Pakistan's leviathan has the country and its economy in its vice-like grip

Any facet of the economy one might imagine has the army's hand over it as evidenced in 2016 when the Pakistan Senate reckoned that the army operated more or less 50 commercial entities. Between 2011 and 2015 the Fauji Foundation, which perhaps serves as a facade for the Pakistani military’s commercial wing, grew its assets by 78 per cent.

Wali Tahir Nov 08, 2023
Pakistan military chief and top generals(Photo Twitter)

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes wrote about the Leviathan in a book conveniently named Leviathan. In 2023 the mechanisms concerning the ideal government he describes are still being experimented inside Pakistan by the forces we must not refer to. Hobbes argues for philosophical absolutism in his treatise, that is absolutism not driven by religious reasoning like the divine right of kings, but absolutism driven by the practical advantages he believes it holds. Thomas Hobbes envisions his perfect government in line with the Pakistani establishment’s idea of it, a government that is run by a single entity free from any accountability and with no limitations to its power.

Although, the leviathan of Pakistan after much prior experience has thought to not make itself apparent through direct governance duties, yet every citizen knows that they adhere to a “social contract” only administered to the whims of the leviathan. It holds absolute power in every realm within the country, beyond merely the visible politics so dramatized yet so apparent in the eyes of everyone.

Aftermath of “9th May” riots when former prime minister Imran Khan was arrested serves as perhaps the best example. The vast majority of PTI (Khan’s party) leadership would subsequently be arrested, wherein those party members who denounced PTI in press conferences would be granted bail, and those who refused to do so would remain incarcerated despite court providing bails or become missing persons, something that persists this very day. This included not just party members but even journalists who favoured Imran Khan, such as Imran Riaz Khan, who would remain a missing person for over 4 months. Moreover, civilians involved in the riots are set to be tried under military courts as well.

Pakistan's unaccountable Milibus

To anyone living in Pakistan for the past year, the fact that the economy is the measure of a country must have become clear. The economy describes the extent to which the leviathan holds absolute might over the country, to the point that the country would be left in utter ruin if the forces that be decided to withdraw the support it lends. The support it lends not by the choice of anyone but those deriving absolute benefit from it themselves.

In the budget of fiscal year 2023-2024, Pakistan's defence budget went up by 13 per cent to Rs 1.8 trillion. What’s utterly terrifying is the fact that this Goliath of a figure for a fractured economy with barebones programs for literacy, and a lack of basic necessities for around 38.3 per cent of the population on the poverty line, nonetheless still fails to include the Rs 563 billion allocated for pensions of retired military personnel and Rs 280 billion for the armed forces development program among other assorted forms of expenditure.

Such expenses may come within the ambit of Milbus, a term coined by the political scientist Ayesha Siddique. Milbus is the business involvement of the Pakistani military which goes unrecorded in the defence budget, yet enables personal benefit to members of the armed forces, most notably its senior ranking officers. Any facet of the economy one can imagine has the army's hand in it as evidenced in 2016 when the Pakistan Senate reckoned that the army operated more or less 50 commercial entities. Between 2011 and 2015 the Fauji Foundation, which perhaps serves as a facade for the Pakistani military’s commercial wing, grew its assets by 78 per cent.

The $20 billion “business” which at the time of its evaluation through rigorous investigation constituted about 15 per cent of the entire GDP only continues its expansion. One form of expansion has been plotted by recently requesting the Punjab provincial government for 1 million acres of land for corporate farming. By March 2023, an agreement had been signed for the release of 45,000 acres of land by the caretaker government of Punjab, which was found to be beyond the caretaker government’s constitutional and legal mandate in terms of section 230 of the Election Act 2017 by the Lahore High Court. However, to no one’s surprise, the order would later be suspended, and as of June 2023, a part of the project has already been inaugurated. 

Control over economy

Given the ability to pump what could be considered infinite amounts of money within the Pakistani economic realm into the said businesses, there would be an expectation of some sort of efficiency, but that would be a mistaken assumption as seen through the example of the dairy subsidiary of the Fauji Foundation. Fauji Foods Limited got an injection of Rs 11.7 billion, making the gross sponsor investment 3.5 times that of the industry leader, the Dutch FCEPL (Olper’s). However, FFL remains 1/6th its size. Wasting 75 per cent of its capacity to retain a meager market share of less than 2 per cent!

To rub the salt in the wound of Pakistan's economic misery, the grand sums accumulated by commercial holdings of such magnitude are often spirited out of the country. Sometimes they may present themselves in the form of 133 Papa John’s franchises valued over $39 million among various other portfolio investments by a retired general in the Pakistan Army.

However, the economic interests themselves are not the point, the mechanisms of power the leviathan holds by taking hostage the economy is the true terror. If it so pleases the leviathan, it may momentarily crush in its hand the country's economy to show how any whiff of civic disobedience, or curtailment of its powers, can be answered.

Leviathan itself is of course a sea monster in the Hebrew scriptures, prominent for its great size and power. Like all monsters, it gets slain at the end, and the meat from it is distributed in the wilderness, as the popular account of the story goes. While the world rarely has seen such realization of fantasies, life can often end up being more bizarre than expected.

 (The writer is a Pakistani law student. Views are personal)

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