Military Inc.

Issue section: 

Ayesha Siddiqa, Pluto Press, £19.99

General Pervez Musharraf is the latest in a line of generals that have directly ruled Pakistan since its formation in 1947. Like military rulers before him he announced an end to corruption, land reform, eradication of poverty and education for the poor.

Now the military is in grave trouble. 9/11 placed Pakistan on the frontline of the "war on terror". Musharraf has attracted powerful enemies for siding with the US and the defeat of the Taliban, and has faced several assassination attempts.

He faces growing protests over the sacking of the chief justice of the Supreme Court on 9 March (see Letter from Pakistan, Socialist Review, May 2007). Ayesha Siddiqa's book exposes corruption in the military by showing the extent to which the generals have built up a massive economic empire she estimates to be worth at least $10 billion.

The armed forces' empire has expanded to frightening proportions through what Siddiqa refers to as "Milbus" (military business). The military's stranglehold over the economy is assessed through a study of army-run companies like the National Logistics Cell and the Frontier Works Organisation; and major military "welfare" foundations like the Army's Fauji Foundation which owns 15 big companies, the Army Welfare Trust (25 companies), the Navy's Bahria Foundation (19 companies) and the Air Force's Shaheen Foundation (11 companies).

Swathes of state land have been diverted to individuals for profit, sparking what Tariq Ali calls a "rural intifada" in Punjab uniting both Christian and Muslim tenant families.

The launch of the book was held in a small room made available by a non-governmental organisation after various hotels were urged to make rooms unobtainable. Siddiqa herself was advised to leave the country for her own safety.

There are serious areas for debate which cannot be fully explored here due to space.

However, it is clear that Siddiqa is on the side of the "dispossessed" and the "have-nots". She rightly explains that "in Pakistan's case the recipe is to encourage a strong mass-based political movement that aims at ending authoritarian rule, including the armed forces", but then adds, "The potential role of external players... will be invaluable."

Who are these "external players"? Siddiqa explains, "External forces such as Pakistan's foreign ally, the United States... Moral and political assistance from the United States aimed at strengthening societal forces might help the political players to push the army out of politics."

Not only is this naïve - it would be a complete disaster.

In 1969, as part of the worldwide movement, students and workers toppled the military regime of Ayub Khan. It will take an uprising of that scale to free ordinary Pakistanis not only of the army, but the corrupt politicians and foreign interventions of the US as well.