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DAWN - Features; 01 May, 2004

May 01, 2004

Privatization of warfare

By Huck Gutman

The situation in Iraq is going badly for the occupying American forces. Despite a staged-for-television proclamation of victory aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean last year, President Bush has recently found his policies, from spurious reasons for waging war against Iraq, to the badly bungled early occupation, to politically-inspired deadlines for handing over "authority" to an as-yet non-existent Iraqi government, criticized more and more frequently.

We live in an age of television, and so it was a televised event that precipitated the current sense of political siege and crisis within the White House. Four Americans were ambushed as they drove through Fallujah in north central Iraq.

They were dragged from their vehicle, killed, set afire, and dismembered. The charred remains of one body were hung from a bridge; those of another were dragged behind a car for 50 kilometres.

As the world knows, the aftermath was powerful and disturbing. Iraqis were emboldened to attack Americans all over the country, with Sunnis and Shias promising to aid one another in driving out the occupying aggressor.

American troops, for their part, mobilized and both surrounded and penetrated Fallujah, with heavy and bloody casualties, mostly Iraqi citizens, not all of whom were in any way combatants.

I want to look at one of the many issues that arose from that moment of violence in Fallujah when four Americans were killed. Why, Americans wondered at first, were there no American forces ready to intervene? Even if it is impossible to prevent or undo an ambush, it is certainly possible to move in militarily to prevent bodies from being dishonoured.

The answer is profoundly revealing. The fallen men were not, in any real sense, their comrades. They were Americans, and they were soldiers of a sort, but they were not American soldiers.

They worked for a corporation, Blackwater Security Consulting, which supplies military personnel on a contract basis: these were soldiers for hire, or as they would have been called in a time when English had not been debased by the "spin" of political posturing, mercenaries.

They were in Iraq not to fight for democracy or even domination, but because they were paid handsomely to be there - and paid by a company whose sole business is to make a profit.

The existence of a privatized military industry was known to military leaders around the globe, to corporate executives of multinational companies engaged in business in "risky" areas, and to despots and insurgent militias all over the developing world. But, in general, the citizenry of the world, and especially the United States, was unaware that the nature of "warfare" is changing rapidly.

Warfare is less and less the domain of states, and more and more an area for corporate investment, growth, and control. Warfare, in blunt terms, is being increasingly privatized as we enter the 21st century.

There is no arguing with economic facts. The privatized military "industry", in the words of Peter Singer, an expert on this new economic reality, "has several hundred companies, operating in over 10 countries on six continents, and over $100 billion in annual global revenue."

Here is Singer elsewhere: "PMFs (privatized military firms) represent the newest additions to the modern battlefield, and their role in contemporary warfare is becoming increasingly significant. Not since the 18th century has there been such reliance on private soldiers to accomplish tasks directly affecting the tactical and strategic success of engagement...PMFs may well portend the new business face of war."

Singer and I disagree about the importance of structure, since he maintains that PMFs are "fundamentally different (than mercenaries): the critical analytic factor is their modern corporate business form."

That modern mercenaries are employees of a modern corporation, hired through "conventional" hiring practices, serving in a hierarchical business administrative structure, generating returns for investors, does not mean that they are not fundamentally soldiers for hire, nor that those who supply them - as in former years Hesse in Germany, or Switzerland, or Nepal - are not in it for the money.

Singer is remarkably cogent in his analysis (readers are referred to his "Corporate Warriors: The Rise and Ramifications of the Privatized Military Industry"). He points out that the market-based approach toward military services is as, "one analyst puts it, 'the ultimate representation of neo-liberalism.'" In particular, he sees PMFs as a logical consequence of the two major capitalist innovations of the late 20th century, outsourcing and globalization.

The former anti-apartheid military and militias of South Africa are fertile hiring sources; so are not only former Soviet soldiers, but also the officers and operatives of the KGB.

Those who were behind the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) debacle are deeply enmeshed in arranging financing in the new military-for-hire industry, as are those who supplied illegal arms in the American Iran-Contra scandal.

There are important reasons why the United States has depended heavily on privatized military firms to undergird the war and occupation efforts in Iraq. Most of them are not pretty - to my mind, some are actually corrupt. Let's look at those reasons.

First, PMFs allow placing many of the costs of the Iraq occupation "off budget". In the US, as in all democracies, funding for government activities are ultimately in the hands of the people, through their elected representatives in legislative bodies.

But the 20,000 international PMF employees in Iraq (equal to over 15 per cent of the official American military presence of 130,000 soldiers) are not listed as military defence. Instead, they are paid out of the money budgeted for Iraqi reconstruction. Recent government estimates are that as much as one quarter of the $18 billion budgeted for reconstruction will be paid to those who perform military operations of one sort or another.

Second, hiring private military firms bails out the questionable defence policies of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. Contrary to the advice of his generals, the secretary insisted on downsizing the military.

His vision is of a corporate military, and so he imitates the efficiencies put in place by modern multinational corporations. On one level, he is merely continuing what his predecessors in the Defence Department did, and indeed what every imperial power has done for many centuries: he has moved towards further mechanizing warfare. For Mr Rumsfeld, the automated battlefield can work like an automated factory, so that less workers are needed.

Mr. Rumsfeld has tried his utmost to privatize the American military. For him, following corporate strategy, downsizing means moving to "just in time" hiring, using private firms to provide what the military formerly did for itself. He has insisted that it makes no fiscal sense to keep and pay for a well-trained standing army, when the US can purchase every sort of service on an "open market" whenever there is a need for military action.

Why should soldiers, in Mr Rumsfeld's view, cook for themselves, move their trash, provide supplies, run and maintain their technology - why not privatize these activities? Even in the case of actually military duty - guarding public officials from hostile attack, fighting guerilla assaults - much of what soldiers traditionally do can be performed by the mercenaries hired by private firms. All of these services can be hired only when needed, and the army can be kept small, and hence inexpensive in terms of manpower.

Weapons systems, produced at high profit by huge corporations, are another matter: cost efficiency here seems to be of little or no concern.

Mr Rumsfeld's strategy may well be flawed, which is why the use of PWFs is so suspect. In Iraq today, American forces are stretched thin. That situation was highlighted recently when tens of thousands of soldiers slated to come home after a year's term in Iraq found those returns cancelled.

Thus, the privatized military forces cover up the flaws in Mr Rumsfeld's downsizing strategy. That privatized firms charge more for the activities is of no concern, even though the point behind downsizing was supposedly cost-efficiency.

PMFs, have an additional "benefit" never mentioned by any American government official. If there is brutal military repression to be done, an ex-KGB agent or a man with a lifetime in the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa can work more brutally than an enlisted American soldier. Mr Paul Bremer does not trust his defence to American soldiers. Cadres of mercenaries guard him.

If the American use of privatized military services in Iraq seems to transgress the boundaries of corruption to a rational mind, a mildly paranoid mind can have a field day with some established facts.

The major subcontractor in Iraq is Halliburton; Halliburton provides extensive security and military support through its subsidiary, Brown & Root. Halliburton's former chief executive, of course, is the sitting vice president, Dick Cheney.

Recent testimony before Congress and a startling new book by the journalist Bob Woodward indicates that Mr Cheney was the single most influential force driving George Bush, and the America nation, into war against Iraq.

From the most cynical angle, one might see the entire war and occupation as a business decision which provided huge contracts to the vice president's former company.

The writer is professor of English at the University of Vermont.

Mai Allah Wasayee: pioneer of folk music

By Shaikh Aziz

Allah Wasayee, one of the pioneers in the folk music of the contemporary Sindhi music, died on Thursday at her hometown of Mirpur Bathoro at the age of 75, leaving behind her countless admirers sad with heavy heart.

Like many of her contemporaries, Allah Wasayee, too, passed her last days without money or medicine. She belonged to the generation of folk singers who ventured to live by the tradition of Sindhi music and take the modern technology of phonography to the people.

Mai Allah Wasayee was born in lower Sindh and began singing at a tender age. Singing at the family and community congregations, she developed a taste for other gatherings too. That was the age of open-air music when electronic system had not been introduced to this part of the world as yet.

Once the system arrived on the scene, Mai Wasayee came out in the open and became so popular that she started receiving offers from the then recording companies such as EMI, His Master's Voice and Columbia who offered to bring their equipment to Karachi and record her songs.

Ustad Sona Khan Baloch, Jeevani Bai and Mai Allah Wasayee belonged to that era when they were recorded by these companies who later released their work as special albums. After radio stations came into being, they contributed to Pakistani music to a great extent.

Their renditions in the typical Sindhi music became a heritage. She, like Sona Khan Baloch and Jeevani Bai, made valuable contributions in preserving and promoting Sindhi music which still lives in the hearts of the people.

At the peak of her career, Mai Allah Wasayee married Khamiso Khan Chandio, a percussionist by profession, who accompanied her for the rest of life. Her songs became popular not only in Pakistan but also in countries where traditional Sindhi music had a following.

She continued to enthral masses through electronic media over the last many years. Her journey was stopped only in the last years of her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and riddled to the bed for more than five years. In her last performance, she was awarded the Shah Latif Award for the lifetime achievement.

Immediately after that, she became ill and the government of Sindh announced some assistance for her medical treatment which never reached her till her death. Her passing away in a miserable condition is not only a loss to the music world but also reflects our apathy towards the cultural heritage. Mai Allah Wasayee was just not a figure to remember but also a part of the historo-musicology we must not forget.

Troop profile: cuts or replacements?

By By A.R. Siddiqi

It would be foolhardy to question the collective wisdom and calculated decision-making of the army's top brass, but the proposed cut in manpower by 50,000 by year's end raises quite a few questions, nevertheless.

The withdrawal of batmen (battlemen) from officer and junior commissioned officers (JCOs) had been a matter under debate for ever so long. However, every time it came up for decision, it was put off for yet another day. Opinion had invariably been weighted more in favour of the status quo than a systemic change due as much to resistance to change as for want of consensus on a better alternative.

The question arose with a markedly enhanced degree of urgency in the aftermath of the Rann of Kutch encounter of April/May 1965. The GHQ asked for two infantry divisions to be raised immediately to meet the challenge of a larger conflict that appeared at that time to be just round the corner. The ministry of finance, under Mr Mohammad Shoaib, regretted its inability to meet the demand due to shortage of funds.

The army mooted the idea of raising the two divisions by withdrawing batmen from officers and JCOs. However, since the bulk of the army was deployed in the field in full operation readiness, the proposition was deferred until the situation along the border stabilised.

Subsequently, an infantry division was raised by milking various units and formations that could do with less than their authorised strength without losing much of their combat potential. This was the famous 11 (illegal) division raised by General Khawaja Azher and commanded by General Abdul Hamid Khan during the war.

Deployed around Kasur, the division had been designated to operate along with 1 Armoured Division without being 'married' to it under an integrated corps command. Hence the failure of our push towards Amritsar via Khem Karan.

Now a word about the role and need of a batman for officers and JCOs in peace and war. Used largely as a domestic servant during peace, the batman acquires an active, operational role during war or an exercise with troops, together with the officer he is attached to.

He is, for all practical purposes, his officer's battle mate, responsible not only for looking after his kit and personal weapons but also serving as a cook and, in a given contingency, his nursing orderly.

The case of Major Muhammad Tufail's orderly, incidentally a Hindu or a Buddhist, remains the best known example of a devoted batman helping his fatally wounded officer through the thick of battle all the way to the hospital.

The second winner of the Nishan-i-Haider posthumously (after Captain Sarwar), Major Tufail of the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) fell in an armed encounter with the Indians along the border outpost at Laxmipur in Akhura, East Pakistan. His orderly drove him all the way to the Commilla CMH, where the officer breathed his last.

It is to be noted that the batmen system prevails only in the army. As for the navy and the air force, entitled personnel are reimbursed, along with their monthly salaries, for the services of domestic hands hired by them at authorized rates. The main reason and rationale for the arrangement has been the shortage of manpower in the two services. Also the fact that most naval and airforce men are educated and equipped with technical/semi- technical skills.

Yet another reason in support of the batman system in the army, unlike the other two services, is the operational environment peculiar to the army. The army, especially its lead elements - infantry, armour artillery, signals and engineers - have to operate through different types of terrain ranging from the burning sands of the Rann to the frosty, ice-bound heights of Siachen.

The battlefield can be and quite often is a very lonely place with a single unit - a platoon or a company or an individual left alone to fend and fight for himself. The air and ship-borne airman and sailor, even when exposed to dangers and challenges greater than a land-based soldier, are not bound by the terrain they happen to be operating in.

The soldier's is a long haul through plains, deserts, hills and dales - and a struggle for every single inch of the ground. Hence the need for help and assistance - above all regimental kinship.

Now a number of supplementaries accruing from the change envisaged in the batmen system. First and foremost: would the reversion of batmen to their units be more in the nature of replacement with so-called "non- combatant bearers (NCBs)" employed on contract or outright retrenchment?

Second, would the proposed reduction of 50,000 troops include only the batman? Obviously, it can't, for the actual number of troops employed as batmen would be much less than 50,000. When implemented, it must include also those already serving in their units.

Third is the all-important question of intelligence clearance and screening of the civilian NCBs to be employed on contract. Fourth is the adverse impact of the huge troop cut accounting for some 10 per cent of the total force levels (half a million or so) on the morale of the rank and file, mainly NCOs (non- commissioned officers) and jawans.

Finally, what about the re-employment prospects of personnel actually reduced?. It needs to be noted that besides being the security shield of the nation, the army also serves as the nation's largest employment exchange.

A dialogue on culture at literary sitting

By Hasan Abidi.

KARACHI: It was the first sitting of 'Gymkhana Mokalma' on Thursday organized by the Library and Adbi Committee of the Karachi Gymkhana. The topic chosen for the dialogue was Saqafat (culture).

The dialogue was to be held between Dr Jamil Jalebi and a leading poet, also an English language professor. As the later could not arrive, the house was opened for everyone to give his or her version of Saqafat.

Most persons demanded the definition of 'culture' in cut and dried form. The learned Dr Jalebi readout a portion from his book written on the subject apart from other volumes to his credit. "Culture reflects all the activities of our lives in outer form and inner form, our thoughts and actions," Dr Jalebi observed.

Was there some inherent weakness in the foundation of Pakistan because we as a nation could not emerge to a dignified level? This question ignited a furious reaction but the president pacified the sensitive people.

The negative values in social life are born out of injustice and unfair practices, Dr Jalebi said. It was also the part of culture to enrich the realm of scientific knowledge, art and literature.

Mr Zeeshaan Siddiqui emphasized the need for good governance, The very basis of honest and disciplined social life. Culture could not be promoted and enriched with bad governance, he said.

Dr Jalebi, while defining the problems of national culture, said: "We have forgot our purpose in life and lost view of the destination before us. However, we need to preserve our national identity."

The injustices, feelings of insecurity and unequal distribution of our national resources were the bane with us. Pakistanis were one nation and they had tremendous faculties to develop as such.

In reply to a questioner if the modernity dominated by pop culture was destroying our own national culture, he said culture was not something static. "It always goes through changes with the passage of time. So, one should not be afraid of this phenomenon."

Citing the example of Pakistani languages, coming closer, Dr Jalebi observed that the people living in different parts of the country and speaking different languages were also coming closer, Urdu being the cementing force. Mohammad Nasim Gandhi, Convener Library and Adbi Committee, thanked the guests.