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Pakistan takes solace in dictatorship every decade or so since it came into existence. The last dictatorship of Gen. Parvez Musharaf ended in 2008. Since then, Pakistan has been fighting for its democracy to survive. But today, the atmosphere doesn’t look good. All the indicators are in favor of an upcoming dictatorship. Let us analyze.
A quick look at all the dictators Pakistan has suffered before we continue further.
THE ROGUE’s GALLERY
In 1958, the first Pakistani President Major General Iskander Mirza dismissed the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and the government, appointing army commander-in-chief Gen. Ayub Khan as the Chief martial law administrator. Thirteen days later, Mirza himself was exiled by Ayub Khan, who appointed himself president. Khan had to resign in 1969 because of protests in West Pakistan as well as the growing independence movement in what was then East Pakistan and would soon become Bangladesh.
After serving in the war with India over the Kashmir region, Yahya Khan became Pakistan’s youngest general at 40. He became commander in chief in 1966. He was appointed chief administrator of martial law in 1969 by Ayub Khan, only to lose power 2 years later, and go into exile, when Eastern Pakistan broke off to become Bangladesh. Yahya Khan administered genocide and killed over 3 million Bangladeshis, mostly minority Hindus.
In 1977, Muhamed Zia-ul-Haq grabbed power in a coup. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the ousted prime minister, was sentenced to death and executed in 1979. Zia-ul-Haq promoted Islamisation, turned against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, the Shias, and supported the Mujaheddin, who were fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. He not only aligned the country more closely to Washington but also pursued a nuclear program. Pakistan detonated nuclear test devices in 1998, ten years after Zia-ul-Haq had died in a plane crash.
Pervez Musharraf toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, just when Sharif had decided to fire him as top army leader after a failed military campaign in the Kargil region of Kashmir. Musharraf held onto power until 2008. Thereafter he went into self-exile to Dubai. In 2014 he was charged with treason, and sentenced to death in 2019. The Lahore High Court annulled the death sentence given to former military dictator Pervez Musharraf in Jan 2020. He continues to live a lavish life in Dubai.
A LOOK AT THE CONDITIONS LEADING TO PAST DICTATORSHIPS
Once a renowned Pakistani citizen was asked, “Why Pakistan has had so many coups in the past, and India none”, he stated, “that is due to the moral bankruptcy of the military, and the civilian leadership of Pakistan”. In my eyes, Pakistan failed at many levels, which gave chance to opportunist Generals to play Saviour. The following could be some of the reasons:
- First nine years, four Prime Ministers, four Governor-Generals, one President and no Constitution.
- Country ran like an adhoc unit without any direction, guided by personal ambitions and greed.
- Mega projects and history of either no completion or completion at exorbitant cost. Kalabagh; Mangala; Tarbela dams, CPEC, and Gwadar Port to name a few.
- Corruption, lack of accountability & transparency, and personal greed of the military & civilian leadership.
- ISI and its desire to reign supreme in Iran, Afghanistan, and the whole of South Asia.
- Army’s iron grip over the economy.
- Challenge to the military establishment from civilian leadership.
PAKISTANI ARMY’S BUSINESS EMPIRE
The Pakistani Army has a business empire that would put African dictators and their cronies to shame. China also follows a similar model, and this explains a ’Friendship higher than the Heights of Himalayas and deeper than the depths of the Arabian Sea’. The Pak military empire is run by direct involvement of the forces, through subsidiaries, and individually. The subsidiaries run their business through four foundations, which were operating about 100 independent projects in 2007. The foundations are:
- The Fauji Foundation
- Army Welfare Trust
- Shaheen Foundation
- Bahria Foundation
These subsidiaries are into private security, oil terminals, phosphate ventures, commercial banks, airline, travel agency, stud farm, shipping and freight, construction, cement, gas, fertilizer, pharmaceutical, power, aviation, air cargo, insurance, fisheries, pay-TV, schools, universities, manufacturing of shoes; hosiery; woolen goods; rice; sugar; paint, etc. The list is endless.
By the late 80s, the Pakistani army’s greed had become cause célèbre, leading to resentment amongst the populace. As per Shuja Nawaz’s book, ’Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within’, the rampant land grabbing and corruption by the Pakistani generals had crossed all limits, and most army officers used to refrain from going out into the public places in their uniforms.
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, in her 2007 book ’Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’ uncovers how the Pakistani military was involved in all kinds of conceivable businesses. She estimated that in 2007 the military’s net worth was more than £10 billion, which was four times the total foreign direct investment that came to Pakistan in the same year. She claimed that the army owns over 12 percent of the country’s land. The current and retired senior officers have a monopoly over this land, making each one of them worth over £3.5 million. A Major General can expect to receive on retirement a present of 240 acres of prime farmland, worth on average £550,000, as well an urban real estate plot valued at £700,000(all market values as of 2008).
In 2016, it was informed to the Pakistani senate that the armed forces run over 50 commercial undertakings, which are worth over $20 billion. The military stands today as the biggest conglomerate of all businesses in Pakistan and the jewels in their crown are the eight housing societies in eight major towns.
PAKISTAN’S ECONOMIC ARRANGEMENT: MÉNAGE A TROIS
Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, three classes of people have benefited the most. The military, politicians, and bureaucracy. They have properties in western countries, and their wards go there for higher studies. The ordinary citizens of Pakistan understand that and criticize politicians and bureaucrats with impunity. However, they refrain to do so, against the military, for the fear of retribution.
Before coronavirus disease struck the world, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate was estimated to be 3.3% for 2020 and 2.4% for 2021, its lowest in a decade. Now, Pakistan’s real growth rate for 2020 has been projected by the World Bank to go into the negative, between -1.3 percent and -2.2 percent.
Pakistan has double-digit inflation, almost 12%, and a budget deficit of almost 9%. To overcome this country would need to grow in double digits to break even. Its total external debt stands at a whopping $111 billion($62 billion to China alone). It’s debt servicing obligation for 2020 is over $29 billion. Pakistan is in a classic debt trap. It borrows more to service its debt burdens and pays for its imports, a never-ending cycle. Its foreign exchange reserves at under $11 billion are barely sufficient to cover 3 ½ months of imports.
WHY ROCK THE BOAT
When the going is so good, then who needs military rule. Today the Army controls the country’s nuclear and missile programs, the military budget, national security decision-making, and foreign relations. This is called, a coup without a coup. However, key variables, such as economic instability, a threat to senior military officer’s economic dealings and high-handedness by the civilian leadership could quickly change the course of this relationship. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got this golden rule wrong. Despite performing consistently better than his predecessors, he was ousted, once by Gen Parvez Musharaf in 1999, and the second time by the invisible hand of the army, in 2018.
The current incompetent Prime Minister Imran Khan would complete two years in the office in August 2020. Other than establishing a smooth relationship with GHQ(General Headquarters), he has displayed ineptness in every other department. After almost two years of rule, Khan, on his plate, has a bankrupt economy, failed foreign policy, and an incompetent set of ministers. Stuck between the hammer and the anvil, Khan came out with an ingenious idea. He granted the current Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa a full three-years extension as COAS, and made him a member of the government’s National Development Council. This was akin to paying protection to the mafia, for safely running one’s own business. However, this decision impacted the careers and promotions of 20 Pakistani Army Generals. The main list of disgruntled generals included Corps Commander Multan Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar(forced to resign after being kept under house arrest) who was on top of the seniority list for appointment as the Chief of Army Staff; Lt Gen Nadeem Raza, Lt Gen Humayun Aziz, Lt Gen Naeem Ashraf, Lt Gen Sher Afghan, and Lt Gen Qazi Ikraam.
Bajwa today stands at crossroads, where he is haunted by General Ayub Khan’s dilemma of October 1958. His solutions to problems could generate more issues, and his allies may turn into his critics and his critics into hostile opponents. So would he take things in his own hands before any disgruntled general decides to undertake the route of Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan of Rawalpindi conspiracy(1951), or Maj. Gen. Tajammul Hussain Malik’s conspiracy to assassinate Zia-ul-Haq(1980), or Maj. Gen. Zahirul Islam Abbasi’s coup attempt against the government of Benazir Bhutto(1995).
This new reality would haunt General Bajwa for a long time. He got an extension of three years, which surprisingly coincides with his protégé Imran Khan’s government’s tenure. Imran Khan’s incompetent government, the country’s failed economy, the exodus of industries, a meltdown of exports, the crash landing of Pakistani rupee, false fear of external threats, the fake narrative on J&K, and COVID19(a gift from their all-weather friend) would give Bajwa enough reasons to be the fifth dictator of Pakistan. The million-dollar question is, would he do it now or towards the end of his three years extension? And believe you me, Bajwa is having sleepless nights over this question.