Global Defence Moderator
- Apr 20, 2009
Pakistan's army: as inept as it is corrupt | Mustafa Qadri | Comment is free | guardian.co.ukPakistan's army: as inept as it is corrupt
The answer to why Pakistan's mighty army seems impotent against Taliban insurgents is that it is more mafia than military
No institution dominates Pakistan like its army. The armed forces account for 20% of Pakistan's national budget, totalling $5bn last year according to official statistics. But the actual figure, already staggering for a country with high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, is likely to be much higher. The army has been practically unaccountable since the very foundation of the country – last year's figures were the first it has publicly released since 1965.
- Mustafa Qadri
- guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 May 2009 17.00 BST
- Article history
Those aren't the only imposing figures. It has some 650,000 active soldiers and another half million in reserve, and internal discipline – strict loyalty to the high command among the rank and file – is very high.
Every one of Pakistan's democratically-elected civilian leaders has been forced to abdicate by the army. A general has directly ruled the country for 34 of its 62 years of existence.
With this vice-like grip on power, many are wondering how a rural insurgency armed with basic weapons has managed to overrun so much of the country. The answers have much to do with the Pakistan army itself.
Part of the problem is that the army is equipped for a conventional war against its historical adversary to the east, India, and not the type of insurgency being waged by the Taliban on the frontier to the west. Its operations in the tribal areas have been imprecise, leading to the destruction of many thousands of civilian lives and livelihood. Up to a million are believed to have been displaced by the conflict.
"Collateral damage always strengthens the Taliban, it helps them get more public support," says Abdul Hakim (not his real name), a journalist from Dir, a tribal agency, next to the Swat valley, in which the Taliban are slowly moving.
But there have been only limited, poorly-coordinated attempts to re-engage with communities devastated by armed operations against the Taliban. As a result the Army and government authorities have sheepishly ended up signing peace deals with the Taliban over the past four years. They have all consistently broken down, the Taliban using the lull in hostilities to regroup and rearm.
The most recent peace deal, over the Swat valley, is on the verge of collapse owing to continued Taliban operations in neighbouring areas.
There are lingering doubts about the Army's resolve to combat the Taliban too, as has been suggested when it initially sent up a lightly armed squad of paramilitaries to fight the Taliban in the Buner valley, just below Swat, even though the region is close to the nation's capital.
Another factor is the fact that many of the army's soldiers involved in operations are Pashtun like the Taliban. This has left the high command nervous about tackling the insurgents head-on for fear of causing rifts within the ranks. Although far from a mutiny, many soldiers have refused to fight their fellow tribesman or have surrendered and deserted.
But that has not prevented the army from engaging in operations that have been highly destabilising for tribal Pashtun communities in the affected areas. People fleeing the conflict in Swat and Bajaur, a tribal agency to the west on the border with Afghanistna, told me they felt that the army was, in fact, targeting them and not the Taliban. Some argued this was because the army feared Taliban reprisals. Others insisted they were being targeted because of their support for the Pashtun nationalist Awami National party, which runs the North West Frontier province government.
The truth of rumours such as these, common in Pakistan, are difficult to quantify. But one need not look to rumours to understand why the Pakistan army has failed to defeat the Taliban.
The army has a long history of strategic incompetence stretching back to the very first war the country fought with India in 1948. On that occasion, tribal militants from the regions now in open insurrection against Pakistan flooded into Indian-controlled Kashmir. After overwhelming Indian soldiers there, they promptly went on a binge of rape and looting while the army looked on.
Again at war with India, in 1965, the better-equipped Pakistan army lost more ground, and tanks, than its adversary. But perhaps the army's darkest moment was the 1971 war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. That conflict saw Pakistan troops involved in widespread acts of extermination against the indigenous Bengali population of what was, at the time, known as East Pakistan.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission held in Pakistan following that war found large swathes of the high command to be deeply negligent – the commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, the report revealed, was involved in sexual misconduct even as his troops were killing, and being killed, on the battlefield.
In 1999, an ambitious Pakistani general by the name of Pervez Musharraf devised the tactically brilliant, but strategically near-suicidal, plan to invade Kargil, an Indian mountain post in Kashmir. That gamble nearly led to nuclear war, and almost certainly led to a military coup later that year.
How does one explain these failures? There can be no one explanation. But if there is an overriding message from these debacles, it is that the army is ill-equipped to defend the state because it has captured much of the bedrock of the state to which it is totally unaccountable.
According to Ayesha Siddiqua, in her seminal study, "Military Inc", the army's private business assets are worth around £10bn and it owns a handsome share of the country's business and land. The generals, as a result, appear to be more interested in leveraging control over businesses, properties and politics.
Yet, the army's power is such that although Pakistan's private media have a commendable record of criticising the country's civilian politicians, criticism of the men in uniform is rare – save during periods of crisis under direct military rule, like the dismissal of the chief justice in 2007.
It would be unfair, however, to criticise the army without acknowledging the pivotal role played by its greatest patrons – the United States, and, to a lesser extent, China. Since the 1950s, both countries have lavished military and political support on the Pakistan army.
"Nobody has occupied the White House who is friendlier to Pakistan than me," is what US President Richard Nixon told Pakistan's then military dictator, Yahya Khan, at a 1970 dinner in Washington, on the eve of the murderous war in East Pakistan. More recently, former President George Bush's praise for Pervez Musharraf has become the stuff of folklore.
The army has been rewarded by its foreign patrons despite its incompetence and unaccountability. In the process, civilian political life has been grotesquely stunted, leading the democratic process to be replaced by a crude kleptocracy where non-military leaders represent personal dynasties and not the people.
Is it any wonder, then, that the army struggles to find a concerted strategy for defeating the Taliban?
Book shines light on Pakistan military's '£10bn empire' | World news | The GuardianBook shines light on Pakistan military's '£10bn empire'
· Business interests range from cement to cornflakes
· Little transparency into officer-led conglomerates
The Pakistani military's private business empire could be worth as much as £10bn, according to a ground-breaking study. Retired and serving officers run secretive industrial conglomerates, manufacture everything from cement to cornflakes, and own 12m acres [4.8m hectares] of public land, says Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy.
- Declan Walsh in Islamabad
- The Guardian, Thursday 31 May 2007
- Article history
The book tackles a previously taboo subject - the range and depth of the military's business interests - considered a major factor in the ambitions of the generals who have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year history. "It feeds directly into the military's political power; it's an expression of their personal and organisation strength," said Ms Siddiqa, a former director of research at the Pakistan navy.
Five giant conglomerates, known as "welfare foundations", run thousands of businesses, ranging from street corner petrol pumps to sprawling industrial plants. The main street of any Pakistani town bears testament to their economic power, with military-owned bakeries, banks, insurance companies and universities, usually fronted by civilian employees. Ms Siddiqa estimates that the military controls one-third of all heavy manufacturing and up to 7% of private assets.
Profits are supposed to be pumped back into schools, hospitals and other welfare facilities - the military claims it has 9 million beneficiaries - but there is little transparency. "There is little evidence that pensioners are benefiting from these welfare facilities," she said.
Of the 96 businesses run by the four largest foundations, only nine file public accounts. The generals spurn demands by parliament to account for public monies they spend.
The military's penetration into society has accelerated under President Pervez Musharraf, who has also parachuted 1,200 officers into key positions in public organisations such as universities and training colleges.
The military boasts that it can run such organisations better than incompetent and corrupt civilians.
In a 2004 speech to open a new industry owned by the Fauji ("Soldier") Foundation, General Musharraf boasted of "exceptional" military-owned banks, cement and fertiliser plants. "Why is anyone jealous if the retired military officers or the civilians with them are doing a good job contributing to the economy?" he said.
But Ms Siddiqa says the military businesses thrive, thanks to invisible state subsidies in the form of free land, the use of military assets, and loans to bail them out when they run into trouble. "There are gross inefficiencies and the military is mired in crony capitalism. The primary purpose of a trained military is war fighting. They are not designed for the corporate sector."
Her £10bn estimate of military wealth is a "rough figure", she says, split between £6bn in land and private military assets.
"Military Inc." comes at a sensitive time for Gen Musharraf, who is struggling to rebuild his popularity after the botched dismissal of the chief justice, Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudhry, in March. The move sparked nationwide demonstrations that have snowballed into a powerful protest movement. The furore has offered an insight into the raw power wielded by the generals. This week, Justice Chaudhry told the supreme court how military intelligence chiefs spent hours trying to pressure him to quit on March 9, before placing him under effective house arrest.
Ms Siddiqa fears her book, which names names and pours cold water on boastful claims, may step on some powerful toes. "Over the past three years a lot of my friends have advised me not to publish this book. They think I have suicidal tendencies."
But Talat Hussain, a retired general and political analyst, said Ms Siddiqa was a "courageous" researcher. "This area has always been considered a sacred cow in our society," he said.
The book will be launched in Islamabad today. The main military spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad, said he had not yet obtained a copy. "Let me read it and then I'll get back to you," he said.
The 650,000-strong military has been at the heart of power since Pakistan was carved from northern India in 1947. Generals seized power in 1958 and have ruled intermittently since. The main intelligence service, the ISI, has consistently meddled in politics. Three-quarters of all army recruits come from Punjab, reflecting a similar imbalance in the country's power structures. The army's reputation for professionalism stretches back to colonial days, but has been eroded by business-related corruption allegations and three wars with India, including the loss of its eastern half, with the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
I dont understand why they dont send the Punjabis to fight there? They are not great friends of the Pashtuns are they?Another factor is the fact that many of the army's soldiers involved in operations are Pashtun like the Taliban. This has left the high command nervous about tackling the insurgents head-on for fear of causing rifts within the ranks. Although far from a mutiny, many soldiers have refused to fight their fellow tribesman or have surrendered and deserted."
They will fail not because they are obsessed with India, but because they are not obsessed with the extremists who want to take over the country.It may still fail the nation, by being obsessed with India. Also it has a long history of strategic overreach and costly miscalculations.
I guess they fear that it would make it a Punjabi Vs. Pushtun affair. I don't think that is necessarily wrong either."
I dont understand why they dont send the Punjabis to fight there? They are not great friends of the Pashtuns are they?
I think the latter follows from the former.They will fail not because they are obsessed with India, but because they are not obsessed with the extremists who want to take over the country.
Its a grave mistake on their part to overlook the extremists on their land and be obsessed with the ones across the border.I think the latter follows from the former.
You are totally right on both counts. There is a tendency among many Pakistanis to find all kinds of excuses for that debacle including that the original Lahore declaration of 1940 wanted them to be two separate countries anyway!A great article Vinodji, regards and kudos for it , the time came for the world to see the face of the Pakistan Army .
However , there are two very vital points in the article author was wrong in mentioning :
1. It was the princely state force of Jammu and Kashmir that was overwhelmed by the invaders, not Indian soldiers, as Jammu and Kashmir was an Independent Princely state on that time 22 -28 Oct. 1947.
2. Pakistan was curved out of not only Northern India but also Eastern India in 1947. Eastern Part liberated and named as Bangladesh.
I think it's because the Pakjabis have a deferential regard for the Pathans. They consider them to be some sort of rugged wild west warriors of Islam, maybe due to the fact that most Islamic invaders into the Punjab have historically been from Afghanistan. A Pakistani once told me that what was wrong with the Indian army was that it recruited from all strata of society, leading to a deterioration of its fighting character. On the other hand, he said, Pathans formed the backbone of the PA. Our Pathans are like your Sikhs, he said, me being quite unsure of what exactly he meant.I dont understand why they dont send the Punjabis to fight there? They are not great friends of the Pashtuns are they?
That and the habit of negotiating with a gun on their head.Its a grave mistake on their part to overlook the extremists on their land and be obsessed with the ones across the border.
I wonder if its their some kind of (misplaced) thinking that if they dont take action against the extremists and keep playing the India card, then the US will try to broker some kind of a solution on Kashmir. So far US has refused.
I think they loath each other. The Punjabis only want to use them in a war with India but otherwise think of them as no better than chowkidars! Look at all the Pathan jokes.I think it's because the Pakjabis have a deferential regard for the Pathans. They consider them to be some sort of rugged wild west warriors of Islam, maybe due to the fact that most Islamic invaders into the Punjab have historically been from Afghanistan. A Pakistani once told me that what was wrong with the Indian army was that it recruited from all strata of society, leading to a deterioration of its fighting character. On the other hand, he said, Pathans formed the backbone of the PA. Our Pathans are like your Sikhs, he said, me being quite unsure of what exactly he meant.
hence the need to name their missiles in Arabic, or after some great Muslim leader. To show all that they too are equal to the Arabs and Afghans.Although most Iranians and Afghans I have met online think Pakistan is an artificial state and Pakistani muslims are somehow inferior to them.
You are mostly right. Racism is not a monopoly of any culture, almost all of us are guilty of that.I think it's to do with some sort of purity. The Arabs think of Pakistani Muslims as dark, impure, converted subcontinental Muslims. Since they're from the land of Mohammad, they consider themselves to be the most superior. The Iranians consider themselves to be the inheritors of an ancient and great civilization, and consider Pakistan to be an artificial state which broke off from the Indian civilization. Likewise, the Afghans have a clear national identity, and every tribe there has some warrior or another as their hero, whether it be Mahmud of Gazni or Ghori, or Ahmed Shah Durrani, Abdali etc. The ancestors of the Pakistanis are the people who were repeatedly pillaged, raped and forcibly converted to Islam by the Afghans. So Afghans think they're naturally superior.
I need to stress though, that these are views I've heard on Afghan and Iranian forums. Not necessarily representative of Afghanis and Iranians as a whole. Maybe only representative of their internet populations.
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