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Pakistan military's profits draw ire

As dissatisfaction with President Musharraf rises across Pakistan, the military's influence over the economy has become a focus of anger toward the government.

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Imran Ahmed, a former senior manager at Pakistan's power agency, begins his story as if he were setting up the punch line for a joke – which, in a sense, he is.

Several years ago, Dr. Ahmed says, the chairman of Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) had an idea to build a power station.

Being an engineer, Ahmed knew what was required. Under normal circumstances, construction would take about a year. But these were not normal circumstances.

The chairman was an Army general installed in his lucrative post by a military government intent on promoting its own. His dictum: Finish it in seven days.

"We finished it, but at the cost of many other things," including funding diverted from other worthy causes and unsafe construction conditions, says Ahmed, who spoke on the condition that his real name not be used, for fear that he might be harassed.

Ahmed's story is an extreme example of an increasingly common phenomenon in Pakistan, as the current military regime installs more of its officers in civilian jobs – a trend that is partly to blame for current political unrest here.

As Pakistan's most dominant institution, the military has long had an inordinate influence in civilian life. Pervez Musharraf, who is both Pakistan's president and Army chief, is simply looking after his own, experts say.

But critics say that under Mr. Musharraf, the practice has become more widespread than ever, engorging an already powerful military on a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth and entwining it more deeply into civilian authority.

Musharraf's regime "has been directly responsible for a military corporate empire," says Kaiser Bengali, an independent economist in Karachi. "We don't have a level playing field within the country because the military has a lot of privileges."

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