When the former civil servant and Pakistani author Ayesha Siddiqa’s book Military Inc. was first published in 2007, it caused a furor of sorts in Pakistan. In the book, Siddiqa wrote about “Milbus”—a term she coined to describe “military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, but is neither recorded nor part of the defense budget.” For her research, she relied on government documents and extensive interviews with former military generals. She reported in the book that those associated with the military in Pakistan owned a diverse set of businesses and had amassed great personal wealth, all the while making it appear that Pakistan was instead undergoing economic growth. At the time of its publication, the administration had blocked the book’s release, and many in Pakistan termed Siddiqa a traitor to her nation. However, her book subsequently, found an audience, and critical acclaim.
In the second edition of the book, which was recently published in India, Siddiqa added a new chapter on the military’s expanding control over Pakistani media. In the following excerpt from the chapter, she discusses how the military made forays into controlling the media, and the manner in which it was represented in popular culture.
While a similar pattern of presenting internal conflict as externally driven violence could be found in India too, in Pakistan’s case the issue is a bit more complex. The country’s army is as uncomfortable with ethnic politics as the founding father, who referred to ethnic politics as a ‘menace’ that had to be fought. The ongoing conflict in Baluchistan is a reminder of holes in the fabric of nationalism that Jinnah tried to build or that is now being constructed by the military or some of the right-wing forces. Since expanding the media, the army appears to have very systematically encouraged a security-establishment friendly narrative but has also developed a new nationalist discourse to keep its institution relevant not only for the state but for society as well. With the help of the media, the security establishment has managed to affect people’s thinking. The image of a nationalist soldier, who is highly professional, yet upholds the religious and cultural values of an Islamic republic, have fed the nationalist discourse. In order to influence both the narrative and the discourse, the military has developed an extensive communication structure and a strategy to engage with the formal civil society and with society at large.