‘Military inc.’ biggest encroacher in Pakistan

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Ranging from petrol pumps to industrial plants, financial institutions, bakeries, schools and universities, hosiery factories, milk dairies, stud farms, and cement plants, the Pakistan military stands as the biggest conglomerate of all business…writes ANILA GULZAR

The Margalla Green Golf Club in Islamabad boasts of a sprawling 18-hole course, nestled in the picturesque Margalla Hills National Park. It occupies a place of pride in the Pakistan Navys golfing circle and several golf tournaments are organised at this exotic location. The latest event held there was the Chief of the Naval Staff Amateur Golf Championship held in September 2021 where President Arif Alvi was the chief guest.

However, the Pakistan Navy is now embroiled in an infamous litigation case in which the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has indicted it for encroaching over 8,000 acres of protected forest land.

On January 11, the IHC directed the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to seal Margalla Green Golf Club and demolish all associated structures within four weeks. Interestingly, just a week earlier the IHC had also ordered the flattening of Pakistan Navy’s sailing club and farm houses built illegally on the banks of the protected Rawal Lake in Islamabad.

Terming these blatant transgressions as “classic example of absence of rule of law”, the court also issued directions to initiate criminal proceedings against former Pakistan Navy Chief Zafar Mahmood Abbasi.

Another example of encroachment of state land by Pakistan Army came to light early this January when the IHC ordered the Monal restaurant located in Margalla Hills area to be sealed and handed over to the CDA.

Shockingly, the owners of this elite restaurant were paying rent to the military, believing the land to be under the latter’s possession. While on one hand, Pakistan’s armed forces are blatantly flouting the country’s laws and encroaching on government land, on the other hand they are unabashedly using defence land for commercial purposes.

Alarmed by the squandering and unlawful commercialisation of national property, the Pakistan Supreme Court had summoned the Defence Secretary in November 2021 and asked him to explain if “wedding halls, cinemas and housing societies were being built for defence purposes”.

Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Pakistan’s former Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS).

But court injunctions and adverse observations, even at the apex level, are hardly likely to deter a military that has been raised on what is now referred to as the “culture of entitlement”. This is borne out by the fact that the Pakistan Navy, instead of complying with court orders, has decided to challenge the verdict through an intra-court appeal in the Margalla Green Golf Course case. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the Chief Justice of Pakistan was constrained to observe that colonels and majors were acting like kings.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of Pakistan’s ‘Military Inc.’, the eponymous title of the book by Ayesha Siddiqa regarding the enormous business empire of Pakistan’s military which is reportedly valued at a mind-boggling $20 billion.

Ranging from petrol pumps to industrial plants, financial institutions, bakeries, schools and universities, hosiery factories, milk dairies, stud farms, and cement plants, the Pakistan military has a finger in every economic pie and stands as the biggest conglomerate of all business in Pakistan today with more than fifty commercial entities in operation. This fact has been substantiated by a UNDP report published in 2020.

Pakistan’s armed forces control these profitable ventures through four front corporations – the Fauji Foundation (FF), Army Welfare Trust (AWT), Shaheen Foundation (SF) and the Bahria Foundation (BF).

In order to ensure that their business interests are well-preserved and suitably promoted, each foundation has instituted an elaborate organisation of active service members to monitor these them.

It is a well-known fact that Pakistan’s military has demonstrated a self-serving attitude in the past and has prioritised its own profits over public accountability and interest. However, what transpired in Murree Hill resort in early January, when more than two dozen tourist lost their lives after becoming stranded in a snow storm this year demonstrates the extent of callousness and indifference by Pakistan’s military.

While thousands of hapless tourists were stranded in the snow and freezing temperatures on the night of January 06th in the popular hill-station, the military was not only slow to respond, but demonstrated shocking indifference to the plight of civilians.

At a time when the Imran Khan government is struggling to negotiate $6 billion Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, and have pledged their motorways and the State Bank of Pakistan for an immediate release of $1 billion, it seems ironic that the country’s armed forces sit on a pile of cash earned through surreptitious ventures.

(Anila Gulzar is a the spokesperson for Justice for Minorities in Pakistan. She currently lives in the UK.)