Most of us who were born in the “Land of the Pure” have gotten used to men in uniform bullying their countrymen into submission. But what happened in Pakistan last week was unique, even by Pakistani standards. General Pervez Musharraf — who staged a coup in 1999 overthrowing an elected government and proclaimed himself president of the country — staged yet another military coup on Saturday, this time to forestall any future possibility of a challenge to his power.
What differs today from 1958 is justification; the spectre of communism has been replaced by the spectre of Islamic extremism. There is another difference of note. The Pakistani Armed Forces of 1958 and that of 2007 are vastly different entities. The professional army led by Sandhurst-trained officers in 1958 has been replaced by a vast military-industrial machine that is led by a network of immensely wealthy officers commanding a million men recruited from the poorest of the poor. They are ill fed, ill-equipped and demoralized.
When the Pakistani President claims that Pakistan has sacrificed nearly 1,000 soldiers in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, he is referring to the ordinary Pakistan ” sipahi,” not the officer who treats these men like latter day slaves. Pakistani officers have rarely fought in battles. Earlier this year when a colonel, two majors and 300 troops were confronted with a dozen jihadis, the Pakistani colonel surrendered without a fight.
So why does Musharraf want to cling to office? The answer lies in the massive US$20-billion business operations ranging from corn flakes to cement production, from missile production to municipal taxation, that the Pakistani Armed Forces are involved in.
Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa writing in her book, Military Inc., notes that General Musharraf alone has real estate holdings of over US$10-million. His only job has been that of an army officer. Her book is banned in Pakistan. The country’s military is more of a holding company that runs businesses, hotels, shopping malls, insurance companies, banks, farms and an airline as well.
For 50 years the Pakistan Armed Forces have justified their interventions by depicting civilians as incompetent and corrupt and insisting that only they have the capacity and capability of managing the country of 150 million people.
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