The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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THE ARMED FORCES OF PAKISTAN By Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Oxford, Rs 325

The armed forces have played a crucial role in the evolution of Pakistan. Many generals have penned their memoirs. However, these are anecdotal in nature. The only scholarly study we have about the Pakistani military is Stephen P. Cohen’s The Pakistan Army. But Cohen focusses on the problems of professionalism within the Pakistani officer corps, and not on the historical analysis of Pakistan’s army. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema’s monograph fills this historiographical void.

Cheema argues that India’s “treacherous” behaviour in the past plus its sheer size and demographic resources generate insecurity in Pakistan. He perceives the “Indian threat” to Pakistan as real — as something that makes it necessary for Pakistan to have a large armed force. With an army of 500,000 men, backed by half a million reserves, Pakistan has the tenth largest army in the world which claims one-fourth of the Pakistani government’s expenditure. Cheema overlooks the fact that this is a prime cause of Pakistan’s economic instability.

Added to this are the problems that the army poses for the Pakistani polity. The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half the period since it was born. Cheema argues that the Pakistani army is pulled into the seat of power due to the failure of politicians to deliver the goods. This supports the assertion of the Pakistani generals that they were never interested in politics. Cheema gives short shrift to the fact that the disobedience of the army has always come in the way of good governance by the elected representatives.

Cheema asserts that despite the intrusion of the Pakistani army into politics, it is a highly professional organization. In this, he appears to be influenced by Stephen Rosen’s idea that professional competence is not linked with the political aspiration of the military bureaucracy.

Even if there is some lingering doubt about the professionalism of the Pakistani army, there is none as far as the air force is concerned. Cheema concludes that Pakistani pilots are better trained than their Indian counterparts after studying the encounters between the two air forces which reveal that despite numerical superiority, the Indian air force has suffered more casualties. True, Cheema’s analysis depends on the accounts of the Pakistani pilots whose claims may be exaggerated when it comes to Indians. But the absence of jet trainers and the frequent accidents of the MiG-21s reflect the inadequacies of pilot training in India.

For the missile race, insurgencies and the nuclear explosions, Cheema blames India, and claims that the Research and Analysis Wing of India have been responsible for encouraging insurgencies in Sindh. He does not even mention the Inter-Services Intelligence and its role in sponsoring jihad in Kashmir, and concludes that Islamabad is merely responding to New Delhi’s hegemonic pretensions. Since India is developing nuclear weapons, a reluctant Pakistan is forced to take such steps.

Cheema deserves praise because he is the first to offer an academic analysis of the Pakistani air force and army. One may disagree with his pro-Pakistani views and his failure to take into account India’s insecurity while studying Indo-Pak power dynamics.

Like most “realists”, Cheema also overlooks the economic foundations of a state’s military prowess. He asserts that the loss of East Pakistan improved Pakistan’s strategic position since the defence of East Pakistan was a strategic impossibility. He fails to note that the birth of Bangladesh resulted in the loss of demographic and economic resources for Islamabad. And this in turn has weakened Pakistan in the long run. Hence, Cheema’s claim that the loss of East Pakistan is a blessing in disguise cannot be accepted. Nevertheless, his solid research has laid the foundation for further research on the Pakistani military.

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