From Guns to Cereal, Military Dominates Pakistan

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf i i

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been the country's leader since he seized power in a coup in 1999. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been the country's leader since he seized power in a coup in 1999.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard in a bunker in Islamabad. i i

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard in a bunker in front of the Presidency building in Islamabad, July 29, 2007. Pakistan boosted security after a suicide bombing during protests at Islamabad's pro-Taliban Red Mosque killed 14 people. Farooq Naeem/Farooq Naeem hide caption

itoggle caption Farooq Naeem/Farooq Naeem
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard in a bunker in Islamabad.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard in a bunker in front of the Presidency building in Islamabad, July 29, 2007. Pakistan boosted security after a suicide bombing during protests at Islamabad's pro-Taliban Red Mosque killed 14 people.

Farooq Naeem/Farooq Naeem

Sixty years ago, Pakistan emerged on the map. British India was split in two, with Pakistan representing a Muslim majority distinct from its Hindu neighbor, India.

Upon independence, the British Indian Army was also divided up and Pakistan received a larger share of soldiers than it could feed. Pakistan's leaders had to decide at that point if they should cut the military down to size.

But rioting, mass migration and disputes over borders quickly brought Pakistan and its neighbor to war. Pakistanis feared that their newly created country would be eliminated by India if they did not have a large military. So Pakistan's military emerged as the guardian of the Muslim state, and its influence in politics grew.

Husain Haqqani, director of Boston University's Center for International Relations, explains why a young Pakistan appealed to the West for military support.

"Pakistan, because it needed money and resources for its military, turned to the West and became an American ally very early in its history," Haqqani says. India decided to be nonaligned in the Cold War, "so Cold War factors came into play," he says.

"The United States ended up putting a lot of resources into Pakistan's military, and to this day, the fact remains that whenever Pakistan has had civilian government it has received less U.S. aid than when it has been under military government. So the military's role has continued to grow."

In an interview with Renee Montagne, Haqqani discusses the military's prevalent role in Pakistan's government and economy.

How much of Western support kept Pakistan's military in a position of power and how much of it was the inability of Pakistan's civilian leadership to shake off the power of the military?

Well, for one thing, the military has ruled Pakistan for longer than the civilian leaders have. Secondly, the civilians and the military have always disagreed about what should be the primary focus of the Pakistani state and government. The civilians want to spend more on the social sectors. The military wants to continue not only to spend on better equipment but for more privileges for itself. So if you go to Pakistan, the best neighborhoods are the military neighborhoods. They're called defense housing estates. Nowhere else in the world does the military get involved in large-scale business as the Pakistani military has.

There's a new book on Pakistan's military, which is called Military Inc., which is fascinating, because it lays out the level of influence and how deep it goes into the society ... The military owns companies that make cereal.

Absolutely. In fact, the only Pakistani-made cereal is made by a company that is run by a foundation that is under the military. It's supposed to benefit army veterans. But the fact remains that they manage that by not allowing competition in the cereal sector. They're in the cinnamon sector, they manufacture sugar, they have a bank, they have insurance companies. Because the military is running the government, these business institutions can have privileged conditions. And so they are not open to free-market forces and competition, which undermines the growth of Pakistan's economy as a free-market economy.

And therefore it creates many tensions .... I go around in the United States and everybody says, "We support our troops." In Pakistan, people sometimes get angry and say, "We don't want to support an army that dominates us." Although, if the army was not so entrenched in business and politics, people would always look up to their army.

But it doesn't seem that Pakistan feels, in most places, militarized.

Oh, actually Pakistan's militarization is relatively subtle. For example, this whole phenomenon of jihadism, where you have militias — many of whom are now running amok and are totally out of control as happened with the recent Red Mosque incident in Islamabad — these people are actually an extension of Pakistan's militarization. Because what happened was that the Pakistani military realized that, however much it might spend and however much it might strengthen itself, it will never be able to compete dollar for dollar, weapon system for weapon system with India.

So therefore they decided that one of the easiest ways of increasing Pakistan's military potential was to cultivate an ideology of jihadism and create these small militias that would keep India engaged in a long-term conflict ... in a proxy war. That was fought in Kashmir during in the 1990s. Now, of course, a lot of that experience had been gained fighting the Soviets through the Afghan mujahedeen, or Afghan freedom fighters as they were called at that time, and who later on mutated into becoming the Taliban, who were also a similar bunch of ideologically motivated guerrilla fighters. And that has contributed to terrorism, which is now one of Pakistan's biggest problems.

So how did this play into the way into which the army and even President Musharraf acted after Sept. 11?

If you read Gen. Musharraf's book, called In the Line of Fire, he actually says it in so many words. He says, "I war-gamed after the United States came to me and said, 'Either you are with us or against us,' and I realized that there was more benefit in being with the U.S. than being against them."

So basically, he took a U-turn and the Pakistan army agreed that a U-turn had to be taken in dumping the Taliban and allying with the United States. But the point is, can the Titanic be moved on short notice? The Pakistan army is a behemoth, it's a large institution [of] more than 600,000 people, and not all of them are going to turn at the command of Gen. Musharraf ideologically and philosophically, which is why Gen. Musharraf has had so much difficulty in implementing his U-turn.

Web Resources

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.