By Farooq Sulehria
July 13, 2013
The role of Pakistan's military in shaping state and polity has been the subject of many scholarly works since the 1950s. Ishtiaq Ahmed's recently published 'Pakistan-The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011)' approaches this issue from the perspective of international relations.
He extends the scope, though, because "the domination of the Pakistan military cannot be explained merely as an effect of the Cold War; rather, it is a peculiar evolution of historical and contemporaneous internal and external factors, as well as religious-cultural and social dimensions".
As a result, the evolution of the country as a 'fortress of Islam' – a description Gen Musharraf used in a televised speech in 2002 – is, in fact, a delineation of the garrison state.
The beauty of Ishtiaq Ahmed's works is in his attempt to ground his research in sound theoretical framework. In this case, he synthesises a framework by combining the notion of the post-colonial state with Harold Lasswell's concept of a garrison state. Viewing the 'fortress of Islam' through such a theoretical prism, he is able to deconstruct the 'multi-layered connotations' this metaphor carries.
According to Ishtiaq, the metaphor 'fortress of Islam' was used to "underline the Pakistan military's role as the core element in the composition of a fortress". After all, a fortress "includes not only the armed soldiers but also those who live inside it and perform multifarious civilian tasks and functions and thus constitute a viable community".
What Benedict Anderson calls 'imagined communities' – a fashionable but flawed theory – is in Pakistan's case "ipso facto, a garrison community, vigilant and armed to defend and assert its independence, to thwart aggression, and to carry out punitive actions against enemies".
In this regard, "the feeling of being beleaguered is imperative in order to construct a strong and formidable fortress – a garrison". From the very beginning, the establishment "staked its dominant position in Pakistani society by prioritising security and defence" against real and imagined foes.
Another important characteristic Ishtiaq attributes to the garrison is its role as "an outpost of a state, kingdom, or empire". Contemporary garrison states emerged "during the Cold War...as part of the global contest between the United States and the Soviet Union".
In fact, it was Jinnah himself who set the ball rolling. To court the Americans, he was the first to market Pakistan as an anti-communism garrison. Ignored and rebuffed initially, the country's requests to rent itself out as a US outpost in the fight against godless communism began to bear fruit in earnest by the mid-fifties. However, this patronage by the US had repercussions within Pakistan.
Pakistan's military began to emerge as a key political player. The changing political realities found their first big expression in the form of the first military coup, captained by Gen Ayub, in 1958. However, Washington began to realise by the early 1960s that Pakistan was less interested in countering communism, and that US patronage was being sought to fortify itself against India.
Even if India was championing the cause of the Non-Aligned Movement, Washington was not ready to annoy the country. Therefore, Pakistan was armed against the Soviets. When Pakistan – in violation of stated agreements – used the military might provided by the US against India in 1965, relations between Pakistan and the US were strained. Having developed parasitic tendencies, Pakistan could not survive without a donor – and so China was cultivated as a substitute.
Following the 1962 Sino-India war, China, in turn, needed Pakistan as a satellite. Though Pak-China relations irked Washington initially, when the US decided to court Beijing – driven by Cold War imperatives – Pakistan was the preferred conduit. It was partly this role in mind that Nixon ordered his (in) famous tilt during the 1971 war.
While semi-official narratives cast Washington's role during 1971 in a bad light, Ishtiaq Ahmed highlights Pakistan's self-inflicted wounds instead of blaming the US or China for Pakistan's dismemberment. Curiously, Sheikh Mujib comes across as a reconciliatory leader – ready to work with the army. Ishtiaq also shows that the military action was planned long before it was launched in March 1971.
According to Ishtiaq, in fact, the Yahya-Mujib-Bhutto meet in March 1971 in Dhaka was a camouflage. This indeed is a revealing assertion. Following the debacle in East Pakistan, the Pakistan Army was in crisis. Bhutto rescued it, and then tried to dominate it. In a way, he dug his own grave with a khaki spade, paving the way for the Zia dictatorship.
Initially, the Zia regime was given a cold shoulder by Washington. Pakistan, however, is lucky to have been blessed with a strategic location that cannot be ignored by world powers. Consequently, Washington began to cosy up to Pakistan once the Afghan jihad began in earnest. On the one hand, the Afghan jihad exacerbated Pakistan's perennial concern regarding its Islamised identity, while on the other, it helped Pakistan acquire Saudi Arabia as another external donor. The latter, in turn, wanted to contain Iranian influence.
Consequently, Islamisation under the Zia rule became intense, with dire consequences for women, unions and religious and ethnic minorities. Ishtiaq has brilliantly documented the brutalities suffered by women and minorities as a result of the garrison state's ‘Islamisation’. The garrison state has cost its people their basic rights, with budget allocations for education, health and other basics embarrassingly low.
Once the Afghan jihad was over, Pakistan lost its relevance. Moreover, its adventures in the name of strategic depth and nuclear ambitions further turned it into an international pariah state. Thanks to 9/11, Al-Qaeda revived the country's strategic value for Washington. However, post-9/11 Pakistan – driven by its dependency on Washington – has been running with the militant hare and hunting with the US hound. The Taliban curse is a consequence of this contradictory and self-defeating policy. How long will it go on?
"Pakistan can continue as a post-colonial garrison state as long as the donors are willing to provide it with the required resources and it can convince or coerce its population that the struggle for survival necessitates prioritisation of the allocation of scarce resources to security and defence", says Ishtiaq (p.24).
One of the strengths of Ishtiaq Ahmed's work is his skill to use oral history to fill gaps. His interaction with army generals, particularly Gen Musharraf, offers interesting insights.
Farooq Sulehria is a freelance contributor.