Why Pakistan Is A Praetorian State & India Has Civilian Supremacy

Why Pakistan Is A Praetorian State & India Has Civilian Supremacy
The two countries were carved out of British India in August 1947. Their leaders, Jinnah and Nehru, had largely similar views when it came to governance. The colonial mindset that Nehru successfully eliminated in India is still very much there in Pakistan.

Why did Pakistan deviate from Jinnah’s vision while India under Nehru was able to create a secular democracy? Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist by profession, who is also one of Pakistan’s leading political commentators, takes up this issue in his book, Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the country’s history.

In Chapter 12, “Why is Pakistan a Praetorian State?” he blames the US for providing extensive military assistance to the Pakistan Army – a situation which let the army gain an oversized influence in the country. This happened during the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s, when General Ayub Khan was not only the commander-in-chief of the army but also the defense minister.

Hoodbhoy’s analysis lines up with what I had heard in 2020 from Col. (retired) David Smith of the US Army. He had spent many years in both countries and was intimately familiar with the strategic culture of both countries. The American colonel said: “Prime Minister Nehru took a series of steps to establish civilian authority over the army, which he considered an instrument of colonial rule. He stayed in power from 1947 to 1964 and created a tradition that continues to this day. From Day 1, Pakistan was the smaller power and felt insecure. Jinnah passed away within 13 months of Pakistan’s founding. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated three years later. In the same year, Ayub Khan was appointed the commander-in-chief of the army. He mounted a coup in 1958 and stayed in power until 1969. Since then, the army has had a permanent place in the country’s politics.”
I was seated next to a serving brigadier of the Pakistani army at a conference of Indian and Pakistani military officers at a prestigious US military academy. Lunch had ended, and it was just the two of us. I asked, “Why is it that India has never been governed by the military?”

The army is effectively the largest political party in the country, as Brookings’ Stephen Cohen put it. And, as UCLA’s Stanley Wolpert put it, the army is the wolfhound that occasionally turns on its master.

Since 1958, Pakistan has experienced four major coups. The first three coup-makers wore three titles: president, chief martial law administrator and army chief. By the time the fourth coup happened, coups had become fashionable around the globe. Thus, the coup-maker decided to soften his image.

Initially, he titled himself Chief Executive, seeking to dispel the notion that the nation had been placed under martial law. Later, he declared himself president but continued to serve as army chief. Toward the end of his tenure, terrorism was on the rise and he was losing the respect of the legal community. So, he declared an emergency. That caused him to lose support from his biggest overseas supporter, the US.

Musharraf was forced to step down as army chief, which he had long claimed was his second skin. Soon thereafter, he was removed from office. Since his departure, the army has decided to exercise influence from behind, creating a hybrid regime.

Some two decades ago, I was seated next to a serving brigadier of the Pakistani army at a conference of Indian and Pakistani military officers at a prestigious US military academy. Lunch had ended, and it was just the two of us.

I asked, “Why is it that India has never been governed by the military?” Without a moment’s hesitation, came this reply: “Because our people are wild and theirs are not.”

His answer did not startle me. It was just a bit more colourful than the answers I had heard before from several officers in the Pakistani military. Military intervention was not the military’s fault. They were not greedy for power. But they had to seize power in order to save the nation from the civilians, who were both incompetent and corrupt.

This was the theme of the first speech made by Ayub in 1958, who set the precedent for militarising politics, economics, culture and everything else. It was echoed by Yahya in 1969, who presided over the destruction of Jinnah’s Pakistan, by Zia in 1977 who introduced religion in the country’s polity and by Musharraf in 1999 who promised to bring about enlightened moderation.

From time to time, I wonder if it’s possible to coup-proof Pakistan. Sadly, based on Pakistan’s troubled history, the answer has to be ‘no.’ As has been noted by more than one observer, “most states have an army; in Pakistan, the army has a state.”

Hoodbhoy provides an overview of Pakistan’s coups, its wars with India, and its war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Then he does a deep dive into the wars that the army has fought domestically against the various terrorist groups in Pakistan that were spawned by the holy war in Afghanistan.

Hoodbhoy refers to Pakistan’s wars with India as wars of choice. Actually, they were wars of aggression. Pakistan initiated its wars against India and lost every time. The only war it won was a war of defense against the Soviets in Afghanistan where it was heavily aided by the US and the Saudis. But that war leashed the genie of jihadism and Pakistan is still paying a price for it.

Hoodbhoy’s discussion of Pakistan’s military history is much less thorough than the discussion in other books, such as those by Brigadier Feroz Khan and Professor Tariq Rahman.

The last major encounter with India took place at Kargil in Kashmir, in the spring of 1999. It drew worldwide condemnation. Even China, presumably Pakistan’s all-weather friend, did not support it. It yielded no positive results for Pakistan. And it crossed a red line in Indo-Pakistan relations by breaking a long standing dictum in international relations, that two nuclear powers would not risk going to war because of the fear of triggering a nuclear holocaust.

Nasim Zehra wrote what is probably the most comprehensive book on Kargil. She quotes several military officers: Maj Gen Shahid Aziz said it was an “unsound military plan based on invalid assumptions, launched with little preparation and in total disregard to the regional and international environment, and was bound to fail.” Lt Gen Durrani said that the Kargil incursion had “brought home the realities of international politics” and exposed the dangers of getting carried away by “self-serving hopes and hypes.” Lt Gen Gulzar called Kargil a “blunder of Himalayan proportions.” Lt Gen Ali Quli termed the attack on Kargil “the worst debacle in Pakistan’s history.”

By now, the people of Pakistan know that military rule is no panacea to the country’s woes. Every time a coup occurs, it looks good in the beginning. But eventually, military rule falters and fails. In one of the biggest mysteries in statecraft, the military’s importance does not go away. If anything, its footprint grows.

The size of the army increased after its defeat in the 1971 war. The military lost its stature for a few years when ZA Bhutto was prime minister. But then it overthrew him in 1977 and hanged him two years later.

No civilian can question the defense budget or challenge the military’s views on foreign policy. With every decade, the number of general officers continues to grow and so do their benefits. Retired generals get top posts in the civilian sector. The most prestigious area in each major city is the Defense Housing Authority.

What lies ahead for Pakistan? Is there a way forward? Will the military retreat and let civilian institutions develop? Will it let peace prevail with India and be willing to downsize itself?

There are no easy answers to these questions.

Dr. Faruqui is a history buff and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Routledge Revivals, 2020. He tweets at @ahmadfaruqui