to rise against the civilian government, as and when needed.
Even in the aftermath of Pathankot, we must be in favour of Narendra Modi talking to Nawaz Sharif. In “not talking” India has achieved zilch. Rather, let Modi talk to Sharif after every surgical strikes on terror target within Pakistan. And if someone thinks “that’s impossible” it’s because they fail to understand that Pakistan Army is enemy not just to India – but Pakistan’s very own people as well as its elected government. Pakistan Army has a robust economic infrastructure through various commercial companies; that which makes it self-sustaining without taxes or government aid.
If Government of India can initiate a trade war with every company owned by Fauji Foundation they’ll definitely bring the army to heels. Fauji Foundation does nothing good non-military populace of the country; so Pakistan masses won’t mind it either. Once the Pakistanis – currently brainwashed by Saudi Arabia funded Wahhabi Mullahs – understand that it’s their Mullahs and their Army who are their real enemy – not India or west; only then you’ll see the undoing of terror. I fail to see any other way out; we got to take Pakistanis and their government into confidence and deal with their army with iron first.