There has been a great deal of criticism of Pakistani military's role in the industry and the economy of Pakistan since the release of Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha's book "The Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy" last year. The book describes in some detail the size and the activities of what Dr. Agha calls "MILBUS", the military business in Pakistan. MILBUS, according to the author, includes banks, insurance, cereals, fertilizer, cement, hospitals and clinics, radio and TV, schools, universities and institutes, etc.
In her strongest criticism of Pakistan's military, the author argues that Pakistani military 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.
While some commentators have challenged Dr. Agha's data and her allegations about the dominance of Pakistan's military in the country's business and economy, this post is designed to question why is it bad for Pakistan's military to play an important role in the nation's business.
|Defense Expenditures as % of GDP Source: World Indicators
To explore the possibility of the Pakistani military playing a much bigger positive role in rapid industrialization and globalization of Pakistani economy, let us take a look the role the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has played in China's phenomenal economic progress and its emergence as a new superpower in the last few decades.
China's PLA began its manufacturing role for the defense sector that picked up steam after the Sino-Soviet tensions during Mao's time. Manufacturing purely military products, such as arms, ammunition, as well as electronics, plastics and metals for military applications, these so-called "third-line" factories were built in remote mountain regions, far away from transportation routes and power sources. The factories bought supplies at subsidized costs from other factories, manufactured the weaponry and related products -- generally low-tech and low-quality -- and then sold them to the military at subsidized prices.
With the change of leadership after Mao's death in 1976, the new government encouraged the military plants to begin exploring civilian uses for their products and to engage in the broader liberalization of the economy. The most nimble managers were free to exploit new markets for their goods. During the early 1980s, the PLA's share of the national budget declined, spurring it to look to other sources for cash, especially hard currency. The higher organizational levels of the PLA created trading companies like China Xinxing, China Poly and China Songhai to take advantage of the opening of China's economy to the international market, according to British analyst Gary Busch.
They formed banks, holding companies and international trading companies like Everbright to market these goods worldwide. Now the PLA runs farms, factories, mines, hotels, paging and telephone companies and airlines, as well as major trading companies.
Busch says the number of military-run businesses exploded during the boom of the late 1980s. The "third line" factories opened branches in the coastal areas, earning increasingly higher profits from the manufacture and export of civilian goods. Even the lowest levels of the PLA set up production units. In fact the PLA had a largely captive audience of Chinese who had never really had the chance to acquire personal goods produced in China before. In addition to their international arms sales, their production of consumer goods for the domestic market soared.
Since the 1980s, many of the PLA companies have now become part of the global economy. According research done by David Welker for Multinational Monitor, in pursuit of hard currency, many of the companies have listed themselves on capital markets in Hong Kong and elsewhere, opened representative offices in overseas markets, solicited foreign companies for joint ventures and partnerships in China and emphasized exports. The so-called red chips, companies listed on the Hong Kong exchange but which are in fact mainland Chinese firms, are the hottest stocks on the market. Hong Kong is the PLA's favored stock exchange because of its loose disclosure guidelines. China Poly Group has two listed companies: Continental Mariner Company Ltd. and Poly Investments Holdings Ltd. Both Continental Mariner and Poly Investments have a large number of subsidiary companies in mainland China, Hong Kong and tax havens like Liberia, the British Virgin Islands and Panama. China Carrie's listed company in Hong Kong is Hongkong Macau Holdings Ltd. China Carrie also owns HMH China Investments Ltd. on the Toronto Stock Exchange and HMH Gold Mining on the Australian Stock Exchange. 999 Enterprise Group, another company controlled by the PLA General Logistics Department, operates Sanjiu Pharmaceuticals Group, the largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer in China. 999 recently listed on the Hong Kong exchange.
Smaller military enterprises, like the Songliao Automobile Company owned by the PLA Shenyang Military Region, have also listed in the domestic Chinese markets.
China Poly Group is a commercial arm of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff Department. The PLA General Logistics Department operates China Xinxing. The PLA General Political Department owns and operates China Carrie. The Northern Army Group runs NORINCO and the PLA Navy runs China Songhai.
Some of these international Chinese companies with PLA connections are very rich and powerful. Some have entered into very controversial projects. A good example is the Hutchison-Whampoa, Hutchison Port Holding (HPH), according to Busch. HPH is a huge, multibillion-dollar company which has set up operations in ports all around the world. From Panama to the Philippines, an arm of Hutchison-Whampoa, Hutchison Port Holding (HPH), has become the world's largest seaport operator, embedding itself in strategic seaports all across the globe. In fact now Hutchison holds the exclusive contract to operate the Panama Canal.
Hutchison-Whampoa has spread everywhere. It has a base in Tanzania where it runs Tanzania International Terminal Services Ltd. In the Western Hemisphere it has seaport services in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Freeport, the Bahamas; Veracruz, Mexico; and at both ends of the Panama Canal. HPH's latest acquisition involved taking over eight Philippine ports. New ports in Mexico, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Tanzania and Thailand make Hutchision-Whampoa the world's largest private port operator with 23 cargo berths, bringing its worldwide total of ports to a staggering 136.
Other ports include Jakarta, Indonesia; Karachi, Pakistan; India (where the company runs the cellular phone services); Burma; China; and Malaysia. There are port operations in Britain at Harwich, Felixstowe (Britain's largest port), and Thames port, and in the Netherlands at Rotterdam. The company is bidding to set up in South Korea's largest port, Pusan, and is already in Kwangyang, another South Korean port.
Retired PLA officers also continue to support China's transformation to a powerful first world economy by founding such companies as Huawei, the Chinese router giant challenging Cisco's dominance.
Since the early 1990s, there has been an ongoing effort to spin off the PLA's commercial enterprises into private companies managed by former PLA officers, and to reform military procurement from a system in which the PLA directly controls its sources of supply to a contracting system more akin to those of Western countries. The separation of the PLA from its commercial interests is now believed to be largely complete. But the stamp of the PLA influence continues on most large enterprises in the form of retired PLA personnel managing these businesses.
The Chinese have pursued liberalizing their economy without political liberalization, in the same way other East Asians did. Such a strategy has allowed them to pursue rapid economic growth while forcefully controlling chaos on the streets, as the PLA did at Tienanmen square in 1989. At the same time, the Chinese PLA businesses have sparked a great industrial revolution that has transformed the nation's economy, accelerated its human development, greatly enriched China and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Just as it has in other East Asian nations, it can be expected that political liberalization and democracy will follow the rapid wave of industrialization and human development in China.
Even in the richest democracy like the United States, the military has played a significant role in funding research, development and manufacturing industries to support America's military-industrial complex and its space program. In spite of some of the well-deserved criticisms of the the world's biggest military-industrial and space complex in America, no one can deny that a lot of innovation and job creation and economic expansion has flowed from it for the American society at large.
India, another member of the emerging powers now called "BRIC", has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said recently. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.
Pakistan's record in alleviating poverty and increasing human development is not much better than India's. But Pakistani military has shown that it is capable of building and operating a wide variety of businesses profitably, ranging from heavy weapons manufacturing to industrial and consumer goods, construction and finance. The country now boasts a powerful industrial, technological and research base developing and manufacturing for its armed forces and exporting a wide variety of small and large weapons ranging from modern fighter jets, battle tanks, armored vehicles, frigates and submarines to unmanned aerial vehicles and high tech firearms and personal grenade launchers for urban combat. Comparing with the Chinese PLA, it is also clear that Pakistan's military currently has a very small footprint in industrial and economic development and globalization of the nation's economy. It is now recognized that without PLA's crucial role, it would have been very difficult for the Chinese to build the modern industrial base and attract massive foreign direct investments to become the factory of the world. It is also clear that, as a powerful and stable institution, Pakistani military can and should take inspiration from the PLA to play a much bigger role in Pakistan's economic development and rapid industrialization to help increase the nation's prosperity and lift millions out of poverty, as China's PLA has done.
Pakistan's military should take a leaf from the Chinese PLA playbook. It should do what is necessary to strengthen the nation's industry, economy and national security, regardless of any critics, including Ayesha Siddiqa Agha and her myriad fans. This is the best way forward to a well-educated, industrialized, prosperous and democratic Pakistan in the future.
Here's a video report about Pakistan's weapons development:
Foreign Origin of India's Agni Missiles
Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Goes Global
Video: Who Says Pakistan Is a Failed State?
Chinese Military-Commercial Complex
Pakistan Industrialization Strategy 2007
Pakistan's Defense Production Goes High Tech
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha on Pakistan Military Inc.
Military Inc: A Deflective and Derogatory Book
Chuck Yeager on Pakistan Air Force