The idea of Pakistan rests on the elite Indian Muslims’ sense of being culturally and historically distinct to Hindus of India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah conceived Pakistan as an ideal democratic Muslim State and stated that the constitution of Pakistan should embody the essential principles of Islam, because the religion’s idealism preaches democracy, equality, justice and fair play to everybody. Poet-philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s idea of Pakistan was not based on a European model of a nation-State, but on “an acute understanding that political power was essential to the higher ends of establishing God’s law.”
Over 70 years after its birth, the harsh realities of the ‘idea of Pakistan’, contrary to the ideals of Jinnah, have emerged to make it a State which, in the words of Hussain Haqqani, “is a volatile, semi-authoritarian, national security state, which failed to run itself consistently and under constitutional order or rule of law”. It has become a “greedy state, unsatisfied with the status quo”. The Muslim League was oligarchic in nature and Pakistan’s elite embraced this structure, thus becoming a feudal society. To be in politics, one has to be a feudal lord, and to retain feudal lordship, one needs the protection or blessings of the army. In Pakistan, the nexus between the politicians and Generals is well established, and are easily interchangeable. Most Generals in Pakistan, after retirement, hold key positions in the civil economy. The third pole of power that has emerged is the fundamental Muslim clergy.
A few years after coming into existence, Pakistan’s leadership had an idealist outlook but with a Muslim ideology background. The failure of governance and deterioration of the economy brought about a debate — ‘who is a better Pakistani?’ This debate had to be away from the issue of governance or economy because the elite and leadership of Pakistan had no laurels to boast of. So, it veered to decide ‘who is a better Muslim’. From Zia-ul-Haq onwards, all leadership played around the sentiment of ‘a better Muslim’. In this process, the Muslim clerics gained prominence because the leadership sought reassurance of their being a ‘better Muslim’. From this rose fundamentalism. The clerics became a force to reckon with, and created an army of devout Muslims from their madrassas that later took shape as the jihadi movement and has culminated into terrorism.
Opposition to India is a factor that has forever grown as a major sentiment in Pakistan, benefitting these interest groups. There is inherent unification of the Pakistani population on the subject of parity with India in all spheres. The innate desire to wrest Kashmir from India overrides sanity and sagacity of military strategy, which reflects in the initiation of four wars with India— there is no victory to show but the distortion of history will continue to keep the myth of infallibility of the Pakistan army alive. In the ‘idea of Pakistan’, the term nationalism is defined by two factors — being Muslim and being different from India in a better sense. Acquiescing to India in any sense is tantamount to accepting that the ‘two-nation theory’, which forms the basis of the ‘idea of Pakistan’, was incorrect in the first place.
Assault on constitution
Pakistan’s constitution was first approved in 1956, under Prime Minister Muhammad Ali, but stood abrogated in 1958 after a military coup d’état. The country’s second constitution, under General Ayub Khan, was approved in 1962. The revised document institutionalised the intervention of the military in domestic politics — the president or the defence minister of Pakistan must be a person who had held the rank of Lieutenant-General in the army.
The 1962 constitution was suspended in 1969 when Gen Yahya Khan was appointed as the chief martial law administrator. In 1970, there was a constitutional crisis, which ultimately led to the separation of East Pakistan into an independent state of Bangladesh. The 1969 constitution was abrogated in 1972. The 1973 constitution was the first in Pakistan to be framed by elected representatives under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Unlike the 1962 constitution, it gave Pakistan a parliamentary democracy with a very strong Islamic content. However, even this couldn’t stop Pakistan’s coup-hungry Generals.
In 1977, a military coup d’état was conducted by Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq, which deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and imposed martial law. Then again, in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf arrested Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and imposed martial law till the time he appointed himself as the president of Pakistan. There were unsuccessful coup attempts in 1951, 1980, and 1995 as well.
Amid this continued struggle for power, violence has been a stark reality in the politics of Pakistan. The country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, his daughter Benazir was shot dead, Zia-ul-Haq died under mysterious circumstances, and General Pervez Musharraf survived two assignation attempts. The list of State leaders and clergy heads who have been violently ‘eliminated’ is endless.
The threat perception cycle
Pakistan inherited 33 per cent of the British Army whereas it got 19 per cent of the population and 17 per cent of the revenue base. The disproportional strength of the army needed to be justified. So, the threat from India, Afghanistan, and USSR was made larger.
The oversizing of the initial threat perception, partly egged on by Western powers, has shaped Pakistan as a security seeking State, giving unlimited powers to the military. The fact that the Western powers were partly fighting the Cold War through Pakistani territory and their army, led to the Pakistan Generals internalising the Cold War as their own war. This belief rationalised their involvement in Afghanistan and legitimised increasing the size of the army.
Pakistan’s perceived threat to its existence from India on one side and Russia on the other, coupled with its false narrative of playing a party to the West in its the global war on terror, became a ‘justifiable’ reason for acquiring greater capabilities for the army. All this came at the behest of Pakistan’s social development and economy. The Pakistan army emotionally blackmails its population. The Ayub Khan doctrine exemplifies this aspect as it states:
- Pakistan State is under siege constantly.
- Pakistan military is the only guarantor of Pakistan’s survival.
- India is Pakistan’s permanent enemy and, therefore, Pakistan has to outsmart India in all spheres.
- Pakistan occupies a strategic location, and therefore, there will always be a power that will be willing to underwrite Pakistan’s economy and military action (making it a ‘Dependent State’ by design).
The generations of Pakistan army officers
The Pakistan Army officers have had varied influences that have shaped their ideology.
— The British generation (1947-55): These officers received their initial professional training in the British Indian Army and had served in combat by the time of Partition. Some had received their training at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and some at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. Ayub Khan belonged to the former group, and his friend and successor as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, Mohammed Musa, to the latter. It is often assumed that the Sandhurst-trained officers were superior soldiers. However, there is substantial evidence to indicate that the IMA officers were better qualified and more professional in their outlook. They shaped the Army into a professional unit with a secular outlook aka the British Army.
— The American generation 1955-71: After Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact (later Central Treaty Organisation, or CENTO) in 1955, the ‘American generation of Pakistan Army officers’ were fully exposed to the American philosophy, re-shaping its military strategy. The American generation had an exaggerated estimate of their martial qualities, with some believing that one Pakistani soldier equaled ten or more Indians. After long emphasising caution and the conservation of men and material, Pakistanis were exposed to mechanisation, the lavish use of ammunition, and an informal personal style. To be ‘modern’ was to emulate the Americans in their breezy, casual, but apparently effective and expensive ways. Local strategy gave way to global thinking and ‘grand strategy’ became the norm. This seriously distorted the army’s professionalism.
— The Pakistani generation (post-1971): The outstanding characteristic of those who joined the Pakistan Army in the post-Bangladesh years was that they were the purist ‘Pakistani’ of all. They were representative of a wider society and class, had less exposure to American professional influence, and believed the US had let Pakistan down. They joined the army when its reputation and prestige had plummeted, and their professional careers and world outlook were shaped by the 1971 debacle. Zia’s emphasis on Islam, in an already conservative society, encouraged Islamic zealotry in the army. Zia’s second major contribution was the revival and legitimisation of irregular or covert warfare and the rise of the Mujahideen.
— The current generation: The next generation of officers comes from the middle-class and have joined the Pakistan Army simply to improve their standard of living and as a vehicle for social mobility and political power. Some of these officers tasted power during the Zia years; others have managed to enter a variety of civilian institutions — from airports to Pakistan’s power supply. They consider themselves to be less well-off, but no less deserving than their generational predecessors, and they appear to be as professionally competent, but lack the elan of their predecessors.
Pakistan’s penchant for grand strategy
Pakistan’s strategic thinking has been greatly influenced by its association with the US. Jinnah, before the formation of Pakistan, told the Life Magazine, stating that it was his view that Pakistan’s geo-strategic location has made it imperative for the US policy makers to forge an alliance with the country. The US needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US. He said that Pakistan is the pivot of the world, placed on the frontier where the future of the world would revolve. Jinnah also said that the rising US interest in countries along the Soviet boundaries will be considered for military aid — “since Pakistan is not very far from Russia, the US would build our Army and give us the arms to prevent Russia from walking”. Then, true in his prediction, in 1947 came the Truman Doctrine, a US policy pledging aid to nations threatened by Soviet expansionism. Jinnah knew this through his genius or was party to this game plan even before Partition.
Pakistan inherited the nuances of the Great Game (Afghanistan) with the departure of the British from the sub-continent. It converted this inheritance into a strategic gold mine, which has kept it afloat with an un-proportionally strong army, funded by a strategic need of the US. Pakistan has been involved with the US in its global strategy and the US is constrained to involve Pakistan’s officials in parts of its planning because the execution of this strategy lies in the hands of the Pakistanis. This involvement has given the leadership of Pakistan an exposure to the planning and conduct of grand strategy, and in the conduct of large intelligence operations, especially in a proxy war, a war that is all about credible denial.
Pakistan’s leadership has developed a penchant to apply grand designs to all its endeavors. The concept of Strategic Depth, global pivot, the 1965 war, the Punjab insurgency, the designs in Kashmir and the Kargil war are all outcomes of this exposure. The fifth generation of warfare is all about grand designs and making people believe in the narrative. The inputs of this penchant for grand strategy to its strategic culture have led to overreach in both military and diplomatic alliances. The illusion of conducting a successful fifth-generation war against its adversaries exists in the minds of the military officers. Now, they have China on their side that balances the US. Pakistan is fully exploiting the new Cold War that seems to be developing between China and the US. Past experience with playing the buffer between the US and Russia will be of great importance to Pakistan.
The emotion of humiliation
According to Dominique Moisi, (the author of The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope Are Reshaping the World) humiliation means remaining confined to a future that is in stark contrast to the glorified past. Pakistan exemplifies an aspiration that has been lost. The strong revisionist nature of the Pakistan leadership has glorified a history of victories that never was. The humiliation in its unsuccessful search for parity with India is leading to despair. The despair of the ‘if I can’t reach you, I will drag you down’ kind can be noticed in Pakistan. This emotion, accompanied by hatred or anger, is the main cause of terrorism.
In Pakistan, there is an ingrained hatred and anger towards India (a key ingredient for violence as per Carl von Clausewitz’s Trinity of War). The emotion of humiliation disorientates the leadership of Pakistan from making rational decisions. Suicidal tendencies and extreme impoverishment with a sense of humiliation are ideal candidates for terrorism. The two — emotion of humiliation amongst its leadership and the available recruits for terrorism — make for a violent and unethical environment, which is regressive for development. Somehow, rather than understanding the serious consequences of distressing the society as a whole, the leadership in Pakistan is considering this to be a strategic asset.
Pakistan does NOT seem to like its history. It refuses to acknowledge any history prior to 1947 because it connects it with India. It has continuously attempted to change its historical discourse through revising text-books, military literature and a hostile media blitz. American political scientist C. Christine Fair describes Pakistan as a persistent revisionist because the dynamics between the army and domestic politics do not allow any change in current policies even when there is positive evidence of its failure. There are serious attempts to revise the status quo with India in its quest to attain parity. It is aggressively pursuing expansionism in its policy towards Kashmir and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s persistent revisionism has cost it dearly to the extent that it has threatened the security of the State. The lessons of history are being lost.
The whole basis of a nation and a State are the people and their core beliefs. In Pakistan, the army’s core beliefs are projected as nationalism and the people have to conform. For prosperity, people must be happy and the army is there for their security, to pursue economic development. In Pakistan, the prosperity of the army is paramount and the people are working to secure its future.
Major General Amarjit Singh, VSM (Retd) commanded a Division in the Northern Sector. He writes on defence matters and is a visiting faculty at Panjab University. Views are personal.
This is the second article in a four-part series on Pakistan Army. Part III deals with Pakistan’s military strategy as it unfolded during the various wars with India.