Soldiers Of Development

The military does not see itself as a hegemon but justifies its capture of civilian space as an outcome of its nation-building role

Soldiers Of Development

The recently published book titled The Changing Dynamics of Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan: Soldiers of Development (New York: Routledge, 2023) by Rabia Chaudhry, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) at FC College, adds to the literature on civil-military relations and hegemony by bringing into discussion two new aspects: one, the role of development conducted by the Pakistan Army, which is otherwise accepted as part of the civilian sphere; and two, how army officers understand their own institution’s role in delving into development through various corporate entities informed by the case studies of Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and Fauji Foundation Company Limited (FFCL).

The book begins with a conceptual discussion on hegemony understood as the capacity to impose an economic, social and political order – not simply through coercive means but also through instruments of soft power. This includes culture, which allows the hegemon to propagate its own values and norms through a nexus of institutions, social relations and ideas, thereby generating ideologies which appeal to the masses through the mobilisation of civil society.

For the Pakistani context, Chaudhry uses Saeed Shafqat’s definition of military hegemony whereby the military exercises monopolistic control over strategic policy issues and decision-making institutions in the country. Military is able to do it because either civilian groups fail to establish themselves as legitimate actors while it enjoys legitimacy or by manipulating and cajoling civilian actors. The implications of this hegemony are improved chances of appropriating (public) greater resources while enlarging the military at the same time.

The evolution of military’s hegemony in Pakistan began with the creation of a neo-colonial state where the military and civil bureaucracy institutions were much more evolved than civil society inclusive of political parties, leading to the power fulcrum moving in their direction. Further, as the military directly took over reins of power controlling key administrative and political positions in the country, it coalesced state institutions towards achieving its hegemony by neutralising political parties & their leadership while creating a new set of political elites through local governments and non-party elections; making constitutional amendments; co-opting the bureaucratic elite, financial industrial groups and feudal classes; and lastly promoting its own corporate interests. As this institutional arrangement faced little resistance even when the military was not directly in power, the balance of power stayed tilted towards the military reinforcing its hegemony.

Chaudhry takes the discussion above as a starting point for her analysis with the purpose to “conceptualise the military as a thinking organisation and therefore understand the thought processes behind its modus operandi…, how this hegemony is maintained and reproduced, to how the hegemon reflects on its own modus operandi, how it organises its actions and the limits and constraints on the said actions”, specifically focusing on development functions carried out through for profit army enterprises. Her findings provide a conceptual and empirical grounding to the catch phrases one often hears in the civil-military discourse in the country.

Chaudhry argues that there is uniformity in the perception and thought processes of both serving and retired officers as these are a product of “systemised reaffirmation of an institutional belief system which is implemented through institutional hierarchies and stringently enforced through penalties.” This worldview ignores the constitutional abrogation by military coups because of the mind map of military as a saviour of the nation whose hand was forced for the greater good of the people including the safeguarding of their developmental needs. Further, in comparison to the belief that the military is an efficient and honest organisation that enjoys unwavering public support because it delivers on its promises, military officers consider the civilians including the politicians and civil bureaucracy as corrupt, lazy and inept. Lastly, the military does not see itself as a hegemon but justifies its capture of civilian space as an outcome of its nation-building role for the betterment of the country.

With this mental model, the military understands its involvement in the development sector through for-profit businesses such as Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), NLC, DHA, Fauji Foundation Company (FFC) as akin to nation building, as officers use the terms development and nation building interchangeably. Further, it justifies its involvement in for-profit businesses which go much beyond the objective of providing welfare to retirees and martyr families as: one, military has a definitive role to play in nation building as it is present in parts of the country that the state is not; two, military’s involvement in development activities is needed till the country is “economically, politically and strategically stable.”

However, Chaudhry argues that military’s development activities through these corporations instead serves the purpose of concretising its hegemony while furthering its own commercial interests. The military denies this, pointing to the absence of a direct monetary link between the military and for instance, the FFC, which also runs welfare projects such as hospitals and schools. Further, it considers the commercial success of FFC as an outcome of military’s institutional ethos leading to employment generation and economic contribution while not denying that FFC has reached its present status through the support of state that is dominated by the military. Similarly, infrastructure built by FWO is cited as an example of military’s contribution towards country’s development rather than raise concerns that serving military personnel run a for profit enterprise whose accounts are not accessible to the parliament. Military officers further highlight the capacity of the military as opposed to the incapacity of civilian governments, even though FWO is paid by the government for executing commercial projects.

There is little disagreement among scholars that military’s role in development supports it to operate independently of the state. But, contrary to Ayesha Siddiqa’s concentration on military businesses as extra constitutional entities which may undermine military hegemony, Chaudhry presents a convincing argument that military’s presence in and its narrative of development is not just good business but also extends its hegemony through the symbolism of development. She argues that “in the event that the military is forced to relinquish its power per se, its hegemony can endure through its understanding, perception and projection of a culture of development.”

The book is an outcome of Chaudhry’s PhD thesis, and adds to the theoretical literature on civil-military relations. It should be a treat to read not just for subject related scholars and students but also the lay reader, especially those who long for change in our political dynamics because it is the first scholarly work that primarily focuses on how the military thinks about its own actions. The only issue is that the hard copy is beyond the budget of a Pakistani. So, I would suggest getting a soft copy instead.

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