Home / Opinion / Views /  The mystery of Bajwa's billions and Pak's rapacious 'Military Inc'

Revelations that outgoing Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa's family has accrued a multi-billion-rupee fortune have rocked Pakistan. As the country struggles with a major economic crisis, Mint examines the Pakistan army's shadowy control over sections of the national economy, allegations of crony capitalism, and the economic crisis that grips the country.

What is the controversy about?

Investigations by independent Pakistani journalists revealed that outgoing army chief General Bajwa's family had accrued a multi-billion-rupee fortune during his six-year tenure. The exposé alleges that Bajwa's wife, who declared the value of her assets as zero in 2015, now holds assets worth 2.2 billion Pakistani rupees (USD 9.7 million). Bajwa's daughter-in-law, Sabir Mahnoor, became a billionaire just one week before marrying into the Bajwa family in 2018 despite declaring no assets just weeks before. All told, the Bajwa family has accrued luxury properties, land and other assets to the tune of 12.7 billion Pakistani rupees (approximately USD 55 million) in just the last six years.

What does the Pakistani army own?

Pakistan's military controls myriad civilian businesses ranging from restaurants and banks to insurance companies and universities. The armed forces are particularly infamous for their control of massive tracts of land. Military dictator Zia Ul-Haq instituted a land rewards system for military officers. Plots were handed out to officers depending on their ranks, leading to a scramble for properties and massive corruption. The sizeable private economic interests of the army are often administered by military "foundations" that ostensibly provide welfare services to former military personnel. Retired military officers are often given employment or financial stakes in these enterprises. Scholar Ayesha Siddiqa, who terms this phenomenon "Military Inc.", estimates the value of such assets to be as high as USD 20 billion.

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Has there been an effort to restrain this corruption?

Action has been taken sporadically. in 2016, then-army chief Raheel Sharif dismissed six top officers on grounds of corruption. However, the military's shadowy economic interests have remained largely untouchable. Neither the country's political class nor the judiciary has had the appetite to take on the military establishment. The fall of numerous politicians and judges who fell foul of the armed forces' interests serves as a cautionary tale to the country's civilian authorities.

Who else has been implicated in the corruption scandal?

The independent investigation, while centred around General Bajwa's family, paints a damning picture of Pakistan's political, military and financial elite. For example, Bajwa's daughter-in-law became the owner of an apartment in Constitution One Grand Hyatt, a luxury residential complex in an upmarket neighbourhood in Islamabad, the country's capital. The complex was built despite allegations of corruption and a long-standing legal controversy. The list of those who benefited includes former PM Imran Khan, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan and a former foreign minister, among other notable grandees. The revelations have thus tarred the already bruised reputation of Pakistan's elite for corruption.

How does this play into the country's economic situation?

Pakistan has been hit by a growing economic crisis. Government debt has become unsustainable, foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, and inflation has ravaged people's savings. Simultaneously, a massive flood that has put an estimated one-third of the country below water has also caused billions in economic damages. The recent revelations of corruption speak to the cronyism and corruption that have routinely hamstrung Pakistan's economic development. The military's murky indirect control over key sectors of the national economy such as heavy manufacturing is an impediment to the development of a clean and efficient private sector.

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