Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy
Swapna Kona ·       

The vacillation back and forth from democracy to military dictatorship strengthens the militarization of Pakistani politics and indeed, the politicization of the Pakistani military. Apart from the capability to control the centripetal forces that threaten Pakistan, the authority holding power in Islamabad must also engage in a self-legitimizing campaign, which requires the establishment of modalities that leave no aspect of Pakistan untouched, least of all, its economy. This realization has been the dominant thought within the military in Pakistan.

In Military Inc., Pakistani strategic analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa makes an elaborate study of Milbus, a concept she defines as the "military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity but is neither recorded nor part of the defence budget" - an economy based on the Pakistani military's booming commercial enterprise. Dr. Siddiqa's central argument is that the Pakistani military's stake in the political process manifests itself in its control of economic resources. Military Inc. is, thus, a sociological study of the political effects of a militarily driven economy.

The author analyzes the discourse on state power, the classical realist paradigm and the proponents of both within the country. Milbus is prefaced by a brief historical commentary on past leaders. The criticism is evenly laced - Zulfikar Bhutto receives as many brickbats as Zia. Afghanistan and India are recurring themes, but more interesting is the orchestrated destruction of the secular image of the army, when compared with its Turkish and Indonesian counterparts. The author refers extensively to the praetorian tendencies of the armed forces employing various arguments from that of Hamza Alavi's thesis of Pakistan as an "overdeveloped state" to Morris Janowitz's argument that favours the role of the military in developing societies.

Siddiqa's analysis is not incisive - she subscribes to the view that the military very well could be Pakistan's largest political party and one that "does not like or permit sub-cultures." The multi-dimensional role of the army is dealt with in much detail. But, for the most part, it is business networking as the army's vehicle to power that is emphasized. Various arguments within the country are employed - "propagandist" versus "counter-plottist" schools of thought jostle for attention and provide a rare insight into the psyche of Pakistan's strategic community.

This theoretical debate leads on to the author's characterization of the army as semi-authoritarian - six typologies are used to box the Pakistani military into one type within time frames. Comprehending this classification becomes slightly tedious, but even as one is tempted to skip this process entirely, it is useful to resist. The many benefits include a more lucid understanding of the military's likeness to glorified feudal structures projecting the state as a protector against internal and external threats, and of the military as the sole driver capable of steering the Pakistani nation. The author delineates how this discourse feeds into the need for the military to be well "looked after" - essentially, its welfare schemes that are the Milbus. Milbus is, thus, the financial index of the Pakistani military's political debauchery. The organized use of office is nowhere more evident.

The essentially economic character of Milbus is explored with the use of extensive empirical data. While the author successfully questions the self-defined perimeters of the Pakistani military, the book falters in two places. The distinction between the three wings of the armed forces blurs as the army is used interchangeably with the military, making it hard to discern the role of the Air Force or the Navy, which find special mention only in passing. It is unclear whether this is because the army has a larger political stake or because the military is intended to represent all three forces. Also, in her effort to establish a ring of reason the author becomes repetitive in places. Resounding conclusions intended to emphasize the interconnectivity characteristic of the Milbus end up stating the obvious.

The principal contribution of the book is in its unprecedented coverage of the subject. Despite the lack of easy access to data, the book is not hypothetical and refrains from a holier-than-thou rhetoric, instead focusing on a brilliant expose of the military's economic hegemony. The author subtly suggests that the military's attachment to power is premised on an unshakeable belief in its own capabilities. The author is not dismissive of the military - her book is not intended to rubbish the regime. Rather it offers a deeper comprehension of how the military functions.

Very effectively the author has brought into the open a facet of the Pakistani military hitherto unexplored. The timing of the book is opportune and captures the current mood of the nation. Most importantly, the author has researched a taboo subject sans drama and with precision. This makes the book both credible and thought provoking. Anyone interested in military regimes or South Asia will find this book valuable - a work of great importance, especially to those on the other sides of Pakistan's borders.