Pakistan Military’s Dilemma Admist a Political Turmoil
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Issue Vol. 37.2, Apr-Jun 2022 | Date : 22 Jun , 2022

Pakistan’s history since its creation has been full of political turbulence. Infighting amongst the provinces on linguistic and ethnic lines has always posed a unity challenge. While the power struggle between the so called democratic forces and the all-powerful military has been the underline to Pakistan’s accentuated problems of the day.

The paranoia of further dismemberment after their loss of East Pakistan in 1971 war has pushed Pakistan into a death trap. Clandestine nuclear and missile programme along with state policy of systematic Islamisation of the society has failed to guarantee unity, stability and security.

State of Pakistan is undergoing its worst economic and political crisis since 1947. Alarm bells have already started to ring. Their former Prime Minister, Imran Khan is openly hinting at breaking up of Pakistan into three parts amidst the ongoing serious stability crisis.

To understand this, we need to scan through what has happened recently within the country.

Post Afghanistan take over by Taliban, TTP has increased its attacks in Pakistan. Attack on the Chinese engineers working at Dasu power project in august last year has had serious ramifications on the progress of CEPC raising serious security concerns.

Increase in cases of forced disappearances and Human Rights violations in Baluchistan has propelled the armed struggle to a more dangerous levels. There is a growing dissent against the perceived Pakistan’s collaboration with the Chinese over the CPEC projects. This is seen as colonisation and exploitation of natural resources of Baluchistan by the Baluch nationalists who are up in arms in call for freedom. Majid Brigade of Bluch National Army carried deadly attacks in Panjgur and Noshkion Pak army camps followed by a deadly suicide bombing, killing Chinese in Karachi recently.

Growing Islamic radicalisation and intolerance, intensified insurgency, political instability, near bankruptcy and brewing public discontent makes Pakistan an ideal ground for a civil strife.

Probably it were these realities that may have prompted Imran Khan to warn Pakistanis of impending implosion of their country. After all he was in the know of reality at the best, being the prime minister not so long ago.

At the root one can also say that religious hatred and animosity with India has been a major reason for the present state of affairs. It is so deep and embedded in Pakistani psych that it has made Pakistan ‘rationally’ blind. Such has been the single point focus that many foundational aspects of building a modern state got ignored. Only institution that has strengthened despite losing all wars to India is the Pak Army.

The idea of strategic space in Afghanistan as a depth against Indian aggression and their fatal dream of annexation of Kashmir combined has brought Pakistan to the present existential crisis like never before. Kashmir is considered integral to the idea of Pakistan.

Funding training and arming the Taliban along with India specific terrorist organisation to achieve strategic objectives in Afghanistan and spread terrorism in India has been the pivot of their national policy in recent decades.

Blinded in animosity with India, their idea of bleeding India by a thousand cuts, has in fact bled Pakistan to a near collapse. Pakistan state has modelled itself around this policy which is fervently owned and executed by the military. This policy has drained their coffers to bankruptcy over decades.

In fact it is this irrationality perfected by Pakistan military over decades has prevented Pakistan from gaining real political and economic stability in the last seventy five years.

An economy that has so far sustained on borrowed money coming in the form of western aid, is today gasping for revival.

Corrupt bureaucracy, military and the politicians, who have been addicted to the easy money from the west. They pocketed dollars, build properties in the Europe and the US and fuelled terrorism in neighbouring countries especially India and pushed Pakistanis towards Islamic radicalisation.

They have used Islam as a political tool in a bid to bind the population and contain descent. And pumped in millions of dollars towards radicalising the society. This model has since collapsed, the western powers have been exposed to duplicity and backstabbing in Afghanistan, so they have closed the taps of free flowing aid.

Deep under debt, Pakistan is at the threshold of a Sri Lanka like situation. Increasing Chinese interference, worsening economic crisis, political instability and violent character of the society, all have make the prevailing situation ideal for a wider civil chaos. Some may say Pakistan could be heading for a civil war like situation, but, I better restrain and term it as Civil unrest like scenario in days ahead.

An economy that has so far sustained on borrowed money coming in the form of western aid, is today gasping for revival.

Massive corruption in CPEC has angered the Chinese, they have restricted the funding, hence their strategic project appears literally stalled.

The current state of Pakistani economy is the product of a tumultuous political history characterized by deep rooted corruption, centralized bureaucratic administration, internal and external conflicts, and long periods of military dictatorship.

The country has experienced extended periods of martial law, domestic armed conflicts and separatist movements. For more than half of its brief existence the Pakistani generals have ruled this country.

Pakistan fought and lost a war over the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistan has been defeated in all four direct wars with India. And is facing a defeat in its proxy war over Kashmir. The economy has been destroyed by continuous confrontation beyond repair. In contrast Bangladesh, once East Pakistan is boasting of a higher GDP then India’s for past two years.

Since the first constitution was adopted in 1956 there have been new constitutions in 1962 and 1973, with major modifications in 1985 and 2003. And for the first time in 2013, Pakistan experienced a transfer of power from one democratic government that had completed its tenure, to another. However the army continues to be strong and prefers to work behind the scenes, so well evident after installation of Imran Khan through ISI rigged elections. Army appears even more powerful as witnessed during the process of dismissal of Imran Khan’s government.

The famous joke that, “Pakistan Army has a country to itself and not otherwise,” is actually so apt when we go through the Pakistan’s political turmoil ever since her creation. Though Pakistan is constitutionally a democratic parliamentary republic, the military has been in charge and has been ruled by four different military rulers. Military coups in Pakistan began in 1958. There have been numerous successful attempts since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has spent several decades under three spells of military rule: 1958–1971, 1977–1988, 1999–2008.

Whenever Pakistan was not under direct military rule the country was indirectly ruled through a civilian government of their choice. These days they prefer calling it a hybrid arrangement. Frequent dismissals and interference by the military has ensured continuation of political instability. If the caretaker Prime Ministers in Pakistan are taken into count then the present incumbent, Shehbaz Sharif is their 31st Prime Minister.

Power in Pakistan oscillates between military rule and military engineered democratically elected governments, between secular policies and Islamic compulsions, financial backing of the West and Chinese investments, feudal lords and the common man.

Feudal hold in Pakistan is another major factor in all power struggles in Pakistan. Political office is actually inherited in Pakistan. The provincial and national assemblies are dominated by feudal landowners. At least 75 percent of the Pakistani government’s legislative branch is composed of landowners with huge land holdings running into squares of kilometres.

And such is the hold of these feudal lords over their areas of influence that the rural police officials, local bureaucrats and religious leaders all represent the feudal lord’s interests. Thus the landowner uses his local influence to further his political ambitions by fostering a system dominated by feudal power.

Mullahs are used to influence the masses and are used as political tools by the powerful military. They come handy in suppressing political descent.

The feudal system is not confined to the political arena. Land ownership links feudal lords to Pakistan’s various other patronage networks. Landlords, such as Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, act as religious patron saints to thousands of peasant followers, who loyally vote for their feudal lord during election time.

Local maulvis or the religious heads and feudal landlords complement each other’s authority, they enable the further spread of feudalism.

Landlords are beneficiaries of a broken system that exploits the poor and empowers the rich. Consequently, their desire to do away with this system is very limited. Their primitive beliefs of dominance, such as suppression of women, continue to exist.

The Pakistani army is also deeply entrenched in this feudal system, ensuring its longevity. The army contributes to and benefits from feudalism. One of the benefits army officers get for their service is agricultural land, which they then rent out to larger landowners. The army taps into the feudal system to get the resources it needs, and so the feudal system is fostered.

Feudalism in Pakistan has a stranglehold on the economy and politics of the nation. The feudal landlords have created states within a state where they rule their fiefs with impunity. The landlord’s influence spans over the police, bureaucracy and judiciary. Since its birth, Pakistan is run by the politicians who are mostly feudal. From Liaquat Ali Khan to present era, feudal occupied parliament. The Bhuttos are one of the richest families of the subcontinent, The Bhuttos own around 40,000 acres (161874000 m2 or 161.874 km2) of land in Sindh and assets worth billions of dollars.

Throughout history, feudalism has appeared in different forms. To begin with, the Pakistan Muslim League, the party laying Pakistan’s foundation 65 years ago, was almost wholly dominated by feudal lords such as the Zamindars, Jagirdars, Nawabs, Nawabzadas, Mansabdars, Arbabs, Makhdooms, and Sardars, the sole exception being the Jinnahs (merchants and lawyers) and the Sharifs (industrialists).Pakistan’s major political parties are feudal-oriented, and more than two-thirds of the National Assembly (lower house of the legislature) is composed of this class. Besides, most of the key executive posts in the provinces are held by them.

In short, a real democracy is actually a threat to this well entrenched feudal system. The establishment draws power and legitimacy out of this and controls the land and masses. Pakistan’s Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, Administration, Mullahs and the Military are all inter twined making the whole system unassailable.

Who so ever be the face of government in Pakistan, it is always the stranglehold of the establishment over real power. The political turmoil that we are witnessing in Pakistan is primarily a clash between the feudal class of the establishment versus the new urban middle class for hold of power. Imran Khan who happens to be a non-feudal class leader and has managed to ignite the imagination of urban Pakistanis. Today roughly 45 percent of Pakistan’s population is urban a sizable majority that wants to break free from this feudal dominated establishment’s control.

Mullahs are used to influence the masses and are used as political tools by the powerful military. They come handy in suppressing political descent. However the setting of agenda and narratives has become a huge challenge for the Pakistani establishment in this modern age of internet. The common man is far more empowered today.

Pakistan military itself is a divided lot on political lines. There exists a sizable support of Imran Khan in the rank and file of the army. Never ever in the history of Pakistan, its army has ever come under severe criticism over meddling into politics of the country. People of Pakistan don’t seem to be in favour of military intervention.

Seen the outcome of Musharraf’s reign and international aversion to any kind of military rule. Pakistan Army has mastered the art of managing power from the backend. Fear of civil unrest, mutiny within and international condemnation has kept the power greedy military within the barracks.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Danvir Singh

Associate Editor, Indian Defence Review, former Commanding Officer, 9 Sikh LI and author of  book "Kashmir's Death Trap: Tales of Perfidy and Valour".

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