The Partition of India has been overtly attributed to the two-nation theory. Nineteenth-century Muslim modernist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan came up with the idea of the ‘two nations’, which somehow had a connection to the creation of the All India Muslim League in 1906, set up with the aim to protect “Muslim interests, amid neglect and under-representation.”
On 29 December 1930, poet-philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal called for an autonomous new State in “north-western India for Indian Muslims”. Muhammad Ali Jinnah asserted that “a Muslim of one country has far more sympathies with a Muslim living in another country than with a non-Muslim living in the same country.” Therefore, “the conception of Indian Muslims as a nation may not be ethnically correct, but socially it is correct.” Up to 1940, these views were just part of some text, which were not as important as they are today. These views were outcomes of the British strategy to keep the Hindus and Muslims divided, so that they could balance internal peace in India. However, there have been secret documents that reveal the grand strategy of the Western powers. The creation of Pakistan was more due to the geo-strategic compulsions of the emerging Cold War rather than the two-nation theory.
Why Pakistan exists
By 1947, the Cold War between the USSR and the United States was already established. The USSR had always, over two centuries, threatened to move south through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea (Indian Ocean). This had been the threat the British always feared as they ruled the world through their colonies. After 1945, the baton of the world hegemon was transferred to the US and the security threat from Russia to the world became the threat to the US. It was apparently clear that India would become independent after the end of World War II in 1945.
The exit of the British Army from India would open up the subcontinent for the invasion of the Soviet war machinery. India had firmly told the Western powers that its security will be endemic and not be with an outside agency. India was not prepared to keep its military under foreign control. The geo-strategic void could only be filled if a buffer zone was created and controlled by the Allies with a native army. Afghanistan was a no-go because the British had failed to conquer it despite three wars. The only way to bridge the impasse was to create a zone out of India in the North-West that was controlled by the British or the Americans. The security forces for this corridor would be gleaned out of the British Indian Army. And the execution of this strategy depended on Jinnah and the two-nation theory.
Jinnah, in the beginning, was against Partition, but after having met Winston Churchill three times, he was convinced to press on his demand for a separate State of Pakistan. His argument — Hindus and Muslims could not coexist in one nation. The religious divide was whipped up. Within one year, the concept of this security corridor was given the shape of Pakistan, a buffer of approximately 400 km on the northwestern front of India. East Pakistan was an inexplicable concept that had to be pursued to ratify the two-nation theory.
Pakistan, US’ defence against USSR
The British Indian Army was partitioned along religious lines. Thirty-three per cent of the troops and equipment were allocated to Pakistan whereas the total population distribution to Pakistan was 19 per cent. The most surprising part was that Pakistan, on Partition, was left with 17 per cent of unpartitioned India’s revenue base. A simple economic check will prove that Pakistan could not have supported such a large army, given its limited resources. The answer lay in the US’ Marshall Plan, which granted full military assistance to all countries that were threatened by the USSR.
The Pakistan Army was a stooge of the West and it is no surprise that it started behaving as a colonial army in its own country. Independent Pakistan had a British officer as its army’s Commander-in-Chief till 1951. An intelligence agency that was the forerunners of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was created by them and remained under their control for nearly nine years. Even today, the US has strategic bases in Pakistan that are not in control of the Pakistan military.
This geostrategic arrangement served the Americans in several ways. All espionage over Russia (Remember Gary Powers and the U-2 shot down by Russia in 1960? Its base was in Pakistan) was done from Pakistan that assisted in the fall of the USSR. The rapprochement with China was done through bases in Pakistan (Henry Kissinger’s trips to China and the Ping-Pong diplomacy). Russian invasion of Afghanistan was defeated with help from Pakistan (the rise of the jihadi movement and terrorism). The US’ global war on terror was launched through Pakistan. And today, Pakistan becomes a key player in the power game between China and the US. The creation of Pakistan could not have served the Western power better and here we were made to believe in the two-nation theory.
The partition of the British Indian Army
The Partition of India also involved the partition of the British Indian Army. The subcontinent inherited a deeply imbalanced, but professional colonial army that was not its representative ethnically, but cohesive with a strong leadership. This army had controlled India for over 200 years. The inheritance of an unbalanced army without the control by British officers was considered a serious threat to a newly-formed democracy.
At Independence, the British Indian Army had approximately 3/4th of India’s officers and men from small provinces, and the martial class from Punjab and North-West Frontier Province, or NWFP. Half of all the senior-most officers came from a single province, Punjab, a state with only 5 per cent of the total population of undivided India. This kind of narrowly recruited and cohesive army is dangerous because a force with high internal cohesion will have greater capacity to intervene in domestic politics.
The partition of the British Indian Army between the Indian and the Pakistani army significantly reduced the level of ethnic imbalance for India. But for Pakistan, the degree of ethnic imbalance was greatly increased because its army now comprised nearly 90 per cent officers belonging to the state of Punjab and NWFP. The remaining 10 per cent were from the provinces of Sind and Balochistan. There was no representation from East Pakistan. The doom of East Pakistan was scripted in the partition of the British Indian Army.
B.R. Ambedkar said that India would be much better off with an army in which Punjabis would no longer be dominant. This implied that the army in Pakistan would inherently be dangerous to the democracy of Pakistan and power will be centralised in the province of Punjab. Jawaharlal Nehru understood this aspect very well, and therefore, raised this problem of the ‘Army and the Nation’ as a discussion in Parliament. He was well aware of the dangers of a strong and cohesive army that, if not well controlled, would lead to martial law or a dictatorship.
Pakistan was raised in a hurry and did not have enough time to contemplate over the fact that a strong imbalanced army would actually be a threat to the development of the country as a democracy. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Jinnah, did not have time and was not in good health to place into effect civil institutions that would control the army.
The most unequal partition of institutions between India and Pakistan was that of the political leadership. Pakistan lost inheritance of strong political leadership and strong political parties because its basis of coming into existence was drenched in deceit at all levels of world power politics, religious politics and personal aggrandisement. India, on the other hand, had well-grounded politicians and political parties, and therefore, developed a kind of military that Samuel Huntington describes in his book The Soldier and the State as “a professional army under objective civilian control”. The Indian Army was made coup-proof. The senior-most Indian and Pakistani officers had all trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. They had served together before 1947. So why did this common professional experience lead the Pakistan Army officers to participate in a coup in 1958?
Pakistan Army and the State
The Pakistan Army was bolstered by the US in accordance with the threat requirement against USSR. Hence, sophisticated weaponry was given to the Pakistan Army. The army became powerful, and because it believed that it was an important cog in global affairs, the Generals started looking down on the politicians, demanding their own strategic space. The political-strategic sphere in Pakistan dwindled and a military coup was inevitable.
The army disregarded the development of the people in order to control more assets. In order to justify its existence, it converted Pakistan into a security seeking State (over-emphasising the threat from India) where a strong army was considered a necessity for the existence of the country. The first military coup happened early in its history — Pakistan President Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law on 27 October 1958, and appointed General Ayyub Khan as chief martial law administrator. Thirteen days later, Ayub Khan overthrew Iskander Mirza. That was the last time Pakistan ever saw democracy. After this incident, the army in Pakistan has always been in control. They have controlled defence and the external affairs portfolios since then. The Pakistani army is essentially meant to handle external threats, but it is also involved in domestic affairs of the State.
Pakistan Army and nationalism
The emergence of Pakistan as a nation-State was a hastily conceived concept with religious ideation. Religion became the basis of nationalism. At the time of Independence, the well-connected, powerful class who thrived under the patronage of the British were more secular, and for them, religion was a controlling factor, so it lacked a sense of nationalism. They saw Partition as an opportunity and immediately took control of all the wealth and properties that were loosely claimed and amassed a massive amount of wealth in the formative years of Pakistan. This became the feudal class that now controls Pakistan. This class wanted protection of their wealth, so they cultivated the army and recruited officers of their choice, resulting in a symbiotic relationship between wealth and security. This increased the interference of the army in domestic politics. Stephen Cohen wrote in 2004, “for the foreseeable future, the army’s vision of itself, its domestic role, and Pakistan’s strategic environment will be the most important factors in shaping Pakistan’s destiny”.
The Pakistan military, in its inherited splendour, emulated a colonial power in its own country, which alienated the people. General Zia-ul Haq tried to reestablish contact with its people through Islam, which he believed was a great unifier. He expected that the people would voluntarily give up their meagre resources to up-keep the army — all in the name of religion. (This unleashed religious fanaticism in Pakistan). The ideology, which has been repeatedly enunciated by every Pakistan Army chief, is Islam. The logic of these chiefs has been to achieve a degree of national coherence and garner support in the endless conflict with India. The Pakistan Army has fretted away the people’s resources by initiating four futile and disastrous wars with India with no victory to show and loss of East Pakistan. The Indus Valley was the most fertile and prosperous region of undivided India. It is sad to see the state it is in now.
The Pakistan Army’s most serious misadventure — that started as early in 1947— is its links with terrorism. It has generated an unethical force of terrorists that it calls a strategic asset. The jihadis are enticed from poor families with religious motivation to conduct acts of terror. To some extent, the army has mastered the art of employing terror. The use of terror has been well stated in the book Quranic Concept of War by Brigadier S.K. Malik. The book, by the order of General Zia-ul Haq, was carried by all officers of the Pakistan Army. Terrorism holds value for some time, but in almost all cases it becomes a liability when it turns against you. Pakistan is facing the problem of controlling this force and now has to confront the sanctions of all world bodies.
Pakistan has undergone a series of forgettable events. Its revisionist policies are pulling the nation into an economic collapse. And its endeavour to preserve the security of the State is putting its integrity, or even the viability of the State, at risk.
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.
The article is the first in a four-part series on Pakistan Army. Part II focuses on the culture of the Pakistani force as it evolved over the last 70 years from a secular to an Islamic army.