ISLAMABAD, May 31: A book putting a critical spotlight on the military’s business nooks was launched from a virtual sanctuary on Thursday and some high-profile political reviewers seized upon it to denounce the army’s role in Pakistani politics.

The launching of the book, Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, by Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, a military analyst, was due to have taken place at the capital’s elitist Islamabad Club.

But the author told a surprised audience that not only the club cancelled the booking of its auditorium, “all hotels in Islamabad were also told” by unspecified authorities not to allow the use of their halls for this, forcing the organisers to find a sanctuary at a third-floor room provided by a non-governmental organisation.

PPP’s legal star Aitzaz Ahsan said the time had come to stand up against the military dominance while PML-N Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal accused Pakistan army generals of not learning a lesson from other countries that said goodbye to military rule.

But some other speakers had a dig also at politicians for doing little to keep the military in check while being in power and at times celebrating the ouster of their rivals.

Mr Aitzaz Ahsan said the expose of Ayesha, who puts the net worth of the army’s commercial empire at Rs200 billion, had come at a “defining moment” in Pakistan’s history following President Pervez Musharraf’s controversial charge-sheeting and suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

He narrated what he called the military’s moves in the past to convert Pakistan into a national security state contrary to the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a welfare state and to forge an alliance with mullahs in search of an ideological justification for this, but said he thought now “a watershed has come”.

Mr Ashan, who heads Justice Iftikhar’s legal team, saw “a turning point” in the March 9 presidential action against the chief justice that plunged the country into a judicial crisis and said: “We must grasp it.”

Cheers went up in the congested premises of the NGO Leadership for Environment and Development as Mr Ahsan referred to what he called an unexpected “no” by the chief justice to the president’s demand for his resignation and, in a reference to the nationwide protest movement by lawyers, opposition political activists and the civil society, said: “The spillway of the Tarbela Dam has opened now.”

He said although the chief justice would not speak about the presidential reference pending before the five-judge Supreme Judicial Council or his challenge to the reference before a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court, it was out of compulsion that an affidavit was filed on his behalf on Tuesday about what happened to him during his March 9 meeting with the president and for some days afterwards.

“We were compelled to file that affidavit,” Mr Ahsan said, citing comments made by President Musharraf about the case as the reason.

Mr Iqbal rejected as a myth usual accusations holding politicians responsible for four military coups in Pakistan’s history and put the blame on what he called ambitions of army chiefs who toppled civilian governments from General Mohammad Ayub Khan, who later became field marshal, to General Musharraf.

Comparing the ills of military interventions in politics to what cancer does to human body, he said Ayub Khan struck in October 1958 to pre-empt scheduled elections next year, while General Yahya Khan snatched power from him in 1969 at “virtual gunpoint” to prevent a handover to a National Assembly Speaker from then East Pakistan in the midst of a national democratic movement.

General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, he recalled, seized power on June 5, 1977 a day after then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the opposition Pakistan National Alliance had agreed to hold fresh elections. He said Pakistan faced no bankruptcy despite international sanctions for its 1998 nuclear tests and “everything was normal” when General Musharraf, after being sacked, toppled then prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999.

Mr Zafar Abbas, resident editor of Dawn, Islamabad, and Dr Farrukh Saleem, also complimented the 292-page book published by the Oxford University Press.

It speaks about the role of the military power in transforming the Pakistani society, armed forces becoming an independent class entrenched in the corporate sector and their five giant welfare foundations, or conglomerates, running thousands of businesses ranging from petrol pumps to industrial plants.

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