Kamra: Inside a high-security air
force complex that builds jet fighters and weapons systems,
Pakistan`s military is working on the latest addition to its
sprawling commercial empire: a homegrown version of the iPad.
It`s a venture that bundles together Pakistani engineering
and Chinese hardware, and shines a light on the military`s
controversial foothold in the consumer market. Supporters say
it will boost the economy as well as a troubled nation`s
It all comes together at an air force base in Kamra in
northern Pakistan, where avionics engineers, when they`re not
working on defence projects, assemble the PACPAD 1.
"The original is the iPad, the copy is the PACPAD," said
Mohammad Imran, who stocks the product at his small computer
and cell phone shop in a mall in Rawalpindi, a city not far
from Kamra and the home of the Pakistani army.
The device runs on Android 2.3, an operating system made
by Google and given away for free. At around USD 200, it`s
less than half the price of Apple or Samsung devices and
cheaper than other low-end Chinese tablets on the market, with
the bonus of a local, one-year guarantee.
The PAC in the name stands for the Pakistan Aeronautical
Complex, where it is made. The PAC also makes an e-reader and
Such endeavours are still at the pilot stage and represent
just a sliver of the military`s business portfolio, which
encompasses massive land holdings, flour and sugar mills,
hotels, travel agents, even a brand of breakfast cereal.
The military is powerful, its businesses are rarely
subject to civilian scrutiny, and it has staged three coups
since Pakistan became a state in 1947.
Many Pakistanis find its economic activities corrupting
and say it should focus on entirely on defence.
"I just can`t figure it out," said Jehan Ara, head of
Pakistan`s Software Houses Association, said of the PACPAD.
"Even if they could sell a billion units, I can`t see the
point. The air force is supposed to be protecting the air
space and borders of the country."
Supporters say the foray into information technology is a
boost to national pride for a country vastly overshadowed by
archrival India in the high-tech field.