Ayesha Siddiqa Agha Advises Army to Stay
out of Politics
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur
Left to right: Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha. Dr. Ahmed Faruqui, Ijaz Syed and Snehal Shingavi
During her recent trip to California Pakistan’s foremost military economy expert Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha gave two well-received presentations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first event held at Stanford University was arranged by the Center for South Asia in association with Pakistanis at Stanford and Friends of South Asia. The second program, held at the Union City Library, was a panel discussion where Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha shared the panel with Dr. Ahmad Faruqui, a Bay Area economist, defense analyst, and a frequent contributor to Pakistan Link, and Ijaz Syed, a longtime activist for civil and human rights in Pakistan and member of Friends of South Asia and Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights.
Speaking on the topic of “Pakistan’s Pakistan vs. America’s Pakistan” at Stanford, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha described how Americans and Pakistanis had completely different expectations from the Pakistani government. She said that one of the main reasons why opposition parties won the latest Pakistani elections was that Pakistanis were not happy with the way General Peverz Musharraf’s government was fighting the war on terror; and now the US was concerned how the new government would cooperate with the US.
Ayesha Siddiqa was of the view that behind the US support for certain elements of the Pakistani society was its specious perception of modernity. She noted that whenever the Western media speaks of Pakistani politicians it inevitably looks for that person’s Western educational credentials, for education from Harvard or Oxford. Similarly, the West considers army generals ‘modern.’
She accused the US of strengthening the Pakistan military.
“Military today is a giant which has strong political control, economic control, and a very dominant social presence; a military that has over 7% share of the GDP, which controls one-third of heavy manufacturing in the country, which controls 6-7% private sector assets. It has a huge economic presence. It is a constant story of uneven development, between different organizations and institutions.”
Ayesha Siddiqa debunked the argument that Pakistan economy has always been in better health under military dictators. Showing a chart that indicated high economic activity during military-led regimes, she explained how Pakistan had to pay a heavy price at the end of every military rule. That the ‘sham stability’ under General Ayub Khan in 1960s ended with the breaking up of Pakistan, Zia’s period of ‘stability’ gave Pakistan the Jihadi culture, and now the high economic performance era of Musharraf’s rule has given Pakistan a gaping fault line in the society, between its secular and conservative elements.
Ayesha Siddiqa rebuked ‘educated’ Pakistanis who look down upon the masses, call them illiterate and accuse them of being subservient to authority. She asserted that the real stability in Pakistan would come from its ordinary people and the latest elections had shown that these “illiterate” people were quite capable of making intelligent decisions.
Ayesha Siddiqa was also of the view that provincial autonomy and the associated fiscal autonomy constituted an imperative step for the new government. She thought Balochistan was not getting its rightful share -- the rest of the country was getting gas from Balochistan at a price below market rates. She categorized Pakistani economy as post-colonial capitalist economy, a combination of feudalism and new capital.
She impressed upon the audience that Pakistan was far from being a failed state — it had an active civil society. Analyzing the recent elections she said people did not just vote against Musharraf (through voting against PML-Q), Pakistanis also rejected other symbols of authoritarianism. She pointed to Begum Abida Hussain's loss in the elections as a proof of her thesis.
Ayesha Siddiqa forewarned about what Pakistanis may see in coming years. She said Pakistanis would hear about corruption of politicians, that corruption of any kind, be it under civil or military rule, was bad, but democracy should be given a chance, even when financial scandals surface.
She said the army could be kept out of politics if the civil governments negotiate with the army on the military’s economic interests. She thought General Kayani had declared 2008 the year of the soldier because hitherto the main beneficiaries of the military economy were the top generals, and Kayani was willing to share the benefits with the ordinary soldiers.
“I don’t have any problems with this, but there is no overarching plan by the state to distribute benefits to all (Pakistanis).”
Ayesha Siddiqa criticized the Pakistan army for not understanding common Pakistanis’ criticism of that institution. “They should understand it is not out of spite. The army is an institution of the state of Pakistan. It should be owned by us. We should feel pride of it.”
She said that antagonism to the military had increased because there was disparity in development between civil and military segments of the society.
Ayesha Siddiqa's expectation from the Pakistan army was that of a professional force which would not interfere in politics. Just sit back, relax, play golf and not get into politics, was her advice to the Pakistan military.
Ayesha Siddiqa Agha’s next appearance in the Bay Area was in a panel that also featured Dr. Ahmad Faruqui and Ijaz Syed. The topic of the discussion was “Pakistan: What Now?” The obvious reference was to the Pakistani elections which were held just five days earlier. The discussion was moderated by Snehal Shingavi, a prominent Berkeley activist.
In reply to the moderator’s question about what the latest elections mean for the political future of Pakistan, Ijaz Syed said the elections should not be seen as an end to military hegemony in Pakistan, though it was certainly a step back for the army. “And they have taken this step back because they were unable to control the insurgency through military means. It was a big image problem for them.”
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha said the recent elections were not totally free and fair, and the Pakistani government banned YouTube because that website had videos documenting some rigging incidents. “Balochistan is one case where rigging has definitely taken place, because military does not want to allow people of Balochistan to speak up.”
Whereas Dr. Ahmad Faruqui called General Kayani a genius who had discovered that army was better off being away from politics, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha and Ijaz Syed were of the opinion that the army’s retreat was just a temporary step, that few years later if there would be a political turmoil, the army might again be tempted to take control of the state.
Ayesha Siddiqa said that she had discussed with other experts if there had been a systemic shift in the minds of the Pakistan military and the answer was, no. She said that after Zia ul Haq, Pakistan military stayed out of politics through the tenures of Chief of Army Staff General Aslam Baig, General Janjua, General Kakar, and General Karamat, but then came Pervez Musharraf who overthrew the civilian government.
But Ayesha Siddiqa was still excited by the election results because “I as an ordinary Pakistan can say that we are not a failed state. The civil society is alive. These elections tell us that we are as ordinary or extraordinary as anybody else.”
Dr. Ahmad Faruqui held that following the elections Pervez Musharraf was in denial. “He is still there because somebody wants him to be there.” Dr. Faruqui said that the Pakistan military was much more dominant than it should be. “Why do we need 600,000 people in army when India, a much bigger country, has a force of 1,000,000?” He was of the opinion that with Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent it was not necessary to have a large military. He said half of the problem (military’s usurpation of democratic governments) was with the politicians, because they created situations making army feel justified to meddle in politics.
Ayesha Siddiqa expressed her frustration over the question about alternative leadership in Pakistan. “Why alternative has to have a face, a uniform or a dupatta? Why cannot a cold-blooded process be the alternative?”
Ijaz Syed agreed that if the political process is allowed uninterrupted, irrespective of how corrupt the politicians are, then things will change, new leadership will emerge. He said the impression that people of Pakistan always greet military dictators was not correct; he claimed people of Pakistan always had a burning desire for democracy. He credited the recent relatively free and fair elections to the lawyers’ movement. “Whatever has happened in Pakistan is because people came out on the streets.”
Dr. Ahmad Faruqui mentioned the myth that the Pakistani people are savages, “they need to be whipped”, that the choice is between Jihadis and military. “This election has broken that myth.”
Ayesha Siddiqa gave insight into perks military personnel receive. “Officers get 50-75 acres of land, and soldiers are given roughly 12.5 acres each, but soldiers don’t get other subsidies.” Land without water and accessible roads does not mean much, Ayesha Siddiqa said. Officers get these benefits, but soldiers don’t.
She told the audience how when she visited Pervez Musharraf’s land in Bahawalpur she found ten paramilitary troopers guarding it. When asked what they were doing there she was told the soldiers were protecting the trees.
Ayesha Siddiqa informed the audience how Pakistan Navy, her former employer, had separate school systems for officers and soldiers. “Sailors’ children go to PN Model School. Officers’ children go to Bahriya, where all the capital goes.”
She suggested that declaring 2008 as the year of soldier was problematic because a holistic approach for the country and not just one focused on the army was needed.
When asked if there was any chance the judges deposed by General (retired) Pervez Musharraf would be reinstated, Dr. Ahmad Faruqui said the prospects looked difficult. Ayesha Siddiqa said that the US was unhappy with an independent judiciary in Pakistan (because the previous judges were investigating the case of missing people, many of whom were probably abducted on behalf of the US). Ayesha Siddiqa said the newly elected representatives wanted to first get into the seats of power and then negotiate. She said the civil society needed to keep pressure on newly elected leaders by keeping the issue of independent judiciary alive.
When asked if Pervez Musharraf was not a good enough (or bad enough) dictator to have allowed independent media in the first place, Ayesha Siddiqa said that when giving free rein to independent TV channels Pervez Musharraf thought the media would restrain itself, but in effect he lost control. She also said the technology had reached a point where it was very hard to suppress information.
Replying to a question about why India unlike Pakistan never had any problems with its military, Ayesha Siddiqa praised Indian politicians for never taking military as a partner. On how to keep army out of politics, Ayesha Siddiqa was of the opinion that it could be done through negotiations on military’s economic interests. “We need you to be back in barracks because it is good for you and good for us.”