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Musharraf Will Soldier On
The president has stepped out of uniform, but make no mistake: power in Pakistan stays with the army
Despite Pervez Musharraf's trading of khaki military uniform for a civilian black tunic on Wednesday, the country's armed forces will continue to play an important role not only in its political life but also in its economy. The reasons lie deep into history, going back to the days of the British rule, which ended in 1947.
Within the Muslim world, Pakistan's armed forces are most similar in terms of the role they play to those of Turkey, a close ally of the west since 1952, when it was accepted as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.Last May, the Turkish generals grabbed international news headlines when they vocally opposed the prospect of Abdullah Gul, leader of the governing Justice and Development party, with its origins in moderate Islamism, from becoming the republic's president.
In both countries, the generals have intervened repeatedly to depose popularly elected leaders and impose military rule. The Turkish military brass did so in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and again in 1997 in a soft coup against the moderately Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan. They claim to have acted to uphold secularism, adopted as a cardinal doctrine of the Turkish republic in 1923 by its founder, Field Marshall Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Owing to the coups mounted in the 60-year history of Pakistan, the generals have governed it for 33 years. They rationalised their intervention in terms of restoring stability to the republic, threatened by the constantly squabbling politicians, most of them corrupt to the core.
Unlike in India, where the leaders of the ruling Congress party had been tempered in the fire of their decades-long anti-imperialist struggle against the British, the governing party in Pakistan, the Muslim League, lacked principled leadership and a record of having suffered because of its commitment to a worthy cause.
Though established in 1905, the Muslim League remained a party of feudal lords and other grandees, lacking grassroots support and organisation. It was only in 1940 that it demanded partition of British India - which it got it a mere seven years later.
Therefore, after achieving power in Pakistan, the Muslim League soon became a vehicle of unprincipled opportunists more interested in lining their pockets than in doing public good. In such an environment, the only cohesive, disciplined institution that held the country together and had clean hands was the military.
However, over the years, the Pakistani generals set out to create an economic niche for the armed forces under the aegis of the Fauj (literally, army) Foundation and four other such trusts. By now, these foundations have their fingers in many pies.
According to Professor Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the book Military Inc, these trusts are now collectively worth more than £10bn, amounting to 7% of the nation's private assets, and possess 12m acres of land. A third of heavy industry belongs to them. Their wide-ranging activities include food processing, dredging, distributing petrol, running industrial estates and manufacturing cement.
While the Turkish military hierarchy, meanwhile, has refrained from setting up an economic empire, it has left an irreversible stamp on the country's policy toward Israel. It was in 1984, during the presidency of General Kenan Evren, that Turkey signed a secret military cooperation pact with Israel.
Relations warmed to the point that the Turkish president Suleiman Demirel visited Israel in March 1996. Soon after becoming the prime minister in July, Erbakan found that he had no choice but to sign the second part of the defence agreement with Israel and receive the Israeli foreign minister in Ankara.
But Turkey's armed forces are different from Pakistan's in one important aspect: they do not manufacture atom bombs.
Since Pakistan has an estimated 55 to 115 nuclear bombs, who actually holds the key to them becomes a crucial factor not only within that country but also in the capitals of all major powers in the world. The way things stand now, as a civilian president, Musharraf will insist on having that prime privilege.
Dilip Hiro is the author of Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom", The Iranian Labyrinth, and most recently, Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources, both published by Nation Books.
© 2007 The Guardian