Archive for March, 2008

The military millionaires who control Pakistan Inc

Elliot Wilson says Pakistan’s economy is dominated by a ruthless business conglomerate that owns everything from factories and bakeries to farmland and golf courses: The Army.

Sometime in late 2004, Pakistan’s all-powerful army made a curious decision. Under mounting pressure from London and Washington to capture Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding in Baluchistan, Islamabad’s fighting forces instead turned their attention to a far more profitable venture: building golf courses.

In itself this wasn’t particularly unusual. With 620,000 soldiers, Pakistan boasts the world’s seventh-largest standing army, but its senior officers long ago realised the perks to be gained from commercial ventures. Since independence in 1947, the army has steadily intertwined itself into Pakistan’s economy: so much so that it’s hard to tell where the military stops and any semblance of free-market capitalism begins.

All too often, there is no dividing line. In her 2007 book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy Dr Ayesha Siddiqa exposes the rampant commercialism pervading every aspect of the country’s military forces, until recently headed by President Pervaiz Musharraf. Dr Siddiqa, a former researcher with the country’s naval forces, estimates the military’s net worth at more than ¢G10 billion ¡X roughly four times the total foreign direct investment generated by Islamabad in 2007. She found that the army owns 12 per cent of the country’s land, its holdings being mostly fertile soil in the eastern Punjab. Two thirds of that land is in the hands of senior current and former officials, mostly brigadiers, major-generals and generals. The most senior 100 military officials are estimated to be worth, at the very least, ¢G3.5 billion.

Many of the country’s largest corporations are also controlled by the military, thanks largely to an opaque network of powerful ‘foundations’ originally set up to look after the pension needs of army personnel. The largest three ¡X the Fauji, Shaheen and Bahria foundations, controlled by the army, air force and navy respectively ¡X control more than 100 separate commercial entities involved in everything from cement to cereal production. Only nine have ever published partial financial accounts, and all are ultimately controlled by the Ministry of Defence, which oversees all of the military’s commercial ventures.

The Fauji foundation, the largest of the lot, is estimated by Siddiqa to be worth several billion pounds. It operates a security force (allowing serving army personnel to double in their spare time as private security agents), an oil terminal and a phosphate joint venture with the Moroccan government. Elsewhere, the Army Welfare Trust ¡X a foundation set up in 1971 to identify potentially profitable ventures for the military ¡X runs one of the country’s largest lenders, Askari Commercial Bank, along with an airline, a travel agency and even a stud farm. Then there is the National Logistic Cell, Pakistan’s largest shipper and freight transporter (and the country’s largest corporation) , which builds roads, constructs bridges and stores vast quantities of the country’s wheat reserves.

In short, the military’s presence is all-pervasive. Bread is supplied by military-owned bakeries, fronted by civilians. Army-controlled banks take deposits and disburse loans. Up to one third of all heavy manufacturing and 7 per cent of private assets are reckoned to be in army hands. As for prime real estate, a major-general can expect to receive on retirement a present of 240 acres of prime farmland, worth on average ¢G550,000, as well an urban real estate plot valued at ¢G700,000.

Unsurprisingly, the military is loath to release details of its commercial operations. The average Pakistani citizen earns just ¢G1,500 a year, making his country poorer than all but 50 of the world’s nations. Most of the military’s junior officers and other ranks live in squalid tents pitched by the side of main roads, even in the capital Islamabad. Revealing to them that the top brass in their air-conditioned, top-of-the-range Mercedes are worth ¢G35 million each (a few are believed to be dollar billionaires including, it is quietly suggested, Musharraf) would probably create widespread unrest. Little wonder that Dr Siddiqa’s book is banned in the country ¡X and that Musharraf was so reluctant to take off his uniform and declare himself a civilian president.

Financial autonomy has also engendered in the military a dangerous sense of entitlement. When any premier or leading politician attempts to limit the army’s power, or even emasculate it, they get slapped down. In 1990 Benazir Bhutto, during her first stint as premier, made a concerted attempt to ‘secularise’ the army, installing non-army personnel at the highest level. Shortly afterwards, her government was forced out. She tried again in May 2006, joining with another former civilian leader, Nawaz Sharif, to issue a Charter of Democracy designed to reduce the economic power of the armed forces. Yet with Bhutto’s assassination, the latest move to tame the armed forces has again faltered ¡X a rather convenient situation for the military.

It’s hard to imagine any individual or political body summoning up enough power or courage to challenge the army head-on. Each year the military gobbles up a bit more land, diversifies into new markets and industries and steadily consolidates power in the key sectors of agriculture, energy, natural resources, logistics and construction.

On the rare occasions when any constitutional body has stood its ground, the army has given it short shrift. In 2005, the Fauji foundation was asked by the elected parliament why it had sold a sugar mill at a ludicrously low price to senior army personnel. The Ministry of Defence refused to reveal any details of the deal. When the Auditor-General’ s department questioned why the army was building golf courses ¡X rather than attempting to capture bin Laden ¡X its question was ignored. Yet the Punjab government had that year willingly handed over, for free, 30 acres of prime rural land worth more than ¢G600,000 to the army, which promptly built a driving-range and an 18-hole golf course. Such ‘presents’ to the military are usually returned with interest, with senior civilian officials often being guaranteed a secure retirement on the board of one or more army-controlled ventures. Craven and submissive attitudes have thoroughly pervaded the political system, which defers to the military at every turn: little wonder that senior officers have so little respect for their civilian peers. Other countries have armies, but Pakistan’s army has a country

Absolute power, of course, corrupts absolutely. It also engenders a sense of invulnerability ¡X that the wielder of the power can get away with anything. This certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan. Land is being requisitioned left, right and centre across the country. In the financial centre of Karachi, the army has built eight petrol stations on land appropriated from the state. In 2004, the Karachi government again willingly gave land worth ¢G35 million to the military, just because they wanted it. These are just two examples among many.

The military has also begun to act in the manner of a feudal landlord. When landless peasants in central Punjab complained in 2001 that the army had changed the status of the land on which they depended for their subsistence (forcing them to pay rent in cash, rather than working the land on a sharecropping basis) the army cracked down, beating many and leaving eight dead. At one point, Dr Siddiqa quotes a naval officer who questions why landless peasants should have any rights in relation to the land they till. ‘They do not deserve land just because they are poor,’ he says.

It’s hard to imagine anyone managing to circumscribe the economic power of Pakistan’s army. The military’s financial security reinforces its desire to retain control of the state. If full democracy were permitted in Pakistan, it would constitute a threat to the army’s throttling power. And since political power in turn creates greater economic opportunities, it’s in the interest of the military fraternity to perpetuate it. More political power leads to greater profit, and vice versa. The one factor that could still harm the army is its arrogant, dismissive attitude to its own people. Its flagrant profiteering engenders huge resentment in rural and smaller provinces, where the army is increasingly seen as an invading force rather than a protector. Ultimately, there is only so much abuse that an impoverished and subjugated populace can take before it rises up in protest.

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@ Elliot Wilson, The Spectator, 18 January, 2008

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Indian Democracy

India’s democracy is a 60-year story of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, chronic unemployment, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals, bribes, tax evasions, embezzlements and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. In 2005, Transparency International found that more than 50 percent of Indians had “firsthand experience of paying bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office (India Corruption Study 2005; Transparency International India).”

Shekhar Gupta must be one of India’s finest of journalists (Shekhar is editor-in-chief of Indian Express and anchors the famous ‘Walk the Talk’ on NDTV). If memory serves me right, it was something that Shekhar wrote and that column is the inspiration behind what I am about to say.

Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Great Soul’, Father of the Nation, was assassinated — shot and killed — by Nathuram Godse, an extremist Hindu who had convinced himself that Gandhi was going out of his way to favour Pakistan. Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first PM, ruled for 17 long years but failed to arrest India’s growing poverty. Under Nehru, the state of Bihar went through a series of famines, mass starvation and death. The Nehru Dynasty was founded when Nehru managed to get Indira, his daughter, elected as the president of Congress.

Gulzarilal Nanda became India’s second PM (after Nehru died of a heart attack). Lal Bahadur Shastri took over from Gulzarilal (after Gulzarilal had been in office for a mere 13 days). Shastri, a ‘Nehruvian socialist’, failed to pull India out of an economic and a food crisis. After Shastri’s death, Gulzarilal became PM for another eight-day tenure.

In 1966, Indira Gandhi became PM and remained so for the following 11 years. Indira, who remained stuck to Shastri’s economic policies, confronted a severe balance of payments crisis, consecutive crop failures and a devaluation of the rupee. In 1975, Indira exposed her authoritarian streaks by imposing a state of emergency. On June 1 1984, Indira ordered Major General K S Brar to put an end to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s Sikh-purist theocratic movement for the establishment of Khalistan (‘Land of the Pure’). Indira’s ‘Operation Blue Star’ desecrated Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, and the Indian Army recorded 83 deaths plus 492 civilians killed. In the immediate aftermath, an unspecified number of Sikhs deserted the Indian Army and then in October ’84 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

Rajiv Gandhi, a professional pilot, became India’s seventh PM and the third from the Nehru Dynasty. Rajiv tried to open up India by reducing import duties. Rajiv then got embroiled in the Bofors Scandal in which he was accused of receiving kickbacks. While the Bofors case was being investigated, Rajiv was assassinated by an LTTE female suicide bomber.

Islamabad is a mere 425 miles from New Delhi. Muhammad Ayub Khan studied at Aligarh Muslim University and trained at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. General Muhammad Ayub Khan became our youngest full-rank general and Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly 11 years.

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan went to Punjab University and finished first in his class. In 1947, Yahya was the only Muslim instructor at the British Indian Staff College. Brigadier Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, commanding the 106 Infantry Brigade, was only 34 years of age. General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly two years.

Muhammad Ziaul-Haq attended St Stephen’s College, one of India’s leading educational institutions. Muhammad Ziaul-Haq was trained at the distinguished U S Army Command and General Staff College (Fort Leavenworth). Muhammad Ziaul-Haq trained the Jordanian Army and saved King Hussein’s monarchy. General Muhammad Ziaul-Haq ruled Pakistan for 10 years.

Now, look at India. Sixty years of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. Look at what a bad democracy has delivered.

Now, look at Pakistan. Thirty-one years of direct rule by Sandhurst-disciplined, Fort Leavenworth-trained, smartly-dressed, intelligible, meaningful, well intentioned Gentlemen Cadets.

Just look at the wide variety of fruits of a bad democracy. A democracy mere 425 miles from Islamabad.

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@ Dr. Farrukh Saleem, The News International, 17 February, 2008

History and Community Honor: Protests against film Jodha Akbar

Last month (Jan 2008), one has witnessed the acts of breaking glass panes, disrupting the screening of film Jodha Akbar, as a part of protests by sections of Rajput and Khsatriaya community against this film. They claim that this film insults their community honor! Some Governments banned this film, the ban which eventually was lifted by the courts.

The arguments of those opposing the film are on the overt ground that film is not historically accurate, as per them Jodha was Akbar’s daughter in law not his wife. Many have powerfully asserted that the film is a dishonor to ‘our’ daughters and daughter in laws. As such the film is made on the backdrop of the life and times of Akbar, regarded by Amartya Sen as one of the two great emperors who happened to rule India. The film shows many a trends and patterns of the time, Akbar’s policy towards those following other faiths, his alliances with Rajputs and the development of Mughal Rajput syncretism. In addition it also portrays him as the ruler having great respect for other prevalent religious tradition here, Hinduism.

It is not that the theme of Akar-Jodha is being presented on the screen for the first time. The perception about Akbar-Jodha relationship has been immortalized by the all time classic film Mughal-e-Azam, whose primary focus was on love breaking the social hierarchies of master and slave. It incidentally showed Jodha-Akbar relationship also. The film was well received at that time and was a big hit all around. So why protests against it at this point of time. During last few decades the identity based politics and communal historiography has gripped the society. The rise of right wing politics all over the globe and here at home has given a serious set back to the concept of intercommunity harmony. The process of narrow identities getting dwarfed by the national and global identities has also faced a severe jolt. Currently the narrow, caste, religion identities are asserting up strongly.

The communal historiography which understands the history through the prism of religion has been brought in strongly by the RSS combine and it presents the Mughal period as the dark period of Indian history, depicting Muslim kings in the total negative light, as tyrants, as the one’s destroying temples, forcing conversions and violating the honor of the Hindu women. This film successfully breaks that mould brought in by communal ideology and poses a challenge to the edifice on which their politics is based.

In communal view of society the community honor is located in the bodies of women, ‘our’ women are to be protected from others and ‘their’ women are to be dishonored as a revenge of ‘their’ violating the honor of our women. This was seen in the Hindutva ideologues Savarkar’s criticism of Shivaji. Shivaji had sent back the daughter-in–law of Muslim Sbhedar of Kalyan, who was brought as a ‘gift’ to her, with full honors. Savarkar says that Shivaji as a true Hindu should have taken revenge by dishonoring that women.

The armies and the kings were plundering the wealth and women in medieval times. Armies doing the same, even today is being witnessed at various places. Also there were matrimonial alliances between kings across the borders of religion and nationality, like Chandragupta Mauraya marrying the daughter of Macedonian king, Samudragupta allying with daughters of many kings with whom he had political battles. So the overall tenor of the film is very much in tune with the spirit of the times being portrayed. The unsaid and unstated part of the protests is the discomfort due to the portrayal of phenomenon of Hindu princess marrying and then falling in love with a Muslim king! That’s where the catch lies. Under the pressure from current communal atmosphere, one observes that in the films currently being made, the ones’ dealing with the Hindu Muslim love, the girl is generally Muslim and boy a Hindu e.g., Veer zara, Gadar, Bombay and Henna. It is another matter that Muslim fundamentalists do raise their voice of protests in such cases.

History is a vast ocean of events. History is an arena which has been interpreted by the elements according to their political agendas. In the film under discussion it is sure that there was matrimonial alliance between Mughal kings and Rajput princesses, it is sure that Akbar did have Rajput wife/wives. It is also sure that the interaction of Hindu Muslim, Mughal Rajput cultures peaked in the times of Akbar and did maintain its tempo later also irrespective of the ruling kings being fanatic or tolerant. As such this film comes as a refreshing interpretation, very much needed in current times.

As such some of those presenting the past have been using history with two major fallacies. The first one relates to selection of the events for treatment. The demolition of temples by Mughal kings is taken up and their donations to Hindu temples are suppressed from the narratives. The real reason for temple destruction was for wealth and also it was symbol of victory. The communal narratives describe it in a way whereby a material phenomenon is presented as exclusively religious one. Similarly to force conversions of defeated kings/army, as an insult to the defeated one, is highlighted as a religious phenomenon not related to power equation. The amity between religions, as presented in Bhakti and Sufi traditions is bypassed. The harmony between religious communities is hidden and conflict between kings of different religions presented as clash between religions.

Interestingly the fundamentalist coming from both religions are uncomfortable with syncretic traditions and look down upon it. So the Maulana will tell that the Islam of Sufi tradition is not the real Islam and a Pandit will assert that Hinduism which absorbs things form Islam, the one of Bhakti, is not true Hinduism.

The second distortion pertains to the motivated interpretation for political purposes. The History introduced by British, communal historiography, was aimed to divide and rule so British propagated a view of History whereby Muslim Kings were demonized. While picking up this thread the novel, Somanth, by Kanhaiyalal Manikchand Munshi, played a major role in demonizing Mahmud Gazni and Muslims. It presented his forays to loot the temple as the one motivated by religious purpose alone, as an insult to Hindu religion.

Currently two such examples can be seen. One is the play Jaanata Raja on Shivaji, which presents Shivaji as the one bent to build a Hindu empire in opposition to the Mughal Empire. This creates again a severe communal mind set, as the battles of Shivaji against Hindu kings are by passed and the whole effort of his comes forward as an enterprise to build a Hindu kingdom, demonizing Muslims in the process. In another genre is the play Mee Nathram Boltoy, (This is Nathuram speaking), a play about the murder of Gandhi, by trained RSS pracharak (Preacher) Nathuram Godse. Here again Gandhi’s nationalism, secular democratic one, is shown as bane of Hindu nation and Gandhi’s ‘appeasement’ of Muslims is presented as the reason behind killing him.

History seems to be a multi edged phenomenon. On one hand we have events, and on the other interpretation. Which events to select and how to present is what a historian does. As noted Historian E.H.Carr points out same fish can be cooked in different ways depending on the skills of the cook and nature of spices used. The issue is not that whether Jodha was wife or daughter in law of Akbar, the issue is in identity based politics of current times, a Hindu woman’s love or marriage to a Muslim is not acceptable. The same applies to the similar event of the past, as past is being given the life in present. The fact is that the film shows Akbar as humane, considerate, tolerant etc., totally contrasting the view of Muslims being propagated by RSS combine, so it cannot pass.

One wishes such humane and tolerant look at history should not only be upheld but also propagated far and wide. That’s the only way to integrate the nation, and human society far that matter.

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Ram Puniyani, Issues in Secular Politics, March 2008

ON THE ‘RUINS’ OF ‘WHITE HOUSE’

Beware! Beware ! Beware !
Decades have passed; generations have changed,
Nature’s fury over the tyrant remains unabated;
He and his men are under grievous chastisement,
Their names are still amongst the most hated.

When released from the unearthly veils,
Their disembodied groans are hard to bear;
As bleeding lumps, often as balls of fire,
Their sight fills the visitors with fear.
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THESE RUINS are the remnants of a grand palace,
That was the mightiest citadel of power and glory;
The like of which, the world never heard and saw,
Save in the fairy tales and Solomon’s story.

The people of this land were good and affable,
Their superb genius was the envy of human race;
Alas! Their ineffable grandeur made them blind,
To the Eternal Truth and the Lasting Grace.

The dawn of the century, twenty first,
Sowed the seeds of their doom;
They chose a tyrant as their head,
Who brought them down from their bloom.

Like his father, he too was evil incarnate,
‘Bastard’ his ‘title’, ‘Bush’ his name;
His devilish deeds did’nt take much long ,
To make him reach the heights of notorious fame.

Under the garb of the sacred Christian faith,
Like a ‘Satan’, using Christ as a ploy;
The goal of his life was Islam’s ruin,
To spill the blood of Muslims was his joy.

Cheny, his deputy, like a chimp issuing threats,
Like a cobra, his secretary Conloleeza Rice;
Spreading his venom through her fangs,
The trio had changed every virtue into a vice.

To achieve his mission, and get ecstatic pleasure,
Across the world, his army plundered Muslim land;
The bodies of men, women and children,
Lying on the streets like heaps of sand.

Russia became like a rat , France like a frog ,
The great empires were quivering before his might;
China like a chameleon , changing hues,
Britain, braying behind him day and night.

All, but glorious Persia, were lying prostrate.
Also in the custody of this tyrant king,
Was the custodian of the House of Guardian Lord,
Their conscience and scruples gave them no sting.

The tyrant was ignorant, could’nt foresee,
The martyrs’ blood was taking ferocious form;
To shake and destroy his impregnable fortress,
It was approaching him as a violent storm.

The sobs and cries of those innocent girls,
His brutish army had raped with beastly force;
Were running like tremors through Heavens,
To bring the scourge to its destined course.

Every drop of the blood of those great warriors,
Who, for their honour, blew themselves apart;
Whom the cowards of the time had sent to ‘Hell’,
Would emerge from the soil as a piercing dart.

Accompanied by the deafening sounds of raped women,
The surging streams of the martyrs’ blood;
One night arose from the Persian Gulf,
And invaded the ‘White House’ with red flood.

Flabbergasted and bewildered, the tyrant and his men,
Used his dreaded weapons in air, land and sea;
When all in vain, with their gloating faces blanched,
They made a desperate attempt to flee.

Boiling with rage and revenge, the columns of blood,
Battered and buffeted them from every side;
Their agonised grief, grim faces and remorseful cries,
Were seen and heard with awe far and wide.

Like Pharaoh and his army in the river Nile,
Like the enemies of Noah in the Flood;
This tyrant and his men were damned to perdition,
With the torrents, not of water, but of blood.

This blood pulverised the delusions of their grandeur,
Convulsed, tottered and razed to the ground;
The insurmountable barriers of their castle,
Only their shrieks are heard, and this debris found.
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Dr. Mustafa Kamal Sherwani, LL.D.
Former President, All India Muslim Forum
3,Sherwani Nagar, Sitapur Road, Lucknow,U.P. India
Presently: Dean, Faculty of Law and Shariah
Zanzibar University, Zanzibar
Republic of Tanzania- East Africa
Email: sherwanimk@yahoo. com
Mobile:+255- 777-420360
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