WASHINGTON DC, July 21, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Strong Army, Strong Economy: Two Parallels or Two Opposites

By Dawood Mamoon

THE HAGUE, Netherlands, July 21: Recently the Pakistani military ruler claimed in front of large audience in Shandoor: ‘Pakistan is rising economically, both our defence and economic foundations are strong now’. Well the General was not completely honest while making this statement as the reality is quite different than what he perceives it to be.

Our so called friends see us as the front line state against war on terror whereas in the eyes of our critics Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism. Both mean the same.

With the recent 7/7 attacks in London where the four terrorists had Pakistani origins and had visited religious schools in Pakistan just months ago before carrying out the terrorist acts, it seems that the country is more of an epicenter of radicalism and extremism than a country which is waging a war against fanaticism. (Pix above shows Madarassa students protesting on the streets of Lahore).

If anything the extremist groups still have a free hand in the country. In one of the four provinces, these extremist elements hold the majority seats and are calling for Taliban style government by passing one extremist law after another.

In all this, Musharraf seems to be the only beneficiary as he has proved himself to be one of the best rent seeker dictators of his times. He has taken billions of dollars from the west with a promise to extend unconditional cooperation against war on terror.

It is a long debate whether the West is really getting the returns worth their money from their key ally on war on terror in Pakistan. However one thing is sure, it is in Musharraf’s own interest to prolong this war on extremism in Pakistan, as it is the sole source of his rent seeking from the West, whereas this war will last as long as extremism and radicalism will last in this country.

Pakistan under his dictatorial rule would not be a blue eyed boy of the West, as it is today, once the war on terror is over. Musharraf knows that the West, which is the champion of democracy, has accepted his dictatorship only as a compromise for his cooperation.

Currently with the support of his Western allies, Musharraf is successfully ruling over Pakistan and it seems his prime motive remains simple and singular: to prolong and sustain his dictatorial rule over Pakistan. The money he has received is thus duly utilized to this effect.

For instance a significant part has been allocated to billion dollar defence deals and further strengthening the army as an institution. This step is to ensure his continuous support in the army which remains the primary source of his power.

A good part of the money has been injected into the economy only to artificially improve the statistics as seen in the macro picture. He is defending his dictatorial rule over the previous democratic governments on the basis of Pakistani economic achievement which is empty at best in real terms as the plight of the common man is worse than the 1990s.

The government may view Pakistan as progressing, but a neutral observer views any such optimism with a lot of skepticism, whereas the skepticism feeds on the stark reality that this country has been witnessing a rapid demise of its political and legal institutions under army rule.

No doubt, the utter tragedy in this country is that strong political institutions, which are deemed to be a pre-requisite of any progressing society, are considered by our present leadership to be a unnecessary. Ridiculous and bizarre it may sound, but this is the bitter truth and the leadership wants us to swallow it. Doesn’t matter if we agree or not.

Like all military dictators, the lame justification Pakistan’s military leadership gives is that army is the only competent institution whereas politicians and judiciary in Pakistan has largely been incompetent., So further strengthening the army is in Pakistani national interest and the most competent should run the country if this country has to progress.

However in the opinion of the intelligentsia in Pakistan and outside, weak institutions are the ones we need to strengthen and not the armed forces if we want to develop and progress on sustainable basis. It seems that an obvious fact has skipped the thinking minds of our rulers that armed forces are not meant to run the countries or contribute to economic prosperity.

Instead their sole duty is to defend the borders of a sovereign nation. Yes, armed forces need to be strong enough to be able to deter the enemy against confrontation or defend the country if attacked. But in a country which yearns to progress, the army can never be a substitute of political institutions or judiciary.

This country has seen many wars and many we may have lost not because we did not have strong army but because the enemy was many times superior to us. If there was ever a need to have a large army with a large arsenal, it is indeed not today for several reasons.

First, we are a nuclear state. In order to get this nuclear capability, the nation has already sacrificed billions which could have been spent on poverty alleviation and social and infrastructure development, to allow the generals to spend to their satisfaction so that our borders would remain secure and we can live like a sovereign nation.

Second, for a small country like Pakistan, the strength of the armed forces does not come from being large and expensive to the exchequer, but from being disciplined. Pakistani armed ranks have always been strong and confident to face any outside aggression as they practice immaculate discipline. It is only the top brass, which needs to learn some lessons so that they stop walking over the constitution and overthrowing democratic governments when ever they feel like it.

Third and more importantly, the need to increase the arsenal is not required as our so-called traditional enemy is trying to become a friend and we have tried to be sensible as we have abandoned the language of confrontation and have started talking peace. Both Pakistan and India have wisely recognized that confrontation has not done any good to them and they have to learn to live as peaceful neighbors if they want to progress and realize their development goals.

Fourth, when poverty is on top of the government agenda and the General himself claims that the government is following a comprehensive strategy for poverty reduction through employment generation and sustainable economic development at the grassroots level, adequate amount of funds need to channeled to meet the challenges of development sector rather than procuring expensive military gadgetry we can very well do without or spending on the lavish life styles of generals who can very well live without.

Fifth, in strict economic terms, army is a non-development expenditure and a burden on the public exchequer. Pakistan is a developing country and the economic priority should lie in keeping the defence expenditure to its minimum. Furthermore, if economic prosperity is the main concern, then good political institutions, rather than a strong army, leads to sound economic foundations and puts the country into a long run growth path on sustainable basis.

There is a rich economic literature available which talks about the importance of political and legal institutions in economic development. It strongly suggests that the success of economic policies is associated with well developed political and legal institutions rather than strong army.

Recently Dani Rodrik, a well known Harvard Professor of political science, has shown in his study published in 2004 edition of ‘Journal of Economic Growth’ that good political and legal institutions are by far the most important determinant of long term economic growth.

In a nutshell, the strong economy and strong army proposition presented by Musharraf is nothing to do with the progress of this country and every thing to do with perpetuating his rule over this country.

In reality, Pakistan is a country hijacked by fanatics and ruled by a dictator. The only hope out of the shackles of tyrants and fanatics is democracy. Western powers should realize this fact sooner than later.

The writer is a Doctoral Student and Fellow at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Social Studies, The Hague

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