Malice Towards None & All: The Garrison State, After 76 Tumultuous Years

After 76 years of independence, Pakistan is nuclear-armed and the fifth most populous country in the world, yet the vast majority of its citizens live a life of despair and misery. Dr. Ikramul Haq suggests that Pakistan's evolution as a garrison state is the ...

Pakistan garrison state

The tumultuous existence of 76 years of our nationhood has witnessed many upheavals— a journey from crisis to crisis has at its core the struggle for establishing a democratic polity. The way in which a united opposition made claims of pre- and post-poll rigging in the aftermath of 2018 elections; and later played the oft-repeated game along with those who had allegedly masterminded the rigging, is a testament to the fact that the inclination to evolve a national consensus for people’s rule is still a distant dream, even as we are moving towards the eighth decade of our independence.

Liberation from colonial masters on August 14, 1947 to continuous subjugation in the hands of powerful classes - a militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned-politicians and absentee land owners, is the persistent, real and painful dilemma for nearly 242 million citizens of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Despite all odds - indifference and apathy of political leadership, learned helplessness of masses and long military rules—the nation has showed resilience and unshakable faith in electoral process whenever they have gotten a chance. 

The failures on the political, economic and social fronts during the decade of democracy (2008-2018), and then the experiment of controlled (hybrid) democracy from August 18, 2018 to April 9, 2022 and April 10, 2022 to August 9, 2023, once again confirms a lack of determination on the part of politicians to act collectively and resolutely to defeat the de facto power, thus the apprehensions of the strengthening of the ‘garrison state’ have continuously been proving true. Significant achievements in many areas during the last 76 years have been dampened by the non-existence of national cohesion and people’s rule, leading to a system where masses can rarely, if ever get real benefits from economic growth and resources.

Despite all odds - the indifference and apathy of political leadership, the learned helplessness of the masses, and long eras military of direct rule — the nation has showed remarkable resilience and unshakable faith in the electoral process, whenever they have gotten a chance. They did it the last time around on July 25, 2018, by giving an unequivocal verdict against the forces of obscurantism and fooling the masses in the name of religion. It is now the collective responsibility of all democratic forces to galvanize and mobilize masses for consolidating democracy and countering forces bent upon “controlling” elected institutions. Free and fair elections, as per the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan leading to a representative, accountable, responsible and open government is the resolve that all citizens should make on 76th Independence Day.

Politicians, above party lines, should send a clear message to the courts to interpret the laws and refrain from indulging in realpolitik; the same message must go to the powerful men in khaki. Enforcing the will of the people is essentially a political question, and it must be recognized by all that this matter cannot be adjudicated in the courts or through the barrel of gun.

Since our political leadership as a whole has failed in the past on this account, the entire society has been facing devastating effects and after-effects of unrepresentive rules— unfortunately approved by highest court in utter disregard of Constitution.

Successive civilian and military governments have failed to end socio-economic disparities, disharmony between the centre and provinces, poverty, apathy towards the less-privileged, militancy, religious and political intolerance—just to mention a few. What makes the situation more bizarre are the endless debates about the real motives for creation of Pakistan, witch-hunting in the name of ideology and role of men in khaki in politics.

The genesis and evolution of Pakistan remains a challenging enigma for historians and political scientists. Voluminous work, produced on the subject since the partition of Subcontinent in 1947, seeks to explain the interplay of two interwoven and interlinked factors behind the turbulent state—religion and militarism.

The political use of ‘religion’ in demanding a separate homeland for Muslims and its later abuse by military establishment with the help of the clergy to capture power and establish a ‘garrison state’ is in a nutshell, the sad story of Pakistan. It is elaborated intensely by political scientist, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, in his book, Pakistan: The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011. 

The book presents and analyzes historic record—largely shrouded in mystery and distorted by vested interests—to show what actually ails Pakistan—the fifth most populous (over 241 million) country in the world with a nuclear weapons arsenal, and a geostrategic position that can not be ignored by either global or regional powers.

Dr. Ishtiaq, in his meticulously-researched and thematically focused work, has explored the evolution of Pakistan from a weak state to a self-acclaimed “fortress of Islam”—the concept that proved fallacious in the wake of the state's dismemberment in 1971, yet remains insisted upon by many.

Facts show that it is a collective failure in which, no doubt, the ruling classes—controlled by the custodians of the garrison state - committed blunder after blunder. They are mainly responsible for the present pathetic state of affairs more than anybody else. 

This work, unlike others, is based on a conceptual and theoretical framework combining the notion of a post-colonial state and Harold Lasswell’s concept of a ‘garrison state.’ In the very first chapter entitled, ‘The Fortress of Islam: A metaphor for a Garrison State’, the author has shown how a state famished at the time of its birth transformed into a nuclear power, though engulfed by multiple crises—political, economic, social, religious, etc. 

Dr. Ishtiaq explains that Pakistan emerged as a ‘garrison state’ during the Cold War and dominance of the army over all other institutions since then. The rise of the military to this level has both internal and external causes. Historically speaking, its roots go back to the military interests of the United States in this region after the fall of British Empire. The branding and marketing of Pakistan as a ‘frontline state’ have been documented by the author, creating a furore in some circles that would never accept the truth.

The history of Pakistan as a garrison state, as analysed by Dr. Ishtiaq, debunks many myths, true events and exposes the many faces that ultimately rendered the “fortress of Islam” into merely a “CIA Regional Office” during the so-called Afghan jihad, making it a “breeding ground of terrorism.” Once allies and holy warriors are now dangerously poised against Pakistan, the United States and her allies, neighbors and democratic societies, which are under threat from fanatics who ruthlessly resort to deadly terrorist attacks against innocent civilians.

The story of the mythical ‘fortress of Islam’ has many bitter lessons. Dr. Ishtiaq has remarkably traced the journey of the garrison state that started from falling into the lap of United States, to armed conflicts with India, from martial laws to the birth of Bangladesh, from the follies of political leaders to the brutal “Islamization” of the Zia era, and from the corruption of elected governments to the proliferation of terrorism.

Dr. Ishtiaq rightly adjudges the journey of Pakistan as one of adopting a path of self-deception and self-annihilation. He justifiably deplores the attitude of conspiracy-mongers that shift blame on outsiders, rather than admitting their own faults and mistakes. While succinctly highlighting future challenges after the exit of United States from Afghanistan and growing religious fanaticism and terrorism in and around Pakistan, Dr. Ishtiaq realistically conveys that nothing will change unless the garrison state paves way to a secular and democratic state.

It is an incontrovertible fact that in Pakistan, either directly or indirectly, political power has always been with the army. A handful of generals decide what is in the “best interest” of the country—Balochistan is a case in hand. From the economic matrix to foreign policy paradigm, the men in uniform are the real decision makers. This is the real malady of being a garrison state.

Dr. Ishtiaq has painstakingly traced the roots and causes of this malady in an objective and unbiased way. Unlike many other writers, he has not entered into blame game—fixing responsibility of debacle on a particular institution or a political party or a class. However, in the final analysis, facts show that it is a collective failure in which, no doubt, the ruling classes—controlled by the custodians of the garrison state - committed blunder after blunder. They are mainly responsible for the present pathetic state of affairs more than anybody else. For many, it is but logical, as what else can one expect from them—any contrary hope would be like living in a fool’s paradise.

The tragedy of the garrison state is that its de facto rulers and cronies working for them could not care less about the aspirations of people and have done nothing worthwhile for the less-privileged.

To overcome this dilemma, Dr. Ishtiaq in the end has reached the correct conclusion: “It is, therefore, imperative that the stakeholders in the Pakistan power equation—especially the military—work out a long-term policy and strategy that can create stability, peace and prosperity within Pakistan as well as help normalize relations with its neighbours—provided they, too, nurture similar aspirations” [p. 470].

No one would disagree with Dr. Ishtiaq. His work holds a hope for Pakistan, provided the forces that matter are able to dispense with their self-assumed notions, like “custodians of ideological fronts” and “fortress of Islam.”

It is high time that all the stakeholders should initiate a meaningful dialogue for converting the garrison state into a modern, democratic country, that is the only road to salvation. The tragedy of the garrison state is that its de facto rulers and cronies working for them could not care less about the aspirations of people and have done nothing worthwhile for the less-privileged. This lamentable attitude of the beneficiaries of the garrison state amounts to a suicidal path. It is hoped that the caretaker government will fulfill its responsibility under the Constitution and after a free and fair election, a newly elected government will learn the necessary lessons from history. This is imperative if we want to see a strong, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, where its future generations can live proudly in the comity of nations.