Should a professional military conduct business activities absent civilian oversight? Should it be allowed to own or control large pieces of land courtesy of a colonial legacy and to change lease agreements at will without any regard for the resulting consequences on the lives of poor, defenseless workers? Should it take on the role of a full-time real estate player and develop housing schemes for the rich? Should it run a parallel economy and operate in a protective bubble while the rest experience severe economic hardships? Should horse-breeding and agricultural enterprise become so important to its interests that it feels compelled to fire upon citizens it is under oath to protect? If not, then why does it happen in Pakistan? And when will it ever stop?

The story coming out of Okara involving local farmers and the Pakistan Army and Rangers is a good example to illustrate the inequitable nature of relations between state-institutions and the common people. The Anjuman-e-Mazaraeen Pakistan (AMP) has been protesting against the change in their status from occupancy tenants to simple contract holders. They used to dream of one day owning the land they have been working on for generations. Forget ownership, now they are struggling to keep their little share of profits. On July 3rd, two farmers were shot dead and a few others taken into custody when they refused to resume the irrigation supply they had blocked in protest. The powers enjoyed by institutions in the name of the protection of citizens is often used against them. Instead of relying on performance and respect, fear is used as the ultimate tool. This oppression of people is rampant across the scale and the military is no exception to the rule. What do Okara Military Farms (OMF) have to do with the country’s security or defense mechanism? ? Is it a site for a sensitive secret project for which a few nagging peasants can be booted out and killed, and then forgotten? How much money is made from this capitalist venture and many others like it managed by the military? How is that money spent? For golf courses or families of the martyrs? For buying new guns or loyalties? Does patriotism demand complete silence in the face of unjustified aggression and highhandedness?

Who will address the grievances of the Anjuman-e-Mazaraeen Pakistan (AMP)? Nawaz Sharif? Shahbaz Sharif? Raheel Sharif? Is the civilian leadership even capable, let alone willing, of bringing powerful institutions under the ambit of the law? A lot is said about how Pakistan inherited a strong military and bureaucracy and how these two ensure that the country keeps moving. Perhaps its time we start looking to just where their strength comes from and how it’s used. We know of empires and machines built and run on the bones and blood of the weak. Just because they’re strong, just because we hail them as an institution that “functions,” doesn’t mean they’re doing it right.