Raza Habib Raja
Professor Philip Oldenburg is a professor of political science in Columbia University and author of the book titled India, Pakistan, and democracy: solving the puzzle of divergent paths. As an academic, Subcontinent has been his prime area of political research. A few months ago, he was invited to Cornell University where I was privileged to hear his views on a very interesting topic which was why India and Pakistan despite being apparently similar in history and culture have taken divergent paths as far as democracy and role of military are concerned.
First of all Professor Philip made an interesting statement that India’s successful evolution as a democracy is not a “normal” phenomenon but rather an exception whereas Pakistan has evolved the way most of the third world countries with similar characteristics are likely to evolve. Now this contradicts with most of the stuff I hear about the reasons as to why India and Pakistan have taken different trajectories. I have mostly heard that democracy has not evolved simply for the sole reason because military has not allowed it to evolve. Explanation for the difference in India and Pakistan has always been pinned down to only deep conspiracies of the “deep state” against political class.
Now this analysis at least partially disagrees with the overwhelmingly prevalent and rather simplistic explanation according to which democracy does not function solely because Pakistan’s army has always been conspiring against it whereas in India the armed forces have decided to respect the political template of the government.
According to Professor Philip, a country with low literacy rate, weak industrial base and with a colonial legacy is often expected to take the similar trajectory as of Pakistan. He then cited many examples of the countries where military coups have taken place and the institution enjoys great power and privileges.
However, he made an interesting remark that Pakistan in many ways had performed worse and while many other countries (like Bangladesh and Turkey) are gradually shaping towards the ascendency of political class and strengthening of democracy, in Pakistan the political developments are pointing towards the other direction.
So what makes Pakistan a similar and yet in the longer run a “different” case as far as the role of military is concerned? Why the neighbouring India is an exception and why could not Pakistan follow the same trajectory despite the fact that it was carved out of the same British Empire?
Well the reasons are complicated and cannot be solely just attributed to the conspiracies of the military. Besides trying to understand as to why military intervenes, it should be worthwhile to also dwell as to how it is actually able to intervene. In Pakistan’s case the reasons are rooted in:
1) its general cultural and political traits such as low literacy, rural dominance and lack of developed stabilizing as well as independent institutions like Judiciary,
2) the history of Pakistan movement and its early years after coming into being
3) chaos when civilians are in power and their inability to take a decisive action when opportunity presented
4) Urban middleclass impatience and excessive emphasis on “order” which has provided armed interventions a semblance of support
5) Manipulations by the army and the intelligence apparatus
Firstly, one has to understand that military in weak third world country is often the only well-disciplined, centralized and sophisticated institution. It has sophisticated instruments of violence and has a top down chain of command which is seldom if ever broken. Particularly in countries where democratic institution are either nascent or democracy after its introduction leads to chaos, military due to its ability to bring “stability” and restore order often intervenes. Third world has thus witnessed a number of coups and Pakistan by no stretch of imagination is an exception. However, military interventions by no stretch of imagination are good developments, though in the context of tremulous political cultures, understandable .
Military once it intervenes to overthrow the political government becomes a political stakeholder and from that point onwards, takes steps particularly in the constitutional and legal realm, which solidify its acquired political status, powers and privileges. Of course the military is not accountable to the electorate and therefore in the longer run is quite insulated from the normal pressures which a political government has to go through. Military rule seriously undermines the democratic evolution and does not allow the political culture to deepen. It depoliticizes the populace and also creates a state which is not responsive to its people.
In Pakistan unfortunately the genesis of the military rule is actually in the way the Pakistan movement shaped up and the complex interplay of the dynamics of the movement with cultural and political characteristics of the region which eventually became Pakistan.
Compared to Indian freedom movement, Pakistan’s independence movement became a mass movement at a very late stage. Whereas Congress’s birth was in 1885 and it became a mass movement particularly due Gandhi’s efforts by 1920s, Muslim League even in early 1940s had not been successful to garner the same kind of mass support. Ironically the areas where it was actually popular were areas which subsequently became part of India.
It was only in the second half of the decade of 1940s that the Muslim League started to make real appeal to the people of the areas which subsequently became Pakistan.
Muslim League did not attain the political maturity the way Congress did which had gone through several generations of leaders and the political culture was institutionalized in the party as well as the movement headed by it.
This is an important distinction which shaped the respective roles of the military in both the countries. In India the political class was dominant from the beginning and moreover the public perception of the army was not of a saviour as the Indian army had served loyally under the British empire . The entrenched political culture ensured that Indian political landscape made a smooth transition from a movement into a functioning democracy from the word go. Moreover, Nehru remained at the political helm in the initial years providing the much needed political stability under democratic umbrella. Military was never in a position to stage a coup both because the chaos-which often precedes the military coup and at least is the justification the first time- was never there and secondly the army did have an “image” issue due to its close association with the colonial rule. Nehru’s revered and towering status also prevented the development of any militaristic bonapartism.
Pakistan on the other hand was founded in an area where had already been militarized as most of the recruitment was taking place from so called “Martial Races” of Punjab and what is now Khyber Pukhtunkhawa. Moreover the state apparatus was stronger in Punjab and local politicians had to rely a lot on the civil bureaucracy in order to get things “done”. The reliance of political class on the state apparatus in areas falling under West Pakistan was much greater than in areas which later became India.
So when Pakistan came into being, the local politicians, particularly in the rural areas, had already become too entrenched in the practice of looking towards state apparatus to gain privileges and powers rather than rather than through political mechanism consisting of parties, manifestoes and ideology. In rural Punjab, this practice with varying degrees continues to this date.
When Pakistan came into being the Muslim League despite having gained support in the last two years was still not a deeply rooted political party in the area which was West Pakistan. The main leaders of the League actually belonged to the areas which were in India and when they came to Pakistan, they were without the same kind of support. The nationalist movement actually brought leaders in West Pakistan whose roots had been left behind. In addition, Jinnah through charismatic did not live long and during his one year at the helm also did not do much in line with democratic norms. His one year rule was as a Governor General and was highly personalized.
In the initials years army was needed again and again both at the external front (Kashmir front) as well as the internal front (riots of 1953) to restore order. During these times while army’s role strengthened, the political landscape was fraught with chaos and repeated change of governments. The political class in the absence of a stabilizing political leader (Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead in1951) and a political infrastructure underpinned by proper political culture, could not gain strength.
While government heads kept on changing, the Chief of Army Staff continued to gain power and moreover whereas in India the Chief of Army staff position witnessed at least five different individuals, Pakistan persisted with Ayub Khan. Repeated changes of governments and chaotic situation provided the impetus for the military intervention and when finally military intervened; there was actually a sigh of relief.
The military intervention of 1958 is extremely important as it initiated several things. First, military’s image among the urban middle class (at that time small in number but powerful due to its monopoly over education, and white collared job market) as a saviour was created. From that point onwards, the middleclass, particularly the urban middleclass has seen army in that light particularly when during short stings of democracy the situation gets chaotic. It actually expects army to intervene. Secondly, army’s self-image also enhanced to include itself as the ultimate custodian of the political stability as well. Third, it gave the loudest signal that army was a definite stakeholder and in fact more powerful than all others. So from that point onwards, political class had to factor in army more than any other stakeholder for its own survival.
Although Ayub was personally perhaps a secular but increasingly the army was tutored in Islam in order to provide it with an ideological fabric to bolster its combative zeal. Increasingly the army also started to see itself as the ultimate custodian of the ideological frontier also. It was in fact during the Ayub tenure that army also started to make overtures to the religious outfits for both external and a domestic objectives, a trend which over time has only increased .
The ascendency of army given the unique circumstances of Independence, earlier turmoil, the “expectations” of the urban middleclass, and the work done during Ayub era to solidify its status as political power, was difficult to check but nevertheless there were several opportunities which could have been availed.
Given army’s “respect” as a saviour, the best time to curtail army’s role as a political force is at the time when it has been dishonoured or humiliated. However, for that the political class besides removing the head of the armed forces also needs to exercise maturity in its own conduct. This is essential in order to dispel army’s potential role as the “saviour” of the last resort, a role which is largely perceived by the urban middleclass.
Unfortunately Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto due to his personal conduct and “I am above the law “ attitude squandered the chance. Bhutto ruled in a capricious manner, and used security forces to terrorize his rivals. Moreover, he alienated the urban middleclass too much due to his personal conduct and dictatorial traits. He rigged the elections and once again it was urban middleclass which was in complete resentment as ZAB had taken several steps to displease them and supplanted those with his style of rule. The “movement” against the election rigging was primarily an urban bourgeoisie movement and during those times there was a resurgence of army’s image also. The leaders of the movement were in fact giving overtures to the armed forces to intervene and “rescue” Pakistan. Army, at that time while apparently supporting Bhutto, was at the same time also in contact with the opposition and was cleverly plotting a coup. When army finally intervened on that fateful night, it was not only in accordance with its own institutional interests but also the interests of the urban middleclass.
This point is essential here because the urban middleclass actually has historically provided the armed interventions a semblance of popular support. Although urban middleclass is not monolithic and it would incorrect to assume that it can actually think like a unified orgasm but by and large this class is anti-democratic and apolitical in its orientation. This class is upwardly mobile, prefers stability over chaos and has been successfully tutored in a nationalist brand of civic nationalism. In Pakistan’s case the brand of civic nationalism has Islam as an important ingredient coupled with inherent negation towards plurality. Civic nationalism here tries to promote a strong centre and homogeneity or oneness. This brand of civic nationalism is strongest in the urban middle class as it is cultivated chiefly through education and then further reinforced by mass media. Further on this brand of nationalism also places strong emphasis on Pakistan’s place in the Islamic world and also in the global context.
Army, particularly the officer cadre is chiefly drawn from the middleclass and its ideological thrust is quite identical to that of the urban middleclass. So besides the deep suspicion about “corrupt” politicians and “chaotic” democracy, another major reason that urban middleclass likes army is its own ideological thrust resonates closely with that of army. Consequently despite major blunders army’s respect remains high. Even when it has suffered a blow it has buoyed again.
In some ways, it is the expectations of the urban middleclass and the pedestal on which it by and large holds the army that the latter finds additional incentives to keep a “check” on politicians.
And then there is the case of almost complete ownership of foreign policy by the army which was taken over during Zia’s time. Of course Zia was the head of the government also but the espionage activities of the army and ISI during the Afghan war made it the most important stakeholder. Once Benazir came into power she quickly had to resign to the fact that foreign policy was not an area where a civilian government could have much leeway.
Over the years, even under the façade of civilian governments, army has been running the show. Foreign policy particularly its terms of engagement with “foes” like India and “friends” like USA has become the sole domain of the army. It is from here that army draws its most strength and even its reason for existence and it won’t allow any sort of “interference” from the civilian government.
Over the years, army has ensured that Pakistan double deals with the United States, constantly adopts a hostile posture towards India and pursues the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan. For these objectives, military and its intelligence apparatus has constantly courted militant organizations which at times have gone out of control like a Frankenstein monster only to at times turn against itself.
It is here that military simply does not listen to the concerns of the civilian governments and in fact won’t hesitate to pressurize it through back door means and even mount a coup. In 1999, it deeply embarrassed Nawaz Sharif government by initiating Kargil war while he was trying to make peace initiatives towards India. And it is agitated against Zardari led government for being too cosy with Washington (though these charges are hardly credible).
Unfortunately USA has also more or less accepted the dominance of military and has adopted the tactic of directly dealing with the military at times bypassing the civilian governments. And of course all the military dictatorships have been supported by the US which found it easier and convenient to deal with them and were ready to ignore “trivialities” like democracy.
In fact Hussain Haqqani’s masterpiece ( one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read) also makes the same point that USA in its desire of convenience found it easier to deal with military.
Turning a blind eye policy adopted by the USA has eventually resulted in military being the party they have to negotiate with even when it is not cooperating and indulging in double games. Civilian governments virtually are irrelevant.
It is hold over foreign policy and terms of engagement with critical countries like India, United States and Afghanistan which military guards even more than its finances. The entire intelligence apparatus is dedicated towards this end and if a civilian government tries to assert its authority in this domain, it pays the price.
Can we break this hold? Yes, it can be broken but for that politicians too have to show maturity and respect rule of law. They also need to show unity instead of cheap opportunism when the opportunity to weaken military presents itself. My mind immediately goes back to what happened when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Instead of having a united front, Mr. Zardari was keen on creating a rift between army and Nawaz Sharif for short sighted political gains. That opportunity was lost. And subsequently Mr. Sharif actually went to Supreme Court in Memo scandal despite the fact that the military establishment was targeting him also and if democracy were to be derailed, he too will be a loser. However, in Mr. Nawaz sharif’s head nothing mattered more than Zardari’s scalp.
We cannot wrestle away the power unless we show unity and an unshakable belief in democracy. However that belief in democracy is also underpinned by the way major political actors govern when in power and also engage with each other. Urban middleclass does not love army just for the sake of loving it. It likes army (rightly or wrongly is a separate issue) because it restores order and since it is politically insulated therefore gives an impression of merit. Army needs chaos as a reason to intervene. It needs political governments to fail to ensure its hegemony. It wants political class to be riddled with internal rifts.
What the political parties (the two main parties) can do is to at least ensure that they govern properly and ensure rule of law. They need to be united on the fact that they would not conspire against each other and will not try to seek army’s help for derailing the other.
Remember that it is no longer feasible for the army to directly rule the country and therefore the chances of an old fashioned coup are very rare. The chances of a complete roll back of the system are slim and therefore the political parties can take decisive steps provided they are united and get their act together.