Weak State, Strong Societies

Understanding Pakistan
A fundamental political fact about Pakistan is that the state, whoever claims to lead it, is weak, and society in its various forms is immensely strong. Anyone or any group with the slightest power in society uses it among other things to plunder the state for patronage and favours, and to turn to their advantage the workings of the law and the bureaucracy. Hence the astonishing fact that barely 1 per cent of the population pays income tax and the wealthiest landowners in the country pay no direct taxes at all. The weakness of the state goes far beyond a dependence on patronage for the survival of governments. To an extent most Westerners would find hard to grasp, the lack of state services means that much of the time, the state as such as an agent with its own independent will does not necessarily affect many people=s lives, either in terms of benefits or oppression. The presence of policemen, judges and officials may make it look as if the state is present, but much of the time these people are actually working and sometimes killing on their own account, or at the behest of whoever has the power, influence and money at a certain point, in a certain place.

The nineteenth-century British colonial official Sir Thomas Metcalfe described the traditional villages of northern India as ‘little republics’, administering their own justice, deciding their own affairs, and paying only what tribute to the >state= could be extracted from them by force. The independence has been very greatly reduced over the years, but compared to any Western society a good deal of it still exists in many areas, if not specifically in the village, then in local society generally. Society is strong above all in the form of kinship networks which are by far the most important foci of most people=s loyalty. It is suffice to say that the language of kinship even among people who are not in fact related permeates most of Pakistan as it does most of South Asia, where it is a matter of affection, responsibility, asking for favours or asking for protection. The most wonderful expression of this, which perfectly sums up India’s mixture of kinship, democracy and hierarchy, is the term with which you may wish to address a relatively menial person in northern India who happens to be in a position to help or harm you (like a bus conductor): Bhai-sahib, or ‘Brother Lord’.

Kinship is central to the weakness of the Pakistani state, but also to its stability, above all because of its relationship with class. Because the Pakistani political elites, especially in the countryside, rely for their strength not just on wealth but on their leadership of clans or kinship networks, kinship plays a vital part in maintaining the dominance of the feudal elites and many of the urban bosses.

By helping to enforce on the elites a certain degree of responsibility for their followers, and circulating patronage downwards, kinship also plays a role in softening to a limited extent class domination. Kinship is therefore partially responsible for Pakistan’s surprisingly low rating of social inequality according to the Gini co-efficient. In both ways, kinship is a critical anti-revolutionary force, whether the revolution is of a socialist or Islamic variety.

The importance of kinship is rooted in a sense (which runs along a spectrum from the very strong to very weak depending on circumstances and degree of kinship) of collective solidarity for interest and defense. This interest involves not just the pursuit of concrete advantage, but is also inextricably bound up with powerful feelings of collective honour and prestige (izzat) and shame; and, indeed, a kinship group which is seen as dishonoured will find its interests decline in every other way. A sense of collective honour among kin is thus reflected most dramatically in preventing or punishing any illicit sexual behaviour by the kinship group=s women, but also in working to advance the political and economic power and public status of the group.

This is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission. You don=t get stronger than that. As Alison Shaw and others have noted, the immense strength and flexibility of the kinship system in Pakistan (and most of India too) are shown, among other things, by the way in which it has survived more than half a century o transplantation to the very different climes of Britain. Shaw writes:

Families in Oxford are therefore best seen as outposts of families in Pakistan whose members have been dispersed by labour migration . . . (In Britain) a distinctive pattern of living near close kin has emerged, echoing that of earlier migrations within the Indian subcontinent.

Defense of the honour and the interests of the kinship group usually outweighs the loyalty to a party, to the state, or to any code of professional ethics, not only for ordinary Pakistanis, but for most politicians and officials. It is important therefore to understand that much Pakistani corruption is the result not of lack of values (as it is seen usually in the West) but of the positive and ancient value of loyalty to family and clan. Since the kinship group is the most important force in society, the power of kinship is inevitably reflected in the political system. Just as in much of the rest of South Asia, a majority of Pakistan=s political parties are dynastic. The PPP is the party of the Bhutto family; the PML (N) is that of the Sharif family; and the Awami National Party (ANP) in the Frontier is the party of the Wali Khan family.

The local political groupings which are the building blocks of these parties are themselves based on local dynasties. Hence the phenomenon of a woman such as Benazir Bhutto rising to the top of the political system in an extremely conservative male-dominated society. This was power by inheritance and says not much more about ordinary women=s rights in modern Pakistani society than the inheritance of the throne by Queen Mary and Elizabeth from their father said about ordinary women=s rights in sixteenth-century English society.

The only institution which has succeeded to some extent in resisting this in the name of state loyalty and professional meritocracy is the army and you say that it has managed this in part only through turning itself into a kind of giant clan, serving its members= collective interests at the expense of the state and society, and underpinned to some extent by ancient local kinship groups among the north-western Punjabis and Pathans.

If the importance of kinship links has survived transplantation to the cities of Britain, it is not surprising that it has survived migration to the cities of Pakistan, especially because in both cases (the British through marriage with people from home villages in Pakistan) the urban populations are continually, being swelled and replenished by new migration from the countryside. The continued importance of kinship is a key reason why Pakistan=s tremendous rate of urbanization in recent years has not yet led to radical changes in political culture.

Largely because of the strength of kinship loyalty, Pakistani society is probably strong enough to prevent any attempt to change it radically through Islamist revolution, which is all to the good; but this is only the other face of something which is not so good, which is society=s ability to frustrate even the best-designed and best-intentioned attempts at reform and positive development. Key factors in this regard are the gentry in the countryside and the intertwined clans of business, political and criminal bosses in the towns, all of them maintaining continuity over the years through intermarriage, often within the extended family almost always (except among the highest elites) within the wider kinship group.

Marriage with members of the same kinship group, and when possible of the same extended family, is explicitly intended to maintain the strength, solidarity and reliability of these groups against dilution by outsiders. Shaw writes of the Pakistanis of Oxford that in the year 2000, almost fifty years after they first started arriving in Britain, there had been barely any increase in the proportion of marriages with non-kin, and that over the previous fifteen years 59% of marriages had been with first cousins; and the proportion in strongly Pakistani cities such as Bradford is even higher:

Greater wealth was perceived not solely in terms of individual social mobility, although it provides opportunities for this, but in terms of raising the status of a group of kin relation in their wider biradiri and neighbours in Pakistan . . . Status derives not only from wealth, mainly in terms of property and business, but also from respectability (primarily) expressed by an ashraf (noble) lifestyle. One element of being considered a man worthy of respect derives from having a reputation as being someone who honours his obligations to kin. Cousin marriage is one of the most important expressions of this obligation. The majority of east Oxford families have not achieved social mobility and status through massive accumulation of property and business. For them the marriage of their children to the children of siblings in Pakistan is an important symbol of honour and respectability, a public statement that even families separated by continents recognize their mutual obligations.

It is above all thanks to locally dominant kinship groups that over the years, beneath the froth and spray of Pakistan politics, the underlying currents of Pakistani political life have until recently been so remarkably stable. Civilian governments have come and gone with bewildering rapidity, whether overthrown by military coups or stranded by the constantly shifting allegiances of their political supporters. Yet the same people have gone on running these parties, and leading the same people or kinds of people at local level. The same has been true under military governments. None of these changes of government or regime has produced any real change to the deeper structures of Pakistani politics, because these are rooted in groups and allegiances which so far have changed with glacial slowness.

Pakistan by Anatol Lieven published by Public Affairs in 2011, New York, NY.

Crossroads; Success Upon Success-Post Pearl Harbour


In the first six to twelve months of war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success—Admiral Yamamoto in an interview with Shigeharu Matsumoto, a member of the Japanese cabinet, 1940.

Odd as it may seem, in the 1930s when Japan was arming furiously and seemed bent on the conquest of Asia, one of the most vigorous opponents of war was a young admiral who was generally regarded as the rising star of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Isoroku Yamamoto. He was a navy man through and through, and always a Japanese patriot. But he knew the United States and Great Britain as did few Japanese military or naval men, and far more than any others, recognized Japan’s strategic inferiority to these great nations in terms of raw materials and financial staying power. For a dozen years—-all the time that Admiral Yamamoto had been rising in the councils of the Empire-—he had opposed any Japanese expansionism that would lead to war with the United States and Britain. Now, in August 1939, Yamamoto who had been serving as vice minister of the navy, was appointed chief of the Combined Fleet, the operational head of Japan’s fighting navy. The irony was that although Admiral Yonai, first as navy minister and later Prime Minister, had been Yamamoto’s mentor and was largely responsible for Yamamoto’s views, these two men would be given the task of preparing Japan for just the war they hated.

In the past few years, the Imperial Japanese Army had been moving closer and closer to gaining absolute power over the Japanese government. The Kwantung Army had first arranged the murder of Warlord Zhang Zoulin of Manchuria, and then in 1931 had staged the “Mukden incident,” a shooting along the South Manchurian railroad that had enabled the army to seize Manchuria. The army had continued its expansionism and had dragged the navy along with it. The war had begun with China. Admiral Yamamoto, as a principal advocate of naval air power, had found himself sending aircraft against China and deeply involved in the incident on the Yangtze River in 1938 when the American gunboat Panay had been sunk and two British gunboats had been attacked by Japanese air force planes.
Admiral Yamamoto had been aghast at the army’s temerity, and his views had become very well known within the army and among that group of young naval officers who believed that it was Japan’s destiny to rule Asia.

In the summer of 1939, a group of young naval officers began talking about Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Yonai. Both of them, they said, ought to be eliminated as obstructionists. Since 1932, assassination had been a popular method of eliminating army and government officials who opposed the “young lions,” so the threat was not to be taken lightly. Yamamoto was the most outspoken and thus the most likely target for assassination. A crisis arose when Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non aggression treaty, which many in Japan thought was aimed at Japan. So the cabinet of Prime Minister Hiranuma collapsed (since Hiranuma favoured closer relations with Germany) and his cabinet members resigned with him. This meant that Admiral Yonai was out as minister of the navy. The admiral took the threat to Yamamoto’s life so seriously that as Yonai’s term came to an end, he arranged for Yamamoto to head the Combined Fleet. This would take him out of a Tokyo government office and put him aboard the battleship Nagato, the Combined Fleet’s flagship. Out of Tokyo he would be out of sight, and his views would no longer be heard in the streets.
And so on August 28, 1939, Admiral Yamamoto succeeded Admiral Zengo Yoshida as commander of the Combined Fleet. Commander Motoshige Fujita escorted Admiral Yoshida up to Tokyo from the fleet base at Kagashima. On the morning of August 29, Admirals Yoshida and Yamamoto met at the home of Admiral Yonai, and on August 30 they were received at the Imperial Palace by Emperor Hirohito. The admirals came up to the palace gate in cars accompanied by men of the Kempeitai, or military police. These policemen were known to be spies of the army, which was on the verge of seizing total power over Japan. As Admiral Yamamoto emerged from the ceremonial greeting from the Emperor, he told his aide to get rid of the policemen. Since he was no longer vice minister of the navy, he pointed out, he was not entitled to a police escort. So the policemen were dismissed, and Admiral Yamamoto emerged from the scrutiny of the army into the safer hands of his own navy.

News of the appointment had spread through Tokyo, and as Admiral Yamamoto went to Tokyo station that day, hundreds of people came to see him off. He waited in the special room set aside for very important people and was escorted to the observation car of his train, where a red carpet had been laid out for him. At 1 p.m. the train pulled out from the station with Yamamoto in the observation platform giving a snappy salute to all his well-wishers and then waving his cap at them as the train gathered speed. Admiral Yamamoto, a handsome, athletic figure in his white uniform and medals, fifty-five years old and at the height of his powers, was off to a new adventure. There was no man in the Imperial Japanese Navy just then who was more suitable for command of the most modern naval fleet in the world, for from the beginning of the Japanese naval modernization program, Yamamoto had been deeply involved. Indeed Yamamoto was responsible for Japan’s emergence as the prime advocate of naval air power among the major fleets of the world.

Already Admiral Yamamoto was so well known in Japan that as the train headed for Osaka, crowds came out to the stations en route to have a look at him, and in Japanese fashion, to load him down with small gifts of cigarettes, sake, and food delicacies. He smiled and gestured his gratitude, and the train moved on: Yokohama, Shizuoka, and Nagoya. At Nagoya the greetings ended, and the admiral changed from his formal uniform into a civilian suit. Reporters from the Nagoya Chunichi Shimbun and the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun boarded the train and sought interviews. The admiral, whose views were so well known, suddenly became shy and refused to comment. It would not be proper, he said, for an officer on active naval duty to mix in political matters. And from that point on, for the rest of his life, Admiral Yamamoto refused to discuss political affairs. His friends who had sought to save his life from assassination by getting him to sea had also silenced one of the most vigorous critics of a government that was moving headlong toward war.

Success Upon Success-Post Pearl Harbour

Admiral Yamamoto was a very efficient fleet commander in terms of his attention to detail. He insisted on knowing everything that was going on in his combined fleet. For example, just after the New Year, he led his staff on an expedition to see the lookout post established on Ohmishima and a naval shore battery on Nasake Jima. At one o’clock in the afternoon, they left the flagship in small boats and landed at Wasa. Then they started to climb the steep mountain, the admiral leading. They climbed for an hour on a steep and rocky path, until, panting and perspiring, they reached the lookout post. The view below encompassed the two channels, Moroshina and Kodako that led to the anchorage. Matsuyama castle stood in the background against the blue sea. Then they tumbled down the mountain again, and at four o’clock they were ready for the second part of the expedition. They went by the antisubmarine net and to Nasake Jima, where the admiral inspected the battery of four shore guns. Then they went back to the ship, arriving at 6 P.M. Such attention to detail was a mark of the admiral. He had sanctioned the use of the midget submarines in the attack on Pearl Harbour, and now wanted to know what had happened. One of the boats was the I-16, and it was ordered to Hashirajima so that its captain could report to the admiral personally about the mission. The captain reported on the difficulties of carrying a midget submarine on the deck, launching it, and then trying to recover it. In fact, all the midget submarines that were used at Pearl Harbour were lost, and the admiral told his staff that there was still a lot to be learned before the next operation in which midget submarines seemed indicated.

Yamamoto was not very sanguine about the submarine and never had been. At the London naval conference he had joined the faction rejecting the British contention that the submarine should be abandoned altogether as a purely offensive weapon. In the naval conference Japan opposed the abolishment of the submarine on the ground that it was a defensive weapon, not an offensive one. Now it seemed to have become true; they were really defensive. At least, that was the Japanese view. And here Yamamoto showed a major weakness as a fleet commander: He did not understand the primary use of the submarine. Consequently, the Japanese fleet never made adequate use of its submarine fleet, although the I-boats were extremely efficient weapons, with longer range and better torpedoes than the American boats of that periodFor one who had shown so much appreciation of air power in the war in Europe, Admiral Yamamoto showed no appreciation at all of the effectiveness of the German U-boat in the war against BritainThe concept of commerce destruction as a major factor in the war did not seem to interest Yamamoto.

Before the outbreak of the war in 1939, Captain Karl Doenitz, chief of the German submarine service, had written the high command that if they gave him 300 U-boats he could bring England to her knees in less than a year. Fortunately for Britain, Hitler did not pay attention. The man who did pay attention to the concept was Winston Churchill, who shared with Doenitz a perfect understanding of the importance of commerce destruction. But not Yamamoto. He was constantly telling the Sixth Fleet, his submarine force, to concentrate on the sinking of warships. They did so, and they would sink a number, but within a matter of months the Americans were producing warships so rapidly that the sinkings were not a major factor in the war.

Admiral Yamamoto error here was major, and it had an enormous effect on the outcome of the Pacific war. As Admiral Nimitz said, shortly after his arrival at Pearl Harbour, with their I-boat force, the Japanese could have cut off Hawaii from the mainland, and thus crippled the American Pacific war effort, for many, many months.

Yet Yamamoto, who had shown enormous prescience in leading Japan to pre-eminence as the first major carrier power, was not alone by far in his misapplication of the submarine warfare principle. On January 2, 1942, Admiral Ugaki noted in his diary: “It is regrettable for the officers and men of the submarine service that they have not yet sunk any important men of war except merchantmen.”

So the myopia in the fleet was general, and it was shared in Tokyo. While Admiral Nimitz was pulling out all the stops to bring submarine forces into play against Japan, the Japanese I-boats were looking for American carriers and battleships, and this attitude would not change. A few days later, the Fourth Submarine Division reported the sinking of the carrier Langley, the only carrier in the U.S. Asiatic fleet, and that whetted the submarine force’s appetite for war ships. When another I-boat torpedoed the Lexington a few days after that, the seal was put on the Japanese naval attitude.*

  • The reports were in error. Both carriers were sunk in the pacific, but just not then. The Saratoga was the ship torpedoed, but she was repaired.

Admiral Yamamoto had promised five dozen bottles of beer to the first torpedo officer of a submarine to sink a fleet-class carrier, and he paid off to the torpedo officer of the I-6, the submarine that torpedoed the Lexington. She was actually not sunk, but the Japanese did not learn that until several months later when she appeared in the Coral Sea. So radio Tokyo triumphantly announced her sinking, and elaborated on the story for several days. And the commander in chief’s approval of the search for capital warships diverted the whole submarine force. No one was talking about commerce raiding after that.

Japanese troops occupied Manila on January 2 and 3. The Americans and the Philippine Constabulary had fled, mostly to the Bataan Peninsula. The invasion was way ahead of schedule, as it was everywhere else. So Yamamoto reorganized the fleet. The Southern Expeditionary Fleet was renamed the First Southern Expeditionary Fleet, and it prepared for invasion of Rabaul because the other moves had been so successful. A new third Southern Expeditionary Fleet was given charge of the Philippine’s operations, which now consisted of mopping up and the reduction of the Corregidor fortress with its big guns that controlled Manila harbour.

Along with the expeditionary fleet, Admiral Yamamoto prepared to send the carrier task force down south to make way for the Rabaul invasion by softening up the Australian defenses. Yamamoto now expected that the Rabaul phase would be complete by mid-March, and some more plans would have to be made. In the back of his mind was a plan for the capture of Midway Island, which bothered him because of its usefulness as an American submarine and air base, and a simultaneous move against the Aleutian Islands, which would give the Japanese a foothold on the North American perimeter. The staff was talking about invading Hawaii, and in Tokyo plans even to the point of invasion currency was being drawn. Yamamoto’s staff officers began studying alternative plans for future operations.

Whatever the plans, they must be kept strictly within the overall aim of the war: attainment of self-sufficiency for Japan, so that she could continue her major effort which was to swallow China. Admiral Ugaki wanted to send submarines far afield, to the Indian Ocean and to the Panama Canal, but he was restrained by Yamamoto. Even the invasion of Hawaii, for which the staff officers were clamoring, would have to wait until that decisive fleet action, missed by Admiral Nagumo at Pearl Harbour, had been brought to successful completion.

The war was going splendidly for Admiral Yamamoto. The army announced that it was ready now to stage the invasion of Java, weeks ahead of schedule. But the problem with all this success was that no one in Tokyo was able to bring it into perspective. Yamamoto knew that the Americans would soon recover from Pearl Harbour destruction. He had not achieved his decisive action, and it haunted him. Navy and army had more than carried out the tasks assigned to them so far. What was needed now was statesmanship in Tokyo to consolidate the victories without waste and strengthen the empire. Looking around him, Admiral Yamamoto saw no such statesman, no one of the calibre of Britain’s Winston Churchill or America’s Franklin D. Roosevelt. And he confided his fears to Admiral Ugaki, who capsulized them in his diary:

However invincible the Imperial armed forces are, and however great their exploits may be, the great achievement done at the sacrifice of our lives will be only in vain, unless statesmen have a great policy for the country.

On January 8, Admiral Nagumo sailed for the south, and the next day Japanese troops moved into Tarakan and the Celebes islands. Yes, the war was going splendidly. On January 14, after four days of hard work, Admiral Ugaki completed the proposal directed by Admiral Yamamoto for the Midway operation, to be followed by the invasion of Hawaii. The justification was the need to destroy the American fleet and bring the war to a quick conclusion. The directive was turned over to the fleet staff officers for detailed study and recommendations. This, as we have seen, was the Japanese system, in which young staff officers were given enormous responsibility and latitude. In fact, they had almost full sway up to the time of final decision. Even Admiral Ugaki, the chief of staff, was not permitted in the junior officer’s councils, lest his presence inhibit their free discussion of ideas.

On January 22 came favourable reports from Rabaul and Balikpapan: the Japanese were marching on Rangoon, Thailand had declared war on the British, and the advance in Malaya had nearly reached Singapore. The future of the Japanese empire had never seemed brighter. On January 27, Yamamoto’s young staff officers came up with their plan. They had considered an immediate attack on Hawaii but had not been able to figure out how to destroy the land-based air force brought into the islands in the past few weeks. So they had opted for Midway, where that problem did not really exist. The plan was taken to Admiral Yamamoto and he began to study it. At the same time, Commander Yamamoto (no relation) of the naval general staff appeared aboard the flagship on other business, and Admiral Ugaki gave him a copy of the proposal to take back to Tokyo.

For some time Admiral Yamamoto had been concerned about the whereabouts and activities of America’s aircraft carriers. On February 1, 1942, he had some unwelcome news. An American carrier force had moved to the Marshalls for a raid, with cruisers and several destroyers. They hit Wotje, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, and Jaluit. They destroyed a number of planes and several ships, and they killed Rear Admiral Yasuhiro Yukichi, the commander of the naval base. He was the first admiral killed in the war. Yamamoto was very upset, because the Japanese had been caught just as much unaware here as the Americans had at Pearl Harbour, and there was really no excuse for it because everyone knew now that there was a war on. The attack had been successful, said the admiral, because the men of the fleet had grown cocksure after their many easy victories. Everyone felt the admiral’s displeasure that day, including Admiral Ugaki, who indulged himself in a long session of self-recrimination.

From the outset of the war, Admiral Yamamoto had been concerned about the day when American naval power would make it possible for planes to raid Tokyo. He read the press, and he knew that the Americans had diverted ten cruiser hulls to become carriers, so it would not be long before the danger became very real. At this time Tojo and the army were boasting that the Americans would never touch Tokyo, but Yamamoto knew these were empty promises. This was one of the major reasons he so urgently sought the decisive battle and looked with such favour on the Midway plan.

On Saturday, February 7, came the welcome reports of the Japanese success at the Battle of the Java Sea, which destroyed most of the remnants of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and British and Dutch sea power in the area. On February 12, the admiral’s flag was again shifted to the Yamato, and the admiral and staff celebrated a housewarming with chicken sukiyaki and sake. That night they celebrated again, because they learned of the fall of Singapore. This was considered in Tokyo as the supreme victory of the war.

General Tojo made an important speech about the Greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere, calling on the Australians and New Zealanders to break their alliance with the Western powers and join up. The call was ignored in Canberra. Then, as if on signal, on February 19, Admiral Nagumo’s task force attacked Darwin, sinking three destroyers, a sub-chaser, and eight merchant ships. The harbour was wrecked, and about thirty planes were destroyed. Afterwards Admiral Nagumo sailed on to Truk to await further orders.

Early in March, Admiral Halsey’s task force raided Marcus Island, and although the damage was slight, it made Yamamoto think again about the possibility of American air raids on Tokyo. The war surged on. In early April, Admiral Nagumo’s carrier force hit Ceylon, damaging the harbour and sinking some ships in Colombo, and then it engaged elements of the British fleet off Trincomalee, sinking the carrier Hermes. Once again Admiral Nagumo did not wait around long enough to complete the job: two other British carriers got away. Admiral Yamamoto happened to be in Tokyo at that point, at the Navy club , where he encountered Prince Fushimi. The prince was all congratulations and smiles about the great job being done by the navy, so Yamamoto could not air his own negative views. Everything seemed to be going better than anyone had dared hope. Nagumo sank two cruisers as well.

The plans had been made, and the navy and army now agreed to begin the second stage of war operations, which involved the attack on Australia and Midway. On April 17, Admiral Yamamoto delivered his message to the fleet, and the task forces set out to make landings in the Solomon Islands and Port Moresby on New Guinea. “With this spirit,” wrote Admiral Ugaki triumphantly, “the foundation of the empire can be said to be safe.”

But the fact was that even as the admiral so wrote, forces were in motion to give the Japanese a great shock, and to bear out Admiral Yamamoto’s most startling fears.

Excerpts: Yamamoto by Edwin P. Hoyt, McGraw Hill, New York, 1976