Pakistan’s all-power Armed Forces runs 50 commercial entities, defence minister Khwaja Asif told the Parliament.
In a written reply to a query by Senator Farhatullah Babar, Asif said there were some “50 projects and housing colonies” functioning under various wings of the Armed Forces, Karachi-based ‘Dawn’ said in a report.
These commercial operations are administered through a clutch of holding conglomerates known locally as welfare foundations – Shaheen Foundation, Bahria Foundation, Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust (AWT) and Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
The DHAs established through ordinances are present in nine cities of Pakistan, the Upper House of the Parliament was told.
The reply also said there were 15 projects working under Fauji Foundation, 16 under AWT and 11 under the control of Shaheen Foundation.
Lawmakers were also told that Bahria Foundation does not have any ongoing projects, but was mulling an offshore LNG project.
The commercial ventures of the Bahria Foundation ranges from stud farms to apparels and sugar mills.
Fauji Foundation’s business interests are in diverse sectors like cement, banking, fertilizers, oil terminals, power generation, breakfast cereals etc.
It also has a holding in a Moroccan phosphate company. The joint venture with Moroccan government boosts its revenues in foreign currency, the Fauji Foundation says on its website.
Knitwear, aviation, baggage and ground handling services at airports, schools, advertising are the core areas in which Shaheen Foundation, promoted by the Pakistan Air Force concentrates.
In ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’, Ayesha Siddiqa gave a peek into the depth of the money spinning business empire of the armed forces.
In the book published in 2007, Siddiqa says the Army controls one-third of all heavy manufacturing in the country.
She had then estimated that the Pakistan Army sits on a $ 20 billion pile.
Of this close to $ 10 billion is in the form of sprawling estates, while the rest is in private assets.
The Armed Forces claim that millions of retired servicemen benefit from its business ventures. However analysts say books of most of these businesses are not open to public or parliamentary scrutiny.
The business ventures of the Armed Forces got a big boost when General Pervez Musharraf was the president. He sanctioned the placement of over a 1,000 uniformed officers in several key positions, including universities, claiming that they could run the public institutions better than civilians.
It’s not only during the rule of military dictators, that the commercial ventures of the Armed Forces have flourished. Political governments led by the late Benazir Bhutto had also supported their foray into business.
It is an open secret that the Pakistan Army formulates the country’s foreign policy and budget. But it was Siddiqa’s path breaking study that pieced together the scale and scope of the multi-billion dollar khaki corporate.
The Army has ruled Pakistan for a good part of its existence ever since the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Despite this, the Army is one of the most loved organisations in Pakistan.
While the Army’s PR unit has 1.52 million followers, its spokesperson General Asim Bajwa has 2.34 million followers.
In contrast, its Indian counterpart has only 813,000 followers.
The adoration of the men in uniform is not confined to the virtual world.
Last week, a little known political party had put up billboards across Pakistan’s main cities imploring Army chief General Raheel Sharif to topple the democratically elected government and impose martial law.
The same party had in February urged General Sharif to reconsider his plan to retire on November 30. Most Pakistani Army chiefs have granted themselves liberal extensions, after their superannuation.
A survey carried out last year had revealed that Pakistan’s Armed Forces had an approval rating of 75 per cent, while the country’s political parties had lower approval levels of 36 per cent.