Once upon a time, in a distant land, lived a King who was so exceedingly fond of himself, that he would spend all the state’s money on new clothes. He wouldn’t care about his people, except when he had to show off his clothes. And then came along two weavers who promised the King a new suit, such glamorous was the suit, that it would be invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent or unfit for the position. And, when the King parades before his faithful subjects in his new clothes, no one dared to say that they don’t see any clothes…
Take two, the great King Raheel Sharif, past week, announced dismissal of six to twelve army officers – the count of course varies depending upon the journalist’s inclination towards fauj – on charges of corruption. And thus, sending his subjects on roll, who see him now as a King, rather than a kingmaker alias umpire.
Gen Raheel Sharif, wishes to be seen not merely as a “powerful” Pakistan army chief within a fractured and under-developed polity, which is quite normal, but instead be seen as the Great King – who selflessly kept his nation’s interest paramount and successfully defeated both external and internal enemies of the state. So if, earlier, it was torpedoing a very nascent peace process with India or attempting to arm twist President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan; now it is, nudging and pressuring Nawaz Sharif – a competitive power pole – into resigning over charges of alleged taxation abuse, by pro-actively initiating action against corrupt individuals within army.
To his faithful subjects, the King has already set the benchmark against corruption so high that it would be impossible for any mortal, leave alone democratically elected yet lowly Prime Minister having any choice but to handover the mantle back to the King willingly, because resting it by force is unworthy of a Great King.
But has he set any benchmark? Lets analyze it closer. The King has dismissed individual army officer’s nay officers of Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force and not army officers, without barring of facts on the nature of corruption and crime. Ostensibly, the crime must have been ridiculously naïve, that the otherwise, out spoken and credit garnering ISPR General, preferred silence, even refusing to acknowledge or confirm, identity and count of officers dismissed.
Further, the extent of corruption within Pakistan army is humongous, if not less in comparison to political class considering the army over years of its rule has institutionalized multiple layers of economic skullduggery, beginning from direct control and involvement of army in economic exploitation of state resources, using its front organizations such as Frontier Works Organization – Pakistan’s largest contractor for constructing roads and highways, competing with private players in an unfair game. National Logistics Cell – Pakistan’s largest goods transportation company and highest revenue earner if only motorway tolls were a measure of profitability. Not stopping at construction of roads or collecting tolls, these front organization’s economic reach ranges to owning bakeries, cinemas, gas stations, commercial plazas to selling sands and allotting contracts for fishing in coastal areas – everything that army’s faithful subjects should otherwise be owning.
And then ofcourse, there are subsidiary organizations of Pakistan army, extracting undue economic advantage at the cost of state, such as Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, Sheheen Foundation and Bahira Foundation – enabling themselves to make windfall profits by coercing, often partnering with private players and politicians in subsidized land grab, seeking unfair tax breaks for its projects. If that wasn’t enough, there are individual army officers or people of army fraternity that have special focus on real estate acquired at subsidized rates for developing and reselling land in urban and rural areas. It only takes common sense, which is obviously uncommon among the faithful subjects, to witness how the infamous ISI chief Gen retired Hameed Gul’s daughter managed to bag profitable bus routes between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Equally important to call out is, how spineless politicians over the years had chosen to cohabit with army in the exploitation of state resources – So aptly documented by Shaid-Ur-Rehman’s book – Who Owns Pakistan?
The real problem, however, is in Pakistan army’s invisible and systemic exploitation. While politicians are thrown to slaughterhouses for corruption, and rightfully so, but Pakistan army’s economic exploitation of subjects remains a taboo and off-limits for the faithful mortals. Dare we forget, researcher and author Ayesha Siddiqa being refused space by Hotels for her book Military Inc. – Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, launch?
Back to our story: alas, among the faithful subjects, was a little kid screaming – The King is naked!!