It is one of the ironies of fate that Pakistan which owes its creation to a democratic struggle has to live half of its post-independence existence under military regimes. Every military dictator who took over the reins of the country on the pretext of ridding the political system of corrupt practices and putting country on the trajectory of high growth rates, left it economically ruined and democratically exhausted. One left it truncated into two independent states.
As all the three periods of military dictatorship coincided with fortuitous geopolitical changes at the global and regional levels, they got massive doses of economic and military aid which no doubt accelerated the rates of growth during these periods. However, this rapid economic growth based on foreign aid created its own dynamics of social unrest, political marginalization of the masses and economic disparities. There were several causes of dismemberment of pre-1972 Pakistan but military rule of Ayyub has much to be blamed for this tragedy.
However, we must give credit to the people of Pakistan for their overwhelming preference and constant struggle for the restoration of democracy during all the three dictatorships. Two dictators, Ayyub and Musharraf, had to leave office due to public agitation against their authoritarian methods of governance. Zia would have met the same fate if God had not been kind to him to let him die with boots on.
In order to understand the reason for the dominating role played by the Pakistan ‘s armed forces in the political governance of the country, we will have to keep in mind four factors- the colonial legacies, domestic conditions, regional imperatives and global environments.
After the failure of the first Indian War of Independence of 1857 (Indian Sepoys’ Mutiny) both, the native and the European armies of the British India, were reorganized to obviate the possibility of any such occurrence in future. The old Bengal Army almost completely vanished, replaced by new units recruited from the so-called Martial Races such as Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs from the Punjab, Pathans from North West Frontier Province and the Gurkhas from Nepal.
When it was decided to partition the Subcontinent into two independent countries, the smaller of the two, Pakistan inherited a lion’s share in terms of manpower as compared to its size. It was too developed, organised and powerful institution for a small post-colonial state as compared to other institutions. This had a far reaching implications for a newly created nation-state still reeling from the pangs of birth.
Mass scale exodus of administrative talent, financial capital and entrepreneurship, historically underrepresented in British India due to imperatives of colonial development and strategic compulsions of the occupying power, meant there were very few people who could run the government offices, social services, financial institutions and commercial enterprises. Naturally personnel of the armed forces were deputed with the function of state building also giving them an opportunity to taste the perks and privileges of the power.
Pakistan inherited a fairly well functioning political structures like the offices of the governor general, parliament, election commission, provincial legislatures etc. Over a period of time they would have evolved in a well-oiled political machinery but due to inadequate experience of the people and the elite, they started degenerating and fell into disrepute and paved the way for the non-democratic forces to fill the vacuum thus created by the dysfunctionality of the system. Death of stalwarts like Jinnah and Liaquat created a huge void in the political arena that minions became the rulers of the new state which saw the worst kind of political instability during its infancy. Armed forces being better organised and cohesive institution became the ruling elite by default
Security imperatives of the new state further increased the role and power of the armed forces. Soon after the creation of Pakistan, hostile relations with Afghanistan resulted in the rupture of diplomatic and commercial relations and leading Afghanistan to cast the only vote against Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations (UN) in 1947.
While hostilities with Afghanistan were at the most an irritant, it was much more serious with India. It started with battle of water in the Punjab, when India stopped the supply of water from the head works given to India through Radcliff Award; it went to Kashmir where war started with India over Kashmir.
Global environment in general and Pakistan’s relations with USA in particular provide another explanation for the dominating role of Pakistan army in its politics.
First time armed forces took control of the country was in the wake of escalating Cold War when USA needed strong-arm military men to rule in geopolitically important allies to further American interests. Pakistan’s Army Chief of that time General Ayyub offered to the USA to send Pakistani troops in aid of allied forces in 1952 Korean War. It was well received by the Pentagon. His visit to USA as armed forces chief without getting permission from the civilian government cemented those personal ties between him and the decision makers in America.
How much role USA played in his eventually overthrowing a civilian government in Pakistan, is anybody’s guess but he was well rewarded in terms of financial aid and military assistance which further enhanced the relative power of the armed forces in the country.
Second time army intervened in the body politic of Pakistan was in 1977. Americans, fearing their impending defeat in Vietnam were looking for ways to take revenge from USSR and fulfil their desire to break it up by bleeding it to death in its soft belly –Afghanistan. They wanted stable Pakistan ruled by a strongman like Ayyub. Bhutto was never their choice but the Americans were forced to accept him as chief executive of the country they considered extremely crucial for carrying out their plans.
Bhutto initially sided with this scheme but soon realised the destabilising impact of such an adventure and retracted. Cognizant of the crucial importance of Pakistan in their designs to lure Soviet Union in the killing fields of Afghanistan, Henry Kissinger specially came to Pakistan to convince him but Bhutto’s refusal to go along with the American scheme, cost him his life later on.
Third time, it was General Musharraf, again an out of turn handpicked army general, who overthrew the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif in October 1999. Incidentally, he was also very lucky like his two illustrious predecessors-Ayyub and Zia. 9/11 happened a year later and suddenly he became the leader of a front line state in the war against global terrorism, the non-NATO Ally-Pakistan. Not only sanctions were relaxed and loans were restructured on long term soft terms but Pakistan was flooded with military and financial assistance in return for her services in the global war against terrorism.
Keeping this historical background in mind, one can easily understand why armed forces of Pakistan had been playing larger than life role in the political economy of Pakistan for much of its post-independence period.