London: It beggars belief that the Pakistan military, which has a vast sphere of influence from micro-level to macro-level activities in the country, had no idea that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was living in a vast, custom-built compound only 800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy.
The Saudi-born terrorist, who had evaded capture for a decade, was killed on May 2 in a top secret operation involving a small team of US Special Forces in Abbottabad city, located 50 kilometres northeast of Islamabad and 150 kilometres east of Peshawar on Sunday night.
Pakistan`s 600,000-strong army has financial muscle flexed across industries from oil and gas to cereals and real estate - it even set up its own airline, and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency is so pervasive that it is described as a "state within a state", The Scotsman reports.
"The expanse of the military is unimaginable," said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc, which shines a light on the eye-popping sway that the army has beyond security affairs.
"They even run bakeries. From micro-level activity to macro-level activity they are everywhere," she added.
One does not have to look far beyond Pakistan’s capital for a glimpse of the military`s wealth. In one suburb, workers water lawns and trim hedges at farms where both active and retired generals live in swanky villas, the report said.
Given its grip on security, society and its stunning economic reach, no wonder many find it hard to believe that the Pakistan Army did not know that the world`s most-wanted man had been living for years just 30 miles from Islamabad, it added.
The Pakistan Government has rejected allegations that the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in Abbottabad showed Pakistani incompetence in tracking him down or complicity in hiding him.
But dislodging suspicion that the army knew all along where the al Qaeda leader was holed up might be difficult, given the military’s vast sphere of influence, said the report.
The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its short history, and although it is not ruling the country now, its far-reaching clout maintains a lop-sided balance of power between the security establishment and the civilian government, the report noted.
This generates permanent doubt about the stability of the nuclear-armed country, which has seen three military coups since it was carved out of India in 1947, it added.
The Pakistan Government, which is dependent on an 11-billion-dollar International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to keep the economy afloat, is already struggling to deliver on crucial tax and energy sector reforms that would bring fiscal discipline.
Despite its business empire, which Siddiqa estimated to be worth up to 15 billion dollars, the military is a huge drain on the country`s finances- about 26 per cent of government expenditure flows to the defence budget, she said.
The report quoted one Pakistani maxim, as saying: "Every country has an Army, Pakistan`s Army has a country."