The Telegraph
Friday , September 27 , 2013
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The Pakistan Military in Politics: Origin, Evolution, Consequences By Ishtiaq Ahmed, Amaryllis, Rs 795

Another Pakistani, a former professor of Stockholm University, Sweden, sheds light on the rise and retreat of the Pakistani military in politics and the consequences thereof. It is the all-too-familiar story of incompetent Pakistani politicians and their cronies which generated factionalism and conflict leading to instability, which in turn paved the way for the advent of the army in politics. The lack of clarity on “national identity” drove Pakistan to the search for an “Islamic identity”. From the time of the first dictator, Ayub Khan, the state of Pakistan came to be known as a garrison state. The stage for the army was set by two factors: assassination of the premier, Liaquat Ali Khan, and the American military aid that gave the army a headstart over the civilian political establishment.

Interestingly, it was a combative civilian — the foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — who provoked India more aggressively than his dictator boss, Ayub Khan, as Pakistan ceded territory to the Chinese in 1963, followed by a futile attempt to use US-made RB-57F reconnaissance aircraft to fly over Kashmir and India to gather intelligence. Bhutto’s chicanery landed the comparatively sedate Ayub into a war with India in 1965, thereby discrediting the military, at least partially. The belief that India would not retaliate “and stab Pakistan’s soft belly — Lahore and Sialkot” proved to be a colossal miscalculation. So, when the Indian attack came, “the most surprised person was Ayub”.

Ayub had to leave, and in came another army chief, Yahya Khan, followed by another Indo-Pak war of 1971. Surrender of the army and destruction of the nation, despite the state being under direct command of the military, corroded its image and prestige, thereby leading to the rise of a flamboyant civilian demagogue, Bhutto, with a “more dictator-than-the-dictator” attitude. A surprising result of the 1965 and 1971 wars was that whereas two army chief-cum-dictators had to go in ignominy, the civilian Bhutto, who was one of the principal dramatis personae of this sordid development, went scot free. In fact, he rose through the defeats of war.

Understandably, Bhutto started with a bang in 1972, as the discredited and defeated military, for a change, looked helpless. Bhutto had a rare brilliance, but he was primarily motivated by “animus dominandi”, that is, the aggrandizement of his own power. His vulnerability to sycophancy paved the way for his downfall, as General Zia-ul-Haq, whom he promoted out-of-turn as the army chief in 1976, sent him to the street, to jail, and finally to the gallows in 1979.

Zia’s single-minded commitment to a patently “anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-minorities and anti-women agenda”, along with a hatred for India and an essentially “pro-Islamist fundamentalism” and “terror” oriented policy, contributed to the poor image of the Pakistani state in the international arena. The rabidly rightist religious vision of Zia also inflicted unprecedented damage on the army as it transformed itself from a professional to a religious army of the Islamic state of Pakistan. In a way, Zia was fortunate. The Afghan war of the 1980s led him to play a pivotal role, the end of which also ended his life.

Nevertheless, Zia’s 11-year-long military rule destabilized virtually all important segments of the state, from the polity to recruitment and promotion in the army. Hence it did not take long for the arrival, through coup, of another army chief, Pervez Musharraf, as the dictator in October 1999. What began with a garrison state of Pakistan under Ayub, Yahya and Zia now became “garrison/ fortress of Islam” under Musharraf. There, however, emerged some striking similarities between Zia and Musharraf. Both were refugees — the former a Punjabi from Jullundur and the latter an Urdu-speaking Mohajir from Delhi. Both made to the post of the army chief because their political bosses (Bhutto in 1976 and Nawaz Sharif in 1998) were under the mistaken belief that their generals would be subservient and loyal. Again, although both Zia and Musharraf matured as cunning, deceptive and venal operators, they thrived owing to the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s and again the US-Afghan war in the first decade of the 21st century. Thus, the two Afghan wars saw two prolonged army rules in Pakistan. Again, both Zia and Musharraf saw the untimely deaths of two of the most important Pakistani Bhuttos — the death of the father, Zulfikar Ali, through a sham judicial verdict in 1979 and the assassination of the daughter, Benazir, through an alleged conspiracy, connivance and collusion hatched by the military regime of Musharraf in 2007. Nevertheless, it is Musharraf's regime that must take (dis)credit for facing the widest possible disasters, which Ahmed Rashid refers to as “Pakistan on the brink”.

Although it is now almost six years since army rule in Pakistan has ceased to exist, the long, hidden hand of the army still haunts the civilian rulers of Pakistan. The just-departed President Zardari was overruled by the army on many occasions — for example, when the president felt that Pakistani terrorists were operating in Indian Kashmir, and when he expressed the desire to co-operate with India in the investigation of the terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

Two interesting incidents need to be recalled here. When the Pakistani army surrendered in 1971, the treatment by the Indian army of the Pakistani POWs differed from place to place. “Indian Bihari units were harsh.... Goan Christians and Sikhs were friendly but it is to Major Banerjee that I owe most gratitude for treating me humanely”, reminisced POW Brigadier Yaqub Ali Dogar. The hardcore Islamist Zia, on the other hand, had no qualms about “privately inviting Bollywood superstar Shatrughan Sinha to his home”. Sinha became a “family friend and used to visit Pakistan regularly. That relationship continued even after Zia’s death”.

This is a steady, descriptive book that emphasizes on the wrongdoings of the army and the adverse consequences thereof.