For the foreseeable future, the army’s vision of itself, its domestic role, and Pakistan’s strategic environment will be the most important factors shaping Pakistan’s identity. While the growing Islamic consciousness, ethnic and sub national rivalries, and maldeveloped political system are all important, time and again the army’s way has been Pakistan’s way. Pakistan is likely to remain a state in the possession of a uniformed bureaucracy even when the civilian governments are perched on the seat of power. Regardless of what may be desirable, the army will continue to set the limits on what is possible in Pakistan.
Every year throughout Pakistan, there is a search for approximately 320 young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two. The ones chosen succeed where almost 15,000 fail: they are to be cadets in the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Kakul. The selection process has several stages: an initial interview and written test narrows the field to about 7,000 hopefuls; a medical examination, a review by the Services Selection Board, and an intensive three-day examination and interview procedure then yield the successful candidates.
Of the 350 who entered the Pakistan Military Academy in 1979, approximately 275 graduated. Those who have not retired are among the army’s 900 brigadiers and full colonels. Of these about 70 will go on to become major generals in the fighting branches (about 20 major generals are in the technical arms), and no more than 20 of these will receive a third star-assuming the rank of lieutenant general and becoming one of Pakistan’s nine corps commanders or senior staff members. If President Musharraf retains his position as chief of the army staff until 2005, then his replacement could come from this group.
In terms of their ethnic and linguistic background, the 1979 cadre was about 70 percent Punjabi; the Northwest Frontier contributed 14 percent, Sindh 9 percent, Baluchistan 3 percent, and Azad Kashmir 1.3 percent. A small percentage of them were ‘Muhajirs’, whose parents or grandparents had migrated from India and were, like General Musharraf, Urdu speakers. The percentages have not changed significantly over the years, although there have been slight increases from poorer provinces and districts. The heavy representation of Punjabis reflects the sheer size of that province, its military traditions, and its higher educational standards.
Armies are total institutions that mold the beliefs of their members for life. Thus the views and policies of most officers who have gone through the ‘system’- and in Pakistan the PMA is the only entry point into the system-are highly predictable. The collective views and assumptions of a particular generation of officers are formed by the curriculum of the PMA, the Staff College at Quetta, and (for the brigadiers) the National Defence College in Islamabad. These institutions provide a lens through which the officer views politics, strategic issues, neighbours, and even Pakistan’s future. The social and class background of these officers, their ethnic origins, and ideological predilections are also important in shaping their worldview, as is their allegiance to the corporate identity and interests of the army itself.
Significant events also influence the outlook of an officer corps, especially its younger members. The 1947 partition and the defeat by India in 1971 influenced two generations of officers in Pakistan. The ‘lessons’ of these events were passed along to new officers in the army’s school, clubs and officers’ messes. The present crop of brigadiers had their own formative experiences. Some were involved in the embarrassing Kargil mini war; all were caught up in the ten-month mobilization in response to the Indian buildup in 2001-02, and a few served on detachment to special service forces or with the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), working with irregular forces in Afghanistan and Kashmir. All were firsthand witnesses to ten years of wobbly democracy from 1989 to 1999, and almost to a man they were relieved when the army ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup on October 12, 1999.
The promotion system ensures continuity in the social and ideological makeup of the army. Promotion beyond the rank of major is by merit; the system is supposed to winnow out the unfit and advance only the best officers, but the process does give personal, family, or other connections a chance to play their role, especially at the higher ranks. As in most bureaucracies, senior officers tend to select and promote younger officers who are like themselves. This not only ensures that the changing biography of Pakistan army officer corps can be traced over successive generations, it also displays remarkable continuity.
The British Generation
Three distinct groups of officers received their initial professional training in the British Indian Army and had served in combat by the time of partition. They constitute the long- departed British generation. Some had entered the army in peacetime and received their training at Sandhurst (in the United Kingdom) or (after 1932) the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehra Dun. Ayub Khan belonged to the former group, and his friend and successor as commander- in – chief of the Pakistan army, Muhammed Musa, to the latter.
It is often assumed that the Sandhurst- trained officers were superior soldiers; however, there is substantial evidence to indicate that the IMA officers were better qualified and more professional in their outlook.
All prewar officers and wartime-entry officers have long since retired, although a few members of this generation, such as Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan have stayed on as influential advisers, key members of the Establishment. This generation of officers left an important legacy; they were responsible for founding and commanding the major training and educational facilities of the new Pakistan army, and for shaping the army itself.
Although World War II exerted a major influence on Muslim officers who were to form the Pakistan army’s core, the events immediately after the war had an even greater effect. In the aftermath of the decision to create Pakistan, many Muslim officers had to choose between Pakistan and India. For the group of able Muslim officers whose homes were in India (the Muhajirs), joining the Pakistan army meant moving their families, leaving ancestral homes and properties, and starting over in a new country as well as a new army. Why did they leave, and how did this decision affect their professional and political attitudes-and, in turn , succeeding generations of Pakistan army officers?
A central, recurrent motive for choosing Pakistan was a sense of injustice and fear in regard to the Hindu majority. Even though religion was barely discussed in the British Indian army messes, Hindu and Muslim officers got along well, remaining friends for years, the vast majority of Muslim officers came to the conclusion that they could lead a better life in an Islamic state. The experience of partition- the killing, the bloodletting, the random cruelty exceeded only by the organized variety- confirmed their worst suspicions.
These mostly secular officers had commanded Hindu troops of all castes and regions as well as Sikhs and Muslims (there were no all-Muslim regiments). However, partition taught them that no one could be trusted when communal passions raged, even their former Hindu and Sikh colleagues. The reluctance of India to deliver Pakistan’s allotted share of military stores, India’s occupation of Kashmir, and its forceful absorption of the princely state of Hyderabad and the Portuguese colonies, and many other examples of Indian duplicity- real or imagined- became part of the Pakistan army’s legacy. For Pakistani officers of all generations, this axiomatic distrust of India is as certain as is the existence of Pakistan. A common view, held by many Pakistani officers through the years, and taught at the Staff College, was that had Indian Hindus treated the Muslims fairly to begin with, there would have been no need for a Pakistani state.
The Pakistan army retained the basic structure of the old Indian army, and most of the Pakistani officers continued to see their British predecessors as professional role models. Because there were no qualified Muslim officers, initially the position of commander in chief and many other senior positions were filled by British officers who stayed on; this was especially the case in key training institutions. One of these, the Staff College (at Quetta), was intact, but a military academy had to be constructed, and Pakistan sought and received extensive assistance from several foreign countries, notably the United States, in creating a basic infrastructure.
Because Jinnah cared little for military matters- he told the first commander in chief of the Pakistan army, Sir Douglas Gracey, to run things together with Liaquat Ali Khan- and because the first two chiefs were British, the possibility of turning the Pakistan army into an ‘Islamic’ was never seriously considered. However, some young Pakistani officers admired the ‘liberation army’ model of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) and early on there was an aborted coup, the Rawalpindi Conspiracy of 1951, influenced by revolutionary ideas. At this stage, few had an interest in applying theories or doctrine to army organization or strategy, and the British ( and then American) advisers serving with the army frowned upon both a politically radical or ideologically motivated army.
The American Generation
After Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO) in 1955 and developed close ties with Iran, Turkey, and the United States, a new generation of officers emerged. Three things set the ‘American generation’ apart from its predecessors and successors.
First, its members were fully exposed to the American military. Many of them received training in America or from Americans, whereas their predecessors had received most of their professional training from the British in India and Pakistan, subsequent generations of Pakistanis (with a few important exceptions) were entirely trained in Pakistan. The American connection led to a complete revision of the army’s structure, the addition of an American- equipped armoured division, four infantry divisions, one armoured brigade group, and support elements for two corps.
Along with American equipment and training came American military doctrine and approaches to problem solving. While the infantry remained unchanged, armoured, artillery, and other technical services and branches (especially the air force) were strongly influenced by American practices. In artillery alone, more than 200 Pakistani officers attended American schools between 1955 an 1958, and there was an important American contribution in the form of periodic visits by American nuclear experts to the Staff College in Quetta. As the official history of the college notes, a 1957 visit by an American nuclear-warfare team ‘proved most useful and resulted in modification and revision of the old syllabus’ to bring it into line with the ‘fresh data’ given by the team. Present-day Pakistani nuclear planning and doctrine is descended directly from this early exposure to Western nuclear strategizing; it very much resembles American thinking of the mid-1950s with its acceptance of first- use and the tactical use of nuclear weapons against on rushing conventional forces.
Another important contribution was American philosophy. After long emphasizing caution and the conservation of men and material, Pakistan was exposed to mechanization, the lavish use of ammunition, and an informal personal style. To be ‘modern’ was to emulate the Americans in their breezy, casual, but apparently effective ways. It took the Vietnam War to demonstrate that the American approach might not always work; this lesson, plus the virtual end of the U.S.-Pakistan military relationship by the early 1970s, led to a renewed search for a particularly Pakistani strategic and organizational style.
Second, officers of the post- independence generation had no adult experience with India and did not know many of their Indian counterparts-except when they met abroad at foreign training institutions or worked together in UN peacekeeping operations
Third, officers of the American generation had an exaggerated estimate of their own and Pakistan’s martial qualities, with some believing that one Pakistani soldier equaled ten or more Indians. This seriously distorted the army’s professionalism. The ‘martial races’ myth developed by the British in the nineteenth century, grew out of European theories that jumbled racial, climatic, cultural, and religious notions. The British used the idea of a militarily superior ‘race’ to keep Indians out of the officer corps and to avoid recruiting from many Indian castes and regions said to be non-martial and hence unacceptable for recruitment. Pakistan adopted it as a way of demonstrating to foreign supporters and to Pakistanis themselves that a small amount of assistance to Pakistan could offset the Indian behemoth. If one Pakistani equalled ten or twenty Hindu Indian soldiers, then Pakistan could overcome the disadvantages of its apparent size and resources, and, if necessary, the Pakistan army could challenge India.
Elevating the ‘martial races’ theory to the level of absolute truth had domestic implications for Pakistan politics and contributed to the neglect of other aspects of security, including technological innovation and inter service cooperation. The army’s intoxication with its own mythology, excessive confidence in its strategic attractiveness to outside powers, and lack of interest in technology contributed to the country’s permanent strategic inferiority, making it increasingly dependent upon other states even as they grew more unreliable.
A powerful Motivation Program amplified the army’s illusions to a wider audience, transforming normal public relations into indoctrination. This apparatus targeted the Pakistani population, India, and the outside world- particularly the United States- but it also influenced the military’s judgement of its own competence and raised civilian expectations to absurd heights. When the military did falter (1965), the public relations (PR) programs were intensified, but when the army was broken (in 1971), the PR system collapsed, only to be revived in modified form under Bhutto. It is still in existence, and recently General Musharraf’s former inter services public relations (ISPR) director, Major General Rashid Qureshi, spoke with greater authority than any civilian on a wide range of political, economic, and strategic issues- indeed, greater than any other ISPR predecessor.
The American contact also led Pakistan down new strategic byways. Influenced by the United States, Pakistan undertook a detailed study of guerrilla warfare and people’s war. The American objective was primarily to suppress such a war, but Pakistanis studied it in terms of launching a people’s war against India, or developing a people’s army as a second line of defense. A Special Forces unit was established in 1959 with American assistance and the professional military journals explored the concept of low- intensity conflict in considerable detail. Studies were made of Algeria, Yugoslavia, North Vietnam, and particularly China; several of them concluded that guerrilla warfare was a ‘strategic weapon,’ a ‘slow but sure and relatively inexpensive ‘ strategy that was ‘fast overshadowing regular warfare.’ Maoist military doctrine was particularly attractive to many Pakistani officers because of Pakistan’s close connection to China and that doctrine’s apparent relevance to Kashmir. The prerequisites for people’s war seemed to exist: a worthy cause; difficult terrain; a determined warlike people (the Pakistanis); a sympathetic local population (the Kashmiris); the availability of weapons an equipment; and ‘ a high degree of leadership and discipline to prevent (the guerrillas) from degenerating into banditry.’
Some of these tactics and strategies were employed in 1947 -48 and 1965, although without much impact. Their first significant implementation was in East Pakistan, when civil war broke out in 1970-71. There, irregular forces were raised among non Bengalis and some Bengalis who were pro-Pakistan (primarily militant religious groups). The result of their brutal tactics was the further alienation of Bengalis and international notoriety. Pakistani veterans of that conflict point out, however, that they were subject to acts of extreme cruelty, including the torture and execution of prisoners by Bengali guerrilla forces.
Pakistan’s next attempt at what has acquired the euphemistic name ‘special operations’ was the massive 1980-89 US-Pakistan effort to dislodge Kabul’s communist regime and force the departure of Soviet forces- or at least to make them pay a high price of occupying Afghanistan. This was very successful in purely military terms and emboldened the Pakistan army. Its officers were deeply involved in supporting the Afghan mujaheddin, providing them with logistics and training, and serving as the prime conduit for American, Chinese, and other weapons. In 1984 there was a small operation, eventually terminated, that provided support for Sikh separatists in India. In 1989, however, after a major rebellion in the Indian-administered parts of Kashmir, the Pakistani strategy of support for a people’s war-Indians calls it simple terrorism- had a major impact.
America’s on -again, off-again relations with Pakistan and its periodic flirtation with the hated India had a deep impact on this generation of Pakistani officers. They had no doubt about their enemies but were less certain about their friends. As realists, they were aware of the difficulties of alliance with the Americans; on a private level, however, many retained affection for the country that was so intimately involved with their professional and personal development. Pakistani officers even today replay for Americans what is taught in the military schools: that there had been a historical ‘friendship’ between the United States and Pakistan, and it was the Americans who had abandoned Islamabad. They dismiss as ‘compulsions of state’ Pakistan’s deceptive behaviour regarding its own nuclear program, recent revelations about the nuclear and missile links to North Korea, and Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan’s Taliban. Had the United States not abandoned Pakistan, they argue, such activities would not have been necessary. Increasingly, Pakistan’s problems are blamed on conspirators: the devious Indians, the liberal and Zionists of American politics, or their own politicians. There is a touch of paranoia in the army’s assessment of its relations with the outside world, although it cannot be denied that this is a paranoid state with real and powerful enemies.
The Pakistan Generation, 1972-82
The outstanding characteristic of those who joined the Pakistan army in the post-Bangladesh years was that they were the most purely ‘Pakistani’ of all. They were more representative of the wider society in class origin, had less exposure to American professional influence, and believed the United States had let Pakistan down. They joined the Army when its reputation and prestige had plummeted, and their professional careers and world outlook were shaped by the 1971 debacle.
The experience of 1965 had not been subjected to critical analysis, and this lapse may have contributed to the disaster of 1971, as did the army’s involvement in politics. After 1971 the authority of senior officers was no longer accepted without question, being openly challenged on several dramatic occasions. The 1965-71 period came to be known as the ‘sawdust years’, during which military honour and professionalism slipped away from the Pakistan army. The myth of the army’s invincibility was shaken in 1965 and shattered in 1971,and its corollary, the corrupt ineptitude of the Indian army, was no longer taken for granted.
When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became prime minister, he systematically pointed out the failings of the senior military leadership, ridiculing those responsible. His goal was to create in Pakistan a kind of professional but docile army like India’s by reducing the power and prestige of the army without reducing its fighting capabilities. Bhutto also emulated the Indians when he tried to build up a paramilitary force- the Federal Security Force- that would stand between the army and the police but also serve as a foil to the military if necessary. His secret nuclear program was also intended to balance the power of the army by giving Pakistan a new way of offsetting India’s military superiority, and the bomb program was run by civilians until Bhutto was overthrown i1977.
Bhutto’s reforms were welcomed. The Pakistan army knew that professionalism had slipped under Ayub and deteriorated under Yahya. One officer who focused on reprofesionalism was General Muhammad Zia uL- Haq, whose tenure as chief of the army staff brought the military back to power, but also saw reforms at all levels. Zia began a program of sending combat officers to universities in Pakistan for postgraduate higher education in such non-military subjects as history, psychology, and political science, as well as strategic studies. A number of officers went to foreign civilian institutions for training, often on an ad hoc basis, and at the new National Defence College (NDC). Pakistani officers have close contact with a number of foreign officers, most from the Middle East and Islamic world. The NDC still runs two courses, one is purely military, dealing with higher military strategy; the other, lasting for ten months, is designed to educate Pakistani civilian bureaucrats and officials and has a mixed civilian and military student body.
While the education provided to officers is generally comparable to that of many western military schools (the Staff College is reportedly computerized and paperless), its presentation of India remains defective. India’s strategic objectives are said to be fixed, rooted in communal attitudes and illusions of great- power status. The syllabus is often factually inaccurate, and instructors do not encourage debate or discussion on the subject. The analysis drives home one important point: Indian intentions are subject to rapid change; hence the Pakistan military planner must focus only on the already substantial (and growing) Indian capability and not on the fluid nature of Indian intentions. Pakistan does have a real security problem in relation to India, but the Staff College and the National Defence College offer their students a stereotyped, reductionist theory of Indian motives and strategy.
Zia’s long tenure as chief of the army staff and president inevitably shaped the officer corps. Some argued that a Zia generation became embedded in the army, and that it was socially more conservative, more ‘Islamic’ in its orientation, and not too concerned about the army’s role in politics. Furthermore, inasmuch as this generation’s chief foreign policy experience was the 1971 humiliation, it was seen as vengeful as well. In India it is widely and incorrectly believed that from about this date onward, all cadets at the Pakistan Military Academy were required to take an oath swearing revenge against India for the loss of East Pakistan.
There is no strong evidence that Zia’s tenure created a distinct group in the army. However, his influence was important in three respects: his emphasis on Islam, his stress on irregular war or low- intensity conflict, and his acceleration of the nuclear program, which permanently altered South Asia’s strategic landscape.
Zia’s emphasis on Islam, in an already conservative society, encouraged Islamic zealotry in the army. Several senior officers of the post-Zia era blame him for damaging Pakistan, and some close to President Musharraf insist that they do not want to repeat Zia’s experiment. They do not question his personal sincerity, but they do point out that Zia opened the door to intolerant bigots and fanatics; during his spell as army commander a number of subordinates suddenly ‘got religion.’ A harmful legacy of the Zia years was the attempted coup in September 1995, led by Major General Zahir uL Islam Abbasi, who spoke publicly about the need to ‘Islamize’ both Pakistan and its army. He wrote in the Staff College’s professional journal of the importance of ‘Islamisation’ and resisting the domination of an aggressive, sinister India and other foreign, anti-Muslim states.
Abbasi ‘s actions prompted a much closer watch on ‘bearded’ officers and those suspected of religious zealotry were weeded out by being put in posts with little prospect of promotion to higher command. Even before that, Asif Nawaz Janjua, who had been army chief from August 1991 to January 1993, had slowly pushed back politicized Islam in the army and reasserted the tradition of making Islam a component of professionalism, not a separate and equal criterion for making policies and judging officers. This, however, may merely have driven the more committed and shrewder Islamicist underground. As Hasan Askari Rizvi notes, Pakistan’s middle and junior level officers were the product of an era when ‘public display of Islamic orthodoxy and conservatism was an asset’ and even a method of career advancement.
Zia’s second major contribution was the revival and legitimization of irregular or covert warfare, launched on two fronts: the major covert war in Afghanistan, blessed by a wide range of states, including America, China, and many Islamic countries; and the limited support provided to Sikh separatists after 1984. The latter program diminished as the Indians reestablished control over the state of Punjab but the army revived support for Indian dissidents in the late 1980s when India lost control over large parts of Kashmir,
In addition, Zia pushed Pakistan’s nuclear program ahead, bringing it under army direction. This was to give Islamabad the ultimate deterrent against Indian conventional and nuclear threats and also allowed Pakistan to engage in more intensive low- level warfare against India; it also led the army to develop new nuclear and low-intensity warfare doctrines.
The Next Generation
The officers who will occupy top staff and command positions over the next several years have a different orientation toward society. Many come from the middle class and joined the army simply to improve their standard of living. Comparisons are not easy, but socially they resemble their Indian army counterparts. Neither army attracts many individuals from families of high social status, but both are seen as a vehicle for social mobility; in Pakistan’s case, the army is also seen as a path to social and political power, as it claims to be the country’s ultimate savior-a role that no Indian army officer would dare contemplate. Some of these officers tasted power during the Zia years; others have managed a variety of civilian institutions- from airports to Pakistan’s power supply. They consider themselves to be less well off, but no less deserving than their generational predecessors, and they appear to be as professionally competent.
This generation entered the army in the 1970s, during a period of great agitation in the universities and schools of Pakistan, and like the broader society they did not share the idealism of the first generation of officers. The army is now considered just another profession, and the ablest members of Pakistan’s elite, including graduates of the best public and private colleges head elsewhere, especially for opportunities that lead to an education or a career overseas. Nevertheless, a core of fine officers remains.
The opportunities open to this generation of officers are not plentiful as they would have been twenty years ago. Few Gulf armies need them for training missions, UN peacekeeping are rare prizes (many other countries, including Bangladesh, actively compete for these tasks), and in Hasan Askari Rizvi’s judgement, the military will have to maintain a strong reward and benefit system ‘to keep them quiet.’ Rizvi, a close observer of the army, notes that the distinction between the public and private domains is fast disappearing, as senior officers misuse official transport, manpower, regimental resources and facilities. For junior officers, there is greater latitude to do the same, and the incidents of disregard for civilian laws are increasing.
This Zia and post-Zia generations stand on the brink of political and strategic influence. As with previous generations, those who will get to the top will be promoted on the basis of merit, but also by the informal and subtle criteria established by senior officers who tend to favour younger candidates just like themselves. For the most part, extremists, including those who are blatant in their Islamist professions, are not moved up, nor do officers have the opportunity to acquire demagogic skills.
However interactions between the army and. civilians have greatly expanded in two areas: in the management of various civilian institutions, and in the always- present but increasingly blatant behind- the -scenes manipulation of politicians. The difficulty is whether the next generation of officers has imbibed the notion of the Army as a corporate entity. If the sense of corporateness should weaken, it will be easier for civilians to divide the army along ideological, class, or personal lines. It will also increase the risk of an ideological split within the officer corps.
By courtesy: The Idea of Pakistan by Stephen Philip Cohen, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2004