Pakistan Reader# 278, 21 January 2022
On Navy’s commercial properties: Two recent judicial verdicts
On 8 January, Islamabad High Court (IHC) finally gave its verdict on the sealed Navy sailing club situated at the embankments of Rawal Lake Islamabad. The verdict read: "the engagement of the armed forces in an activity which is a transgression from the constitutional mandate e.g., undertaking commercial or real estate ventures etc. is not in the public interest. Its coercive power, strength and discipline can only be used for the restricted functions prescribed under the Constitution rather than using these characteristics to enforce its will on the people that created it."
The court also recommended that the sailing club be demolished; the farmhouses at Simly Dam road were also declared illegal and ordered to be razed. Environment impact assessment and damage to the ecology are also to be filed and charged as penalties.
On 11 January, in another verdict, the Islamabad High Court declared the Pakistan Navy golf course Islamabad as illegal. The Court ordered the civic agencies to seal it, the military's claim of over 8,000 acres of land in the Margalla Hills National Park area was considered as encroachment and unlawful.
The recent verdicts come in the backdrop of civil petitions filed by citizens who were denied access to these facilities. Last year, in a similar incident, when Pakistan Air Force had opened a shopping mall in Islamabad the court had asked for clarifications from PAF and ordered the closing of the mall.
Issues at large
First, military’s commercial ventures. Over the years armed forces in Pakistan have directly or indirectly ventured into enduring profitable businesses from fertilizers to real estate, Fauji Foundation, a commercial venture has slowly spread its tentacles into the core of Pakistan's economy. Renowned scholar Ayesha Siddiqa has in detail recorded this phenomenon in her book: Military Inc. Inside Pakistan's Military Economy. She has examined the distinct level of the military's economic empire and makes useful comparisons with the Indonesian and Turkish armed forces' commercial ventures for profitable and redistribution usages. There is patronage extended to loyal soldiers and officers through these ventures.
Second, the assertion of the courts beyond the legal cases on military’s commercial ventures. When the current COAS had his tenure exhausted and the current government extended the term of the COAS, the IHC intervened and questioned the legality of the decision. The PTI government had to bring in legislation to cement the extension given to General Bajwa. The insistence upon rule of law and uniform treatment meted to Pakistan Navy's illegal encroachment confirms the judiciary's assertion for its legal relevance and key position in powerful institutions of Pakistan.
Third, the rise of military aristocracy in Pakistan. The economic ventures by armed forces are a result of nexus between political parties and armed forces whereby both reinforce each other's validation in ruling the country. Complementary interests have suited both the parties and the families which have led the national political parties. Judiciary, it appears, is attempting to solidify the third pillar in the democracy of Pakistan.
What does it mean?
Pakistan is going through one of the toughest times in terms of democracy and representative government. There is dissent across the spectrum. The assertion by the judiciary to keep welfare issues is an indication of keeping the institution aloof and accountable in at least civilian issues like enforced disappearances and unlawful capture of land.
The judiciary is cognizant of being the last resort of justice and with such verdicts, it wants to provide equal opportunities of access to justice for a normal citizen of Pakistan.
Also, there appears to be a recalibration of judicial-military relations taking place. In the long term, one may see the contestation for power and influence to continue, the power may get more fragmented rather than remaining concentrated in the handsof one institution only.
Malik Asad, "IHC orders demolition of navy's farmhouses, sailing club in capital," Dawn, 8 January 2022
"IHC CJ questions Naval Farms Scheme," The News International, 13 September 2020
Malik Asad, "Navy can't file civil suits without govt approval: IHC," Dawn, 14 January 2022)
"Govt bound to follow court directives on navy golf course: Fawad," Dawn, 18 January 2022)
Ian Talbot, “Review: Military Inc. Inside Pakistan's Military Economy * By Ayesha Siddiqa,” Journal of Islamic Studies, 2 May 2009