May 30, 2020
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A Political Pornography?

My book was not just on the military, but Pakistan's entire power elite

A Political Pornography?
Sandeep Adhwaryu
A Political Pornography?
Have I written a political pornography or a Mills & Boon? It's the first question which came to my mind after I found myself in the middle of a storm in a teacup over the publication of my book, Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy. The uproar has made me both sad and excited. Sad, because most commentators are trying to draw their own conclusions without having grasped the basic argument of my book. Many have not even read the book; those who have are focusing on its least important argument. Yet I'm excited by the fact that the book has got serving and retired military officers with varied ideological positions on a single forum-- to prove that my book is just a pack of lies meant to malign the armed forces.

My book wasn't meant to be a treatise against the military; rather, it was an effort to understand the larger problem of lack of democracy in Pakistan. In doing so, I moved away from the traditional analysis on political economy and tried to understand the military's economy which seems to not only have expanded but also become so visible that the common man has begun to point to the power of this financial empire. One of my conclusions, therefore, is that President Pervez Musharraf alone is not responsible for taking the decision to strengthen his political control. There are people in the military fraternity who would want him and the armed forces to be in a position of strength due to their economic interests.

This vested interest is not just confined to the armed forces. There are other stakeholders as well-- parts of the political leadership, the civilian corporate sector, media barons, landed feudal elements and many others who'd like to see the military comfortably ensconced in the state's power politics.

In a way, I am glad that in the middle of this uproar, everyone has forgotten the more important argument of my book: that the military economy is part of the larger elite, one which comprises both military and civilian. It would be unfair to read the book as an expose of the high-handedness of the generals. It is actually about the elitist structure of Pakistani politics in which the military along with the landed feudal, top industrialists, big business, prominent religious leaders and the senior civil bureaucracy happen to extract huge rents from within and outside the country. My book is the story of this rent-seeking elite. The politicians are equally to be blamed for the excessive power of the armed forces.

Historically speaking, the civilian leadership made the mistake of using the military as a tool for personal power. Eminent political scientist Hamza Alavi's thesis regarding the crisis of an 'overdeveloped' state--one that I use in my book--views the armed forces as serving the ruling elite's interest. I've taken this argument further by saying that the military no longer serves the interest of the elite as its tool but has, in fact, evolved into an independent class and now sits on par with other classes of the ruling elite. The military owes its evolution to its own organisational strengths and machinations and also to the help rendered by the civilian members of the ruling elite, termed in the book as the military's clients.

The inverse patron-client relationship in which the military is at the top of the political hierarchy was made possible due to the symbiotic relationship between military force and political power. The military economy, basically, feeds into this peculiar political structure. In fact, for those willing not to get too overexcited about the details of the military economy, one of the fundamental arguments of the book is that Milbus, or military business, is an independent genre of military economy, sustaining which can have negative consequences for all states that encourage this. Such an economy is critical to the nexus between the powerful civilian stakeholders and the military. There are states such as the US, Israel, France, the UK, South Africa and others where the military is used as a tool for exploitation by the aggressive civilian corporate sector. However, what should be understood is that allowing a military into the economic arena has inherent dangers for a polity. An armed force engaged in economic activities, especially if they are aggressively involved in corporate activities, is bad news for policymaking and politics.

In Pakistan's case, the problem becomes more intense due to the military's power. The military's hidden economy suffers from as much lack of transparency as the other portion of the economy that is the defence budget, a mere single line entry in the national budget document. In the circumstances, the excitement the book has generated was unavoidable. While the generals' excitement is an urge to curb information about their wider economic role, the people are keener to break the taboo and question the military's financial and political impunity. After all, why should a military be like Caesar's wife-- above questioning?

(Ayesha Siddiqa is the author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, reviewed in Outlook last week.)
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