Pakistan wary of Morsi after-effect on its soil
By G Parthasarathy | Published: 08th September 2013 12:00 AM |
As the two most populous predominantly Islamic countries in the world, Egypt and Pakistan, have a shared history of military dominance and rule since the 1950s. Just as Egypt’s first freely elected President Mohammed Morsi was being ousted, Pakistan’s newly elected government was marking Independence Day on August 14. Still fearing its powerful military, the Pakistani reaction to the crackdown was predictable. Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan told Pakistan’s National Assembly: “Unarmed protesters are being killed in Egypt, which is condemnable. The world is with the people of Egypt. An elected government has been dismissed through bloodshed. The detention of an elected President is a matter of concern.” Despite Khan’s rhetoric, PM Nawaz Sharif, forever beholden to Saudi Arabia, remained silent, as Saudi Arabia had backed the crackdown.
While in its initial years, the 465,000-strong Egyptian military came out poorly in conflicts with Israel, it did creditably in the 1973 conflict and thereafter become a force largely armed and influenced by Americans. Egypt’s 1979 treaty with Israel and the demilitarisation of borders with Israel have led to peace on the border. Both the Egyptian Army and Israelis shared deep suspicions of Morsi’s Islamist inclinations and his covert ties with Hamas in Gaza, which is seeking to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. The Egyptian Army has, moreover, been an ally of the US in its wars in Iraq. Unlike Pakistan’s military, which backs Islamic parties and radical armed groups within and has sympathies for groups ranging from the Taliban and al-Qaeda to Chechens and Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, Egypt’s military is modern, moderate and secular.
Prolonged periods of military rule and domination in Egypt and Pakistan have, however, given their respective militaries a significant role in national economic life. In Egypt, the Ministry of Military Production runs companies which produce not only tank shells and ammunition but also fertilisers, sports equipment, cement, cars, food products and gas cylinders. The army also dabbles in real estate, housing, tourism, healthcare and education. According to Margaret Scobey, a former US ambassador to Cairo, the Egyptian Army is a “quasi-commercial enterprise”. But there is little doubt that within the Arab world it is a respected force. If threatened, Arab countries will turn to Egypt for military support—a move the Americans would welcome. It remains to be seen what role Pakistan would play in the Arab Sunni world, if Iran goes nuclear.
In her book Military Inc-Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, Ayesha Siddiqa reveals details of the tax exempt and vast economic empire of Pakistan’s Army, which runs into billions of dollars, through two major business groups—the Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust (AWT). The Fauji Foundation’s empire includes industries like sugar, fertilisers, cement, power, oil distribution, construction and transportation. AWT has a huge empire covering real estate, banking, education, overseas employment, financial services, employment and health care. No civilian government has dared to bring these under parliamentary scrutiny and control, or sought to bring those responsible for corruption and maladministration to justice. The Air Force and Navy run similar, albeit smaller business empires, respectively called the Shaheen Foundation and the Bahria Foundation, which run enterprises and services ranging from airlines to education.
Industrial and business empires of militaries are now prevalent in countries where they have played a political role. Few military establishments, however, have played the pernicious role that Pakistan’s Army has played in promoting religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism in its immediate neighbourhood, even while arming and backing radical groups promoting sectarian and ethnic violence within the country.