Khakis’ inroad into civilian sector

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE dichotomy in Pakistan’s state and society is amply manifested in the takeover of civilian positions in the public sector by men in uniform. The militarization of civil society has emerged in the last two decades further widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

True, this phenomenon has existed for a long time — after all, Ayub Khan, a serving military officer, became defence minister in Mohammed Ali Bogra’s cabinet in 1953. But what is significant today is the magnitude the problem has assumed. Previously, when a handful of retired military personnel would gain entry into the civilian sector it was regarded as an aberration. But times have changed.

During the 1999-2002 period, 1027 army, navy and air force personnel — retired and serving — were inducted into the administration and corporations on posts meant for civilians. Although 400 of these appointments were cancelled quietly in October 2002 — either the contracts were terminated or the officers reverted to the armed forces — this can hardly be dismissed as a one-time development.

According to information released by the Cabinet Division, it seems the floodgates were opened in October 1999 when General Musharraf took over the reins of the government. This propensity of the khakis to encroach upon the civilian sector is being accepted as the norm. This is the outcome of the military’s growing inroad into politics. When the president of the country can be a man in uniform, one could well ask, then why not the heads of departments, ambassadors, and so on?

Why is this practice being increasingly resented? There are two reasons for it. First, it is seen as a method of making the military’s presence in the power structure more visible and consolidating its hold on every sector of public life. Secondly, as the size of the economic cake shrinks, those denied a share in it find it difficult to swallow what they perceive as injustice to them. The trend began under General Ziaul Haq when 211 armed forces officers were inducted in the Central Superior Services in 1980-85. Compare this to the whopping number now under discussion.

The reaction of the civilian officers is understandable. Many of them have to work hard to pass examinations and undergo special (at times rigorous) training to qualify for the job to which they are posted. When these are taken away from them and handed out on a silver platter to men who were originally recruited and trained for a job of an entirely different nature, the civilians naturally feel cheated. It is significant that the Cabinet Division has also mentioned that at the time of the induction of the 1000 plus army men there were nearly 700 “unabsorbed surplus civilian employees” in the government cadre.

All this has had a very demoralizing effect on the members of the administration and has created a military-civilian divide which is most undesirable. Moreover, the economic implications of such measures cannot be overlooked. While this approach has affected the quality of governance it has also inflated the budgetary expenditure on administration.

A number of factors have contributed to the spiralling expenditure on administration such as inflation, pay rise, routine increments, pensions. But over-staffing is also a key element in this scenario. The following figures from the federal budget on administration are quite revealing:

1999-2000 Rs19.4 billion

2000-2001 Rs50.7 billion

(this year military pensions were included in the civilian accounts)

2001-2002 Rs51.1 billion

2002-2003 Rs55.1 billion

2003-2004 Rs58.5 billion

With such large numbers of armed forces officers — both serving and retired — available for secondment to civilian duties one wonders at the rationale underlying the recruitment policy of the three forces. Their strength has expanded rapidly in recent years. But they have also become top-heavy. As a result there is the growing pressure to take care of the senior ranks by providing them with lucrative jobs especially when most of them cannot be retained in active service for too long a period and retire at a younger age than their civilian colleagues, given their service structure.

By providing them with employment, the military leadership has managed to create a growing constituency whose allegiance is assured. Awarded not just jobs but also land grants, contracts, industrial permits, etc the servicemen act as anchors of stability in the system.

Large chunks of retired servicemen have been made quiescent by giving the armed forces a large share in the economy through the foundations which have been set up (Fauji, Bahria and Shaheen). They have virtually emerged as big industrial/commercial empires with assets and investments said to be to the tune of at least $5 billion. They provide 18,000 jobs to the retired and serving servicemen and constitute a substantial part of the national economy by operating over 40 enterprises ranging from airlines, banks, industries, security services, leasing companies to bakeries.

According to senior defence analyst, Dr Ayesha Siddiqua, many of these ventures are suffering losses that are covered by financial injections from the defence budget or other public sector enterprises. In her paper, “Soldiers in business” she writes that this practice opens up opportunities for corruption as these enterprises are exempted from accountability.

Other projects which were set up essentially to serve the needs of the armed forces but have grown are the National Logistics Cell, the Frontier Works Organization and the Army Welfare Trust. With the patronage and injection of funds of the government, these agencies have expanded into the civilian economy and have squeezed out the private competitors. At times the government’s own enterprises have suffered. For instance the NLC has actually hit the Pakistan Railways by diverting its freight to the road.

Another method to keep the servicemen happy has been to concentrate on facilities for health and education provided to them. It is not strange that the best schools, universities, hospitals and housing in the public sector are the ones operated by the armed forces for the servicemen to meet their needs for education for their children, health care and houses for their family. This would have been welcomed generally — and one must remember that many of these facilities trickle down to the civilians too — but for the fact that the social sectors in Pakistan are doing so badly for the common man.

All this has serious political implications. The infiltration of the servicemen into the civilian administration amounts to tightening the military’s grip on the power structure. The army’s presence in politics is already a controversial issue. But when members of the armed forces begin to control key posts in the administration the army’s hold on society as a whole becomes stronger. Furthermore, the division between the haves and the have-nots tends to deepen as a neo-military class enjoying better privileges comes to the fore. This militarization of the country’s administration will eventually destroy the traditions espoused by civil society.

More importantly, this branching out into civilian and economic life could tarnish the image of the armed forces. Not only will this distract the forces from what is their real job and which they alone can perform with efficiency — namely, the defence of the country. It will also damage their professionalism.
Tags: Defence, Politics