Pakistan’s Internal Situation: Its Impact on its Military Readiness
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Issue Vol. 38.1, Jan-Mar 2023 | Date : 10 Apr , 2023

Other Than Military

General Qamar Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff was exposed in front of his country in a report published by the Fact Focus website. As per the alleged tax records of General Bajwa’s family, the current market value of the known assets and business of the army chief, both within and outside Pakistan, amounted to `12.7 billion. It is alleged that he gathered this fortune as the Chief of Pakistan’s Army. Though the Pakistan Army rejected this report terming it as ‘misleading’ and based on ‘blatant lies’, the fact of the matter is that the people are now well aware of the corruption prevalent in the higher echelons of the military in Pakistan.

The “Papa Jones” fame Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa when exposed for his corruption and loot from the CPEC projects, he in his defence said, “They are now calling me General Papa Johnny. Do you know why? Because, I, retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, committed a sin by introducing this poor Pakistani nation to heavenly pepperoni pizzas. Blame me, best hang me, but you can’t deny my great service to the country. Yes, it is personal and it is about my pizza valour.”

He further added, “Retiring as lieutenant-general of the ‘Number 1’ military in the world, I saw many ups and downs, but none like what I am facing now. I know that you’ve heard about my secret global economic escapades in the last few days – 99 companies, 133 pizza joints, some 13 commercial properties in the US including two shopping malls – don’t we all love malls? To all those complaining I say: Mehnat kar dost, hasad na kar (work hard my friend, don’t be jealous). Truth be told, it is no mean achievement to build an empire like mine in a poor country like Pakistan.” These are just two cases that have received widespread coverage.

It is said that amongst this whole lot of generals starting from Ayyub onwards, only General Zia ul Haq was an honest general. This fact though cannot be ascertained, but could be true. In short, corrupt generals and their armies cannot fight. Military leadership is all about moral courage and propriety. It is for this very reason that professional armies show zero tolerance towards all types of corruption. 

Pakistan and the Titanic

The Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean nearly 111 years ago on April 15, in the year 1912. The largest and most luxurious ship in the world, the Titanic was also one of the most technologically advanced in its times. The ship had 16 watertight compartments designed to keep it afloat if damaged. This led to the belief that the ship was unsinkable. However, only four days into its maiden voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg near Newfoundland, Canada. The collision damaged the ship and its watertight compartments. With a limited number of lifeboats, many passengers could not escape the ship. Only hours after the collision, the Titanic sank, taking about 1,500 passengers with her. 

Pakistan wasted generous debt restructuring and western aid flows that came as a reward for its role in the war on terror during 2001-2003 leading the country into running large fiscal deficits…

The Titanic analogy fits Pakistan perfectly well. Her trajectory since the inception of the idea, her creation and subsequent systemic failure thereon fit in the analogy perfectly well. The self-destructive domestic and foreign policies alongside institutionalised corruption have done irreversible damage. This has slowly eaten away the pillars that support any nation. Bureaucracy, military, judiciary and the media are heavily corrupted places in Pakistan. The world is witnessing the sinking of ‘this’ Titanic in slow motion.

Fatal Attraction

This country was considered to be a creation of Allah, all in the name of Kalma, for believers in a land of purity called Pakistan. The overwhelming majority in Pakistan has always believed in this and has considered this as a divine guarantee for protection by the all-mighty. In other words, it is an unsinkable Pakistan. While it took four days of sailing for the Titanic to hit an iceberg in an accident, Pakistan, on the other hand, chose to deliberately collide with an iceberg called ‘Kashmir’, on the eve of her creation itself; that was the beginning of an end to be.

It has been this fatal attraction that has brought Pakistan to this impasse with itself the choices between progress, prosperity and ideology. Bred over deep-rooted religious hatred towards India, the state has veered generations away from humanism, pragmatism and reality, thus normalising the suicidal path adopted by the state. This path has led them into the valley beyond Pirpanjal, the death trap.

The country was never allowed by the Pakistan Army to develop democratically. The strengthening of institutions was always considered threatening by the establishment. A country with strong democratic values will work in favour of its people. There will be transparency and accountability, and it is this that creates insecurity within the establishment. They fear losing their grip over the ideology, hence the power. The Pakistan Army, being the sole custodian of the idea of Pakistan, has always felt threatened. They have found their national unity glue in anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiments. For them, this was a guarantee for their idea and Pakistan’s survival.

To understand the present situation that Pakistan is in, we need to reflect upon from their early history post creation, from Pakistan’s first military dictator, General Ayyub down right up to those at the helm of affairs to date. Pakistan, since the beginning, has capitalised upon its unique geopolitical location. In the bargain, they have extracted billions of US dollars from the West in form of aid and military programmes. Easy money without any growth engine created an artificial growth. Lack of vision and concern resulted in no industry, no trade and on investment mechanisms to develop in the country. No one ever bothered to look that way since the money came easy. Pakistan sold anything to everything from ideology to terrorism and in return, it was ever ready to be the West’s geo-political tool. Aligning with the American vision during the Cold War and later willingly participate in their war against terror, Pakistan got immunity for its action against India. Their aim was always singular; that was to challenge India at each step and in every quarter. 

Today, the morale of Pakistan’s Army is at its lowest ebb, probably the lowest since its defeat in the 1971 war…

Right from positioning itself as the sole arbiter of Islam and the Umma to creating strategic depth in Afghanistan to extra-territorial aspirations by annexing Kashmir, Pakistan has been a big spoiler in the region. It has destroyed Afghanistan and has left no stone unturned in bringing Kashmir to a similar fate and has destroyed itself in the bargain. Pakistanis have started to realise that Allah is no more on their side and that they have been abandoned.

Don’t Interrupt

As the saying goes, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is committing a mistake,” India seems to have adopted this saying rather seriously. On the present state of Pakistan, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Minister for External Affairs said, “I think Pakistan’s future is largely determined by Pakistan’s actions and by Pakistan’s choices. Nobody reaches a difficult situation suddenly and without cause. It is for them to find a way out.” In short, India has no intention of interrupting Pakistan on its journey of self-destruction.

Economic Mess

Today, Pakistan is on the verge of economic collapse and this has not happened by any accident, but this is a result of ‘wrong and deliberate policy choices’. Pakistan has plunged into crisis due to critically low levels of forex, runaway inflation, and lower economic growth. An expert at the Observer Research Foundation, Sushant Sareen explained this mess as Pakistan’s death trap. He writes, “Over the last 25 years, Pakistan’s debt has been doubling roughly every five years. Before the military dictator usurped power in 1999, the total debt of Pakistan was PKR 3.06 trillion. By the time General Musharraf left and the PPP government assumed power in 2008, the debt had touched PKR 6.7 trillion.”

In 2013, when the PML government came into power, the debt had risen to PKR 16.3 trillion. The PMLN government left a total debt of PKR 29.8 trillion in 2018, for the incoming PTI government. In just four years, the PTI government more than doubled the debt to PKR 62.5 trillion. But growth has been rather anaemic during this entire period. While debt was increasing by around 14 percent per annum on an average, the GDP was growing only by around three percent per annum on average. It was also during this period that Pakistan had a windfall in the form of massive debt re-scheduling after the 9/11 attacks. But this opportunity was frittered away by Pakistan and the restructuring necessary to make the economy viable never happened. With growth faltering, the revenues could not match the rising needs for debt servicing. At the same time, because the revenues were not rising fast enough, the governments were forced to take on more debt to meet their expenses. The result is a debt-trap that Pakistan has walked into “with its eyes wide open”.

The current economic problems especially over the last quarter century were sown by five major factors – overspending on defence, Jihad, terrorism as state policy, lopsided trade with China, and population explosion. All of these reasons were deliberate and have contributed towards wrong policy decisions. Since the idea was to compete and challenge India’s rise at all costs, they ignored the logic totally. 

Centralisation of governance and weak federalism has led to sub-national movements…

Pakistan wasted generous debt restructuring and Western aid flows that came as a reward for its role in the war on terror during 2001-2003 leading the country into running large fiscal deficits. 

Overspending on defence beyond its means and building a military machine beyond threat and reason was a manifestation of fear arising out of paranoia from the defeat in the 1971 war with India. This overspending has caused Pakistan dearly. The use of Jihad and terrorism as state policy, and the diversion of funds to support her nefarious designs over Kashmir have further drained precious reserves.

The third factor was Pakistan’s lopsided free trade agreement with China in 2006, which led to a mushrooming of imports with nothing to show on exports, exacerbating current account deficits. 

Finally, the exceptionally bad demographic trends that have shown up largely by discouraging population control by allowing mullahs to propagate Islamic logic against family planning. This has kept fertility rates high and the working population ratio low, pulling down the country’s savings/investment and increasing consumption rates.

Lost Opportunity

The military in Pakistan controls anything and everything. In or out of power, the power never goes away from the Pakistan Army. Experts believe that Pakistan had a real chance to take off after the generous debt restructuring of 2001. The geo-political tailwinds from Pakistan’s participation in the War on Terror opened the floodgates of US largesse, during which aid flowed into the country like there was no tomorrow and gave Islamabad precious foreign exchange. During 2001-2003, this Western aid allowed Pakistan to run an average current account surplus of over 3.5 per cent of GDP, the largest ever in its history. Misplaced priorities of the Pakistani Military establishment and its vision of geopolitics led to the fettering away of a golden opportunity to put the country on the path of prosperity and progress.

Internal Situation

Centralisation of governance and weak federalism has led to sub-national movements. With the weakening of the economy, these trends are manifesting more forcibly than ever before. Baluchistan has seen the hardening of the armed freedom struggle. Pashto nationalism is also on the rise yielding space to the radical outfits like the TTP and the Daish. The voices of dissent being heard from Gilgit Baltistan, POK and Sind are getting louder by the day. In Punjab, the haloed Pakistan Army is under severe criticism. The Army is blamed for intervening and destabilising the democratic process and institutions. The cases of corruption of Pakistani Generals, especially the exponential rise of wealth of their Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa since he took over as the Chief. Massive corruption by Pakistan army generals overlooking Chinese investments in CPEC and many more, have resulted in the erosion of faith of the common citizen in the army.

The Collapsing Security State

The last days of glory for Pakistan can be traced back to General Musharraf’s era. It will be incorrect to call Musharraf “The Last Mughal”, in a sense as referred by William Dalrymple in his book by this name. Musharraf was definitely not the ‘Bahadur Shah Zafar’ of Pakistan. But definitely, he can be called the ‘Aurangzeb’ of the Military Empire of Pakistan. Musharraf undertook an expedition in the Himalayas, expanded his country’s nuclear arsenal, tried to quell the rebellion in Baluchistan with a heavy hand and took a major offensive in the Pakthun tribal region. He played footsie with the West and challenged India at all possible fora. Pakistan started to show signs of collapse soon after. Its misadventure in the Kargil brought disrepute to the military at home. Musharraf’s brazen assault on the TTP for control of Swat valley resulted in lakhs of internally displaced people. This sowed seeds of Pashtun secessionism that we witness in different forms. His operation against the students of Lal Masjid also proved to be a debilitating pain for the dictator. Fatwas were issued against Musharraf and the dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers arriving from Swat valley were not treated as shaheed by the mullahs. No maulvi came up willingly to offer an Islamic burial to the fallen soldiers.

Since then, neither political nor economic stability returned to the country. Presently, the nation is in political chaos led by Imran Khan. On the other hand, the military is struggling to keep its stock together under the prevailing economic hardship. The Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) is challenging the state more and more with each passing day. The TTP, by striking the police headquarters in Karachi, has the underlined reach and capability to strike at will. The greater signal is the targeting of the state staring at bankruptcy, right in the heart of its financial capital.

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The economic meltdown, growing internal security threat and political instability should be a matter of serious concern to those managing the security state. Today, the morale of Pakistan’s Army is at its lowest ebb, probably the lowest since their defeat in the 1971 war. It has been reported in the media that the scales of rations for the troops are being reduced due to the cash crunch. This has also affected the operational readiness of the Pakistan Army; the training of the formations and maintenance of the equipment has become the first casualty. The reports emanating suggest that there are glitches being faced in monthly payments of pay and allowances to the soldiers.

The pressure from the IMF to scale down the defence budget and spending poses a serious challenge to the Pakistan Army’s idea of Pakistan. The weakening of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and returning of normalcy in the Valley amidst reports of India planning to reduce troops in Kashmir, has created sleepless nights in Rawalpindi. The quest for Kashmir appears lost. For the idea of Pakistan, the “loss of Kashmir” is an ultimate defeat of the Pakistan Army. The fist hold has begun to loosen as the titanic sinks.

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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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