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21 Sep 06,, 19:12
Military Involvement in the Political Development of Pakistan and its Rationale


Pakistan shares a common heritage with India. Its Army, like the Indian Army, had inherited the apolitical culture of the British Army.

Yet, there have been four coup d’états that toppled the civil governments of Pakistan. This is extraordinary since they should have imbibed the British ethos more than the Indians as the British were closer to the Moslems community since the bulk of their retainers were Moslems, who had less of social inhibitions that the Hindus. Unfortunately, Pakistanis apparently have not imbibed the British legacy either in their military or in governance.


The rationale for the repeated coup d’états is very complex. It has its roots in militarism that diffused through the political and social ethos of the areas that became Pakistan. It was also spawned additionally in the psychological, social and political catharsis that the events during the Partition havocked on the mindset of the migrants from India. The illusion of having been the rulers of India prior to the British and then being reduced to being the legatee of a moth eaten state called Pakistan instead of the Indian Empire, too added to a serious irritant to the Pakistani ego. Therefore, it is not surprising, given the mix stated earlier, that the population sought salvation through the more disciplined military to rid them of the chaos, deprivation and ignominy that Pakistan has sunk to owing to the ‘dis-focussed’ governments that followed Jinnah and after the assassination of Liaquat Ali. The global ascension of Nehru and India’s stature in comparison also indirectly aggrandised the consolidation of militarism egged on by obscurantist element. Unfortunately, this practice of military in governance has become more of a rule than an exception even though the popular index has diminished.

An overview of the psyche that propels the destiny of Pakistan, continually wracked by military coup d’états, is thus essential since such ‘turbulence’ affects the stability of the region and impedes the progress of the sub continent in the highly global existence. Such analysis alone can assist in collaborating to bring stability and progress to the region. It is in the world’s interest that a responsible and incorruptible democracy permanently returns to Pakistan. Had Pakistan not been carved out of India and instead was a nation with its own history, it might have been a “normal” nation. Therefore, the cause and the impact of the anti Indian psyche leading to militarism, visitations of military dictatorships and the role of the military in the ‘development’ of Pakistan must be understood.

The Social Churn of Pakistan

Carved out of India, Pakistan came into existence with five provinces – Balochistan, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, Sindh and East Bengal. Balochistan and NWFP were tribal in composition (and loosely administered, even in the British era) while Punjab, Sindh and East Bengal were peasantry predominant. Excepting in East Bengal, because of the feudal structure of areas that became Pakistan, there was a deficiency in the constitutional and institutional ethos or awareness. Axiomatically, the ‘mai baap’ (feudal lords being the sole arbiter) culture permeating the citizens’ interactivity was a way of life. There were the rich and there were the poor but hardly any middle class. There was barely any industry or commerce worth mention except to some extent in Karachi.

On the other hand, undivided Punjab, the epicentre of Pakistani politics, was the cradle for the military. During World War I, Punjab alone accounted for 66 per cent cavalry, 87 per cent artillery and 45 per cent infantry of the undivided Indian Army. It was obvious that Punjab became historically military sensitive and its administration was essentially committed to the welfare of the soldiery. The military cast it shadow in all the facets of the social milieu of Punjab. The extent of the military’s influence can be well judged by the fact that in the first two decades of the 20th Century, the Punjab government granted half a million acres of land as rewards to the soldiers. At Partition, Punjab, and to some extent the Rawalpindi district, swamped in domination in the Indian Army. There lay the foundation of the militarism that grips Punjab and in consequence, Pakistan.

Upon Partition, the Mohajirs, or migrants from India, comprised 20 percent of Pakistan’s population. They were socially aware, better educated and intellectually and politically empowered. These migrants formed the middle class and axiomatically had overwhelming representation amongst bureaucracy, judiciary, commerce and industry since the indigenous population was feudalistic and socially, educationally and politically backward. The Punjabis who were getting sidelined in governance, had never appreciated this ‘usurping of power’ by the migrants. Yet, given Jinnah’s (a Mohajir) stature as the Qaid e Azam, the Punjabis could do little to exert themselves.

Jinnah’s Moslem League dominated the political scene, which was virtually composed of the more educated, politically and socially savvy migrants of India. On the other hand, the Punjabis and other indigenous tribes staffed the military. This obviously led to a schism and the successive resurfacing of military governments was but a manifestation of the original inhabitants, predominantly the Punjabis, attempting to establish their hold on governance which they felt was rightful theirs. Thus lay the foundation of the jockeying for power between the indigenous and the migrant populations exemplified by the military and the rest, which is now history.

Rationale for the Anti Indian Psyche – Catalyst for the Armed Forces Involvement

Interestingly, the anti Indian psyche that now forms the rasion d’être of the present shape of the Indo Pak relationship, and Pakistan’s overzealous quest to assert a Muslim identity, was not the handiwork of the indigenous Pakistani population. It was the migrants who shaped the psyche of the new nation. The migrants, being rootless, and without a common cultural and ethnic identity of their own, that they would be swamped into oblivion if sub-nationalism was allowed to develop roots in Pakistan. Being savvy, they realised that unless there was a bogey created that would divert attention, they would have no future. Hence, the whipped up the fear of India that was already prevalent because of the horrendous events of the Partition. However, realising that this phenomenon would not last, they used Islam as the bulwark since this would attain perpetuity. Hence, Islam was used as a cause célèbre in Pakistan to divert attention from sub-nationalism while propping ‘oneness’ (Islam) of the sole factor for the existence and propagation of Pakistan, and the anti Indian factor suited this line of militant Islamism immeasurably. (note: that is why Pakistanis cannot think beyond India being Hindu inspite of a huge minority of Muslims as it would not suit the agenda!) Sub-nationalism was thus pushed into an insignificant pale except to some extent in East Bengal (East {Pakistan).

The matter would have. However, in masterful sleight of hand, the indigenous population of Pakistan, which dominated the Army, with a view to best the Mohajir at their game, fed fat the Mohajir inspired hate psychosis by keeping the Kashmir issue and the bogey of India on the boil. This was also done to extract a hefty defence budget at the expense of progress in Pakistan and ensuring perks “beyond the call of duty”. Mohajirs in the Army like Musharraf, play ball to suit their personal interests. Thus, the one-upmanship game continues to the detriment of their citizenry and to the discomfort of the subcontinent and the world at large!

The anti Indian feeling has its foundation in the Partition. In India, which is a vast country, the basic tendency is for the reverberation to die out as these progress outward. Therefore, the mayhem and trauma of the Partition was experienced in Bengal and the Punjab alone and found sober repercussions in the rest of India. This was not so with the smaller Pakistan. The blood letting in these states was felt throughout Pakistan. Apart from the Punjab and East Bengal, the various elements of the Army extensively employed to control the mayhem, such as the Pakistan Miltiary Evacuation Organisation (PMEO) was also affected. Muslim, unlike other religious denominations, are more inward looking and cohesive and more subservient to their Mullahs. The mullahs had a field day. The gruesome stories reached the remote corners of Pakistan. The Hindu – Muslim animosity that caused the Partition turned into a deep rooted hatred. The Pakistani Army too got brutalised and politicised!

From Pakistan’s point of view, to add insult to injury, was the Radcliffe Award that demarcated the boundary of India and Pakistan. The Pakistanis felt shortchanged. In India, too, many felt shortchanged. However, while Indians accepted the same as a fait accompli, there being no option if Independence was to come about on schedule, the Pakistanis could not reconcile. This added to the cauldron of hatred for Indians.

The failure of being thwarted in 1947 in the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim majority State which acceded to India; failure to capitalised on Islam to rouse the Kashmiris and being defeated in the war in 1965; the humiliating rout in 1971 with 90,000 of the best of the ‘redoubtable and invincible’ Pakistani Army being taken as prisoners of war and Pakistan torn in half; and the Kargil folly where Pakistan was ensconced in the international doghouse, have only added to the ‘hate India’ psyche. Worse still, through each defeat in the successive wars Pakistan thrust on India, was exploding the self deluding myth that Muslims are manifold braver and better than the avaricious, feeble and emaciated Hindus [little do they realise that the Nation is composed of all religious groups who are equally dedicated to the Indian nationhood!] This shattering of the psychological indoctrination, based on assumed religious superiority, makes it difficult for the Pakistanis accept the reality of India’s superiority in size and economy. The fact that in 1965 and also in Kargil, it was the Muslims who alerted the country is too insulting for Pakistanis to believe!

That India has stood tall in the international arena without buckling or aligning to any major power has added to their national shame wherein they have found their country a handmaiden of the US, mortgaging their destiny to the dictates of that country. For proud Muslims, it is yet another bitter pill and a fulcrum of jealous anger against India. Thus, that the cup if Pakistani hatred brims over, and India, in the Pakistani mindset, is the cause of their nation’s deprivations is but natural.

Growth of Military’s Predominance

As elucidated above, the Pakistani psyche was moulded to suit the migrants’ fear of sub-nationalism rising and swamping their rootless identity, the Punjabis’ ‘loss of power’ and their abating of their predominance, the fervent focus on Islam as the saviour and the uniting force, and impertinently, a contrived fear of India. This resulted in the tussle between these various powerful focal points in the governance of Pakistan. This, in turn, resulted in a schizophrenic morass in the quest for national identity. This unholy power struggle between the various vested interest groups and the mullahs led to a chaotic state which was neither democratic nor representative.

From Independence to 1958, turmoil and strife was commonplace and brimming subsurface. The Parliament was not representative since it had been elected indirectly. Even thought the Constituent Assembly was composed of the ‘locals’, the migrants controlled the executive wing of the government. The first coup had already taken place in 1954, at the hands of the bureaucracy, and not the Army! The Governor General, Gulam Mohammed, dissolved the National Assembly and formed a so called ‘government of talent’. It was an amalgam of various ethno-regional, industrial, landed, bureaucratic and military interests. However, the illegitimacy of the arrangement led to the indirect elections of 1955 to form the Second Constituent Assembly.

The elections were being postponed repeatedly because of the fear of various lobbies losing their clout to machinate governance to suit their interest. Making matters worse were the Bengalis who, as a’ bloc’, were in the majority. Suhrawardy of Bengal loomed as a Spectre, which could upset the delicate power equation of the Mohajirs and the Punjabis! The spatial distance between East and West Pakistans being large and discontinuous, the mentalities and ethos were equally disparate. This psyche obviously did not fashion any bonhomie with the Bengalis nor with the other communities. Thus, there was an internal schism.

The elections were to be held. This would mean the power base would shift to the representatives of the people; worse still to the Bengalis, who were unpredictable and were not too steeped in the form of zeal propagated by the Mohajirs and the Punjabis. The prospect of handing power to the peoples’ representatives, did not suit the vested interests of the bureaucracy, military, feudal satraps and other niches of privilege. In this disquieting milieu, the first military coup took place.

The President Iskander Mirza invited the Army in. The Army did not alienate the vested seats of interest. However, for the Army, it was their first savour of power and it was sapid. The tables were slowly turned to bring in the supremacy of the Punjabi influence, the army being predominantly Punjabi who were the erstwhile pacesetters of the destiny of the areas that came to be Pakistan. Ayub Khan’s military rule was more benign than his successors, though during his tenure, Pakistan shifted to a Presidential form of government. He did bring in stability as also attempted to make Pakistan self reliant through industrialisation to some extent.

In 1970, General Yahyah Khan was forced by circumstances to call an election. The result resurrected the sceptre that the vested interests feared, especially the military. The elections delineated the people along ethnic, linguistic, class and sectarian niches. The worst fear fructified. Mujibur Rehman, a fiery Bengali, would become the Prime Minister! This served none’s purpose including the common Punjabis, who illogically reposed on themselves the fallacy that they were a superior race! Therefore, the turmoil in Pakistani polity suited the military and bureaucracy. ZA Bhutto, another charismatic leader, a Sindhi and West Pakistani, and the second polestar of popularity, was covertly propped up by the military. Bengalis, realising that they had been shortchanged, rose in rebellion. The rest is the sad history of Pakistan. Yahyah and his military cahoots attempted to brutally goosestep the Bengali aspirations and this came to as sorry pass. East Pakistan, plundered, raped and pillaged rose as a phoenix and emerged as Bangladesh! The military was disgraced. The Punjabi domination ebbed, as Bhutto became the undisputed leader and Prime Minister.

The military and the Punjabis could not brook this shift in the seat of power, especially since democracy was becoming a bedrock in Pakistan and the power brokers and vested interests [to some extent] banished into oblivion. Like all despots, Bhutto too overreached himself and played into the hands of the military. A popular movement against his autocracy was set afire.

Gnereal Zia ul Haq, a Bhutto protégé, had Bhutto arrested and hung. He changed the form of government to semi Presidential one through the 8th Amendment to ensure that the Army ruled supreme. The Pakistani history from Zia to Nawaz Sahrif is too recent to repeat. However, it was Sharif who clipped the wings of the military by taking away the presidential powers to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies with the 13th Amendment in April 1997, much to the chagrin of the Army.

The paternalistic attitude that still prevails in Pakistan has allowed the Army during each coup to hold the populations’ adulation initially, since the same adulation was allowed to politicians in the interim to ruin democracy through misgovernance and corruption. Thus, the cycle continues with Pakistan meandering rudderless through a variety of government, both military and civil!

The Army has mastered the politics of ‘bringing democracy to the doorstep’.
Each successive coup engineered by the Army has used this trump card to justify the act. Ayub brought in ‘Basic Democracies’ in the 1962 Constitution. It had ensured that local counsellors were elected and they acted as the Electoral College that not only elected the President but also the national and provincial assemblies. This way Ayub ensured that politics was localised and de-radicalised. It was also ensured that there was a direct link between the villages and the central government, cutting across parochial party based patronage, especially since no party had the means to field 80,000 candidates! The District Administration was supreme in the allocation of funds. Indeed, this was a novel way to ensure a ‘panchayati raj’ while having a centralised control over the progress of he country. However, this scheme alienated the intelligentsia since they had no role to play. A turmoil ensued and Ayub had to quit.

Zia also realised that ‘bringing democracy to the doorstep’ was a failsafe method to ensure continuance of his power. He promised elections twice, but postponed the same since it could be disastrous for his regime since the environment clearly indicated a pro Pakistan Peoples’ Party tilt. Therefore, he wanted to test the waters. He took the tested route through local bodies’ election, which was held regularly till the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983 forced him to opt for elections. However, cleaver as he was, Zia agreed for election but on non party basis. This ensured an inbuilt safety. In any case, the Constitution empowered the President to dismiss the government at will.

President General Musharraf too has taken the route of the military dictators before him. Instead of general elections that the Nation demanded, he opted for elections to the local bodies. To ensure centralised control, Parvez constituted the National Reconstruction Board (NRB), patterned on the Bureau of National Reconstruction that Ayub had constituted. In short, it was to bring democracy to the grassroots and yet did not devolve on it the revenue raising power.

Increasingly, in spite of of the cosmetic power to the local bodies, the actual power has rested with the Central government. This type of an environment where political and religious views in deciding the fate of the Nation was stifled, the political scene became murkier. With the political and financial patronage of the Central government (i.e. the Army, with Musharraf both as the Army Chief and the President), the Central government thus engineered the elections in the Districts, which threw up very odd bedfellows. This suited Musharraf’s designs to keep the US on tenterhooks as also appease the population. In fact, it became a strife between the Army and its bedfellows versus the Rest, which is composed of rather incongruous customers and hence more instability. This instability also fits the designs of the Army.

In this context, the Army has always distrusted the politicians even more than they distrust India. They hold them in contempt as corrupt and self serving with little concern for Pakistan. That is the reason why the Army has always insisted on its hold on the foreign policy, especially after they were in disarray after resounding defeat and the disgrace of 1971. Likewise in the democratic phase from 1988 to 1999, no defence policy could be framed without the sanction of the military. Every government of Pakistan had a watchdog body composed of the military to keep an eye on the affairs of the state.

That the politicians are not the major players in the destiny of Pakistan, especially now, is borne by the fact that when Nawaz Sahrif took some steps to normalising the relationship with India, he was overthrown. In fact, he was backstabbed by Kargil! To his credit, he was the first Punjabi politician to be ready to reconsider the intangible position of Pakistan on Kashmir (his own father opposed it!). He and Vajpayee thawed the tense situation with the Lahore Bus, exchange of prisoners, visits of commercial and cultural delegations and the Lahore Declaration including the easing of the visa protocol. He also started the Track Two diplomacy. And yet, the Army prevailed! They orchestrated an asinine plan in Kargil, defying military tenets, without planning re-supply for suystenance of the troops (the diary recovered in Dras indicated so) and then finally overthrew him! These reflect the total supremacy of the Army in governance.


The Pakistan military, and to some extent the bureaucracy, will continue to be at the helm of affairs in the governance of Pakistan. The rationale and the ethos for the same have been already explained in detail in this article. It is too deep seated for any quick change. The migrants, whoa re intellectually superior and form the bulk of the bureaucracy, will continue to ensure their supremacy and not allow sub-nationalism to surface or else they are doomed to oblivion. Till today, even after 56 years of Independence, they are not accepted as a part of Pakistan and are still referred to as Mohajirs (refugees). Likewise, the self proclaimed ‘superior race’ Punjabis will not abdicate their predominance and they have the Army (70% still is Punjabis) to put their money where their mouth is! Lastly, there is always the India factor, to strike the fear of God in any deviate!.

The only hope of salvation of this complex situation is the economic, social and political stability of Pakistan. This is achievable only through interpersonal interactivity of the population of Indian and Pakistan and a better commercial equation between the two countries. A prosperous nation is a contented nation.

Kashmir will axiomatically find its slot.

(PINNACLE Vol 2, No 2 October 2003)

A dated though interesting article from the magazine PINNACLE.

No links.

It does indicate lucidly the rationale of military dominance and the interse rivalry that opeates within Pakistan polity.

A worth note.