The Pernicious Ramifications of Civilian-Army Confrontation

As someone with a dual personal history, a soldier first and a scholar now, I have always found myself in this liminal space where I refuse to take sides when it comes to my public and scholarly writings about Pakistan. This lack of alignment with one or the other has sometimes cost me many an old friendship. I believe that democracy, unfettered by special interests of any kind, is ultimately the only system that can secure Pakistan’s future. But pragmatically, it is also important to  be cognizant of the contemporary realities of Pakistan and to draw  conclusions from the lived realities of Pakistan’s politics and other existential exigencies. It seems that within the current climate of Pakistani politics, especially when Pakistan is faced with external threats and internal strife, yet another new narrative of  conflict between the Pakistan army and the civilian government is being proffered to the public. Of course, the chief instigator in this instance is no one less than the figure of the now ousted prime minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who recently alleged that the current chief of army staff was not the right choice, and, somehow, he had made a mistake in appointing him.

Mr. Sharif has a history of trying to appoint the army chiefs who would, in his view, serve his personal political interests. And, even though he and his family were brought into the political arena by a military dictator, he, of all the politicians, has had the most unneeded confrontations with several army chiefs. Now there is nothing wrong with the civilian elected prime minister to remind the military that he/ she, after all, is the elected head of the executive and thus must have the final word about Pakistan’s internal and external national policy, but it is also his/ her responsibility to ensure that the army leadership is not politicized and that the image of Pakistan army is not unduly tarnished because of the inherent tensions between civilian and military institutions. In his public statements though, it seems that Mr. Sharif has no problem in directly or indirectly maligning the Pakistan army, which might serve some limited political purpose for Mr. Sharif but cannot be in the best interest of Pakistan.

I must point out here that despite being a retired army officer, I am neither an uncritical apologist for the Army brass and nor do I withhold my criticism of the Army generals when such criticism is warranted and merited. And my criticism of the Army dictators and intransigent generals is published and a matter of public record. I am, however, a strong supporter of the solders and junior officers of Pakistan army,  who constantly put their lives at risk for the safety and security of their country. Right now, as I write these lines, our officers and troops are deployed in the mountains of FATA and are literally offering their lives in a fight to  secure a peaceful future for our children: They need our love and support!

Mr. Nawaz Sharif has a history of making a spectacle of his relations with the army. In the late nineties he brought the entire country to crisis and even attempted to divide the army sympathies by ousting one COAS, while he was on a visit abroad, and appointing a new one in his absence. Of course, constitutionally it was his right to do so, but the constitution also does not give him the right to use his power as a tool for the of symbolic humiliation of the army generals or their subordinates. There is a grave risk for Pakistan if the popular trust in this institutions is “officially” eroded. All armies, but especially the Pakistan army in its current anti terror operations, need general public support to do their job. This symbolic recognition of the army and the measure of its respect in the public sphere is crucial to the actual functioning and morale of the troops. After all, no amount of money can convince anyone to surrender their life for their country. The troops and their officers undertake these lif-threatening missions as their job but also as a service to their people and their nation and if the people turn on them or deride them publicly, then no amount of money can build a functional and motivated army.

I understand that because of army’s history of political interference in the Pakistani system, the public trust of the army has eroded and people have the right to criticize the military dictators. There is also no doubt that so many of the problems we face today can be traced back to one or the other military dictator. But despite all that, it is the responsibility of the government to continuously support the army materially and symbolically and maligning the army leadership publicly can never be in the best interest of the country.

On the other hand, I see on several veteran’s social media pages as well as through personal discussions that the army officers also tend to deride the politicians and the political system and think of it as inherently corrupt. This is also a symptom of a deep-seated distrust of the civilians which has its provenance in the colonial system: the officers and men of the Royal Indian Army, of whose traditions we sometimes follow in the Pakistan army, were trained to distrust the civilians. the British could only create a dependable native force by elevating the soldiers’ self view over that of their own people and thus by aligning their sympathies with their colonial masters. The distrust of the civilians, and as an extension the distrust of the civilian government, is based in this colonial history. Just as not all generals are brave, sagacious, and honest, similarly not all politicians are corrupt: some of them are actually very sincere to their constituents. Besides, one does not accidentally become a political leader: it takes years of work and investment of time and resources and in the end one has to convince thousands of people to vote for you in order to be elected. So, yes there is a lot of corruption in our political system, but to deride the entire political system is neither fair to the politicians nor to the people of Pakistan. We have tried the alternative three times; it failed to make our lives better!

Under the current circumstances, then, it is the politicians’ job to ensure that the  Pakistan army  does not lose its public support: without a culture of general respect and support, the army can neither perform its internal security functions nor protect the nation from foreign aggression. But with the symbolic and material support of the nation behind them, the soldiers and officers can continue to do their best to safeguard Pakistan’s people and its interests. On the other hand the army elite also need to train their officers and men in the habits of democracy: habits that encourage them to see their civilian counterparts as their equals, and values that inform them that they, the soldiers, are there to serve their people and not rule them.

I would like to end this with a reference to US politics and the every day treatment of veterans in the United States. Politically, both major political parties always go out of their way to praise the US armed forces and their service to the country. Every US president makes it a point to valorize and praise the US servicemen and women at the end of every major speech. This happens across the political spectrum: this is political maturity at its best, for despite their political differences the US politicians know that publicly acknowledging the services of men and women in  uniform is crucial to the morale of the armed forces. Furthermore, in the every day culture, when people encounter a veteran, they always look at them and say: “Thank you for your service.” I have seen this a thousand times!! This is the way we used to treat our soldiers! Why cannot we do that now?

So, I am not proposing that the army should have more political power or should have some form of autonomy in shaping national policy: that absolutely is the prerogative of the elected government. What I am suggesting is that while the army should restrict itself to its constitutional role, the politicians should also ensure that they do not attempt to weaken the army image for their limited political goals. In fact, if the politicians do build a politics of confrontation with the army, then by weakening the army they will end up enervating the morale and readiness of the very organization that is crucial to Pakistan’s survival against the internal and external threats.


Pakistan Needs an End to Dynastic Politics

A few weeks ago the Pakistani Twittersphere went ballistic when Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared herself a part of “Ruling Family,” thus suggesting as if she and her family, somehow, should enjoy some special privileges and rights within Pakistan. In a democracy, of course, such ideas are absurd, but sadly some major political parties in Pakistan are built as dynasties and while the average workers may get a chance to advance to a certain level, the top echelons of these political parties still consist of either the children of their founders or close relatives. At this point, the Muslim League (N), Pakistan Peoples Party, and Awwami National Party are all governed by either the founders or the progeny of the founders; same rules always apply to quite a few regional political parties.

If Pakistan hopes to develop a viable democratic system, and if the civic structures and practices are to be reshaped within this democratic norm, then the political parties need to be openly democratic, which means that the party leadership should not be passed from one generation of a family to another. The parties should hold open elections to elect their leadership and the top leadership positions should be open to all members of a political party. Otherwise the entire nation ends up becoming the private property of one large extended political family. Look at the recent Nawaz Sharif cabinet, for example. Almost all the major cabinet positions were either held by Mr. Sharif’s immediate family members or the members of his extended family. 1

Of course, when such is the case with the most powerful political positions in the government, then the children of these leaders feel aptly justified in thinking of themselves as a “natural” ruling class. Our so-called leaders forget that any powerful regime depends for its survival on the “willing” consent of the people. 2 For a group of politicians to consider themselves as part of a “natural” ruling class the recognition of this claim must come from the people, for if no one accepts you as ruling class then, your claims notwithstanding, you cannot become this so-called ruling class. The people, on the other hand, should see the kind of hubris that encourages our cultural and political elite to think of themselves as a “ruling class.”

The two major dynasties in our politics, the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, if we look at their histories, were both propped up by military dictators and served the interest of the dictators in the early years of their political rise. Of course, both these families eventually broke away from their masters and charted a political path of their own, but it is our job as the people of Pakistan to keep reminding them that they gained their ludicrous “ruling family” status by either selling their loyalties to the military dictators, or, if we want to go further in the past, by selling their allegiances to tour erstwhile colonizers. This critique of the “naturalized” claim to being the rulers must be posed consistently through the media and social media. The idea is to let no one get away with the claim that they, somehow, own our destiny as their birth right!

There is a lot at stake in the process of eliminating dynastic politics; the case is intimately connected with politics of personality. Any politics that relies on a narrative of liberation at the hands of one man, one leader, is bound to unleash the macro and micro fascist tendencies in our culture. In simple terms, fascism is nothing more than the deeply internalized belief that one single leader can, somehow, solve all our problems. Thus, any time we look around for one strong leader to liberate us, we are expressing our latent fascism. By eliminating dynastic politics, we might also be able to dislodge this deep seeded fascism in our souls and might then, ultimately, look for collective solutions to our manifold problems.

So, we all must look at our political parties to see how democratic they are in their structures before we give them the power to lead our democracy. Yes, there are some religious parties that do tend to be more democratic, but since they consider one single interpretation of religion as the solution to all our problems, their worldview becomes more exclusivist and less democratic. So, despite their democratic practices in selecting their leadership, their vision of the future will always be restrictive and reliant on one way of looking at the world, which can never be a recipe for success in a country as diverse as Pakistan.

So, over all, besides challenging all assertions of “natural” legitimacy by our political elite, we must also be watchful against all those who claim to know the future and have simple solutions for our problems!


  1. In fact, according to some reports at one point at least 17 members of Nawaz family held political positions and over all, it is said by some, 84 members of this family were in powerful top positions at one time. “Family politics of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif
  2. I am relying on Antonio Gramsci’s explanation of “hegemony” as means of obtaining the willing consent of the people.

Mission Accomplished: A Puppet Democratic Government


According to the latest news from Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper I love and trust, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally been humbled by the army, and for the rest of his term, he will be, as so many of us had feared, a “ceremonial prime minister.” {{1}} [[1]][[1]]

According to the latest reports, the new compromise in the offing has assured the following for the army:

  • The elected government will defer to the army for foreign policy, US relations, and on other strategic defense matters.
  • The elected government will eventually create a path for Pervez Musharraf to leave the country.

Besides the two obvious capitulations by the elected government, it seems that government is now so weak that we are back to the hackneyed and failed method of Pakistani politics: token governments run by the military.

So, in other words, democracy in Pakistan is back to where it used to be and powers that have held our destiny for all these years are back in charge.

I have been openly opposed to the two marches on Islamabad for precisely this reason: I, along with so many others, had feared that these marches would end up weakening the Pakistani political system and open the back doors to the uncocstitutional power brokers. That is what has come to pass.

It no longer matters what happens now: the fragile system is already damaged.  Even if Imran Khan, somehow, becomes the prime minister, he will be yet another puppet, for this is the new formula of power sharing that he has forced on the current government and he himself will have to acquiesce to it.

I understand that Imran Khan has been successful in mobilizing the privileged segment of Pakistani electorate for popular causes, but in the end this mobilization has weakened the very democracy that he and his followers claim to champion. I dare suggest that this is not an accidental outcome. I believe that both Imran and Tahirul Qadri entered this new phase of popular protest with certain understanding with the powers-that-be, and as a result the same powers now have won their way back to state power.

So, yes while it is salutary to see a different kind of political constituency and a different kind of politics, in the end if we cannot support the democratic norm, then it is only a cosmetic difference. Now, if we soon see Pakistan transitioning into the kind of political farce that we have so often seen, we will know who to blame!


Pakistan Civilian-Military Relations

According to an apocryphal story, immediately after General Pervez Musharraf launched his infamous Kargil offensive, the Indian Prime Minister contacted Mr. Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

“Mian Sahib” asked the Indian PM, “What are you doing to us? Why has your army launched an offensive in Kargil?”

“Let me ask my generals and then I will get back to you,” replied Nawaz Sharif

“That is the difference between you and us, Mian sahib; we don’t ask our generals, they ask us before they do anything” is said to have been the Indian PM’s reply.

This story, often repeated in the streets of Pakistan, is also a sort of popular self-awareness of how things stand in Pakistan when it comes to civil-military relationships.

In the military circles, of which I was a part for fourteen years of my life, the civilian administration is always seen as corrupt and inefficient. This view is, of course, partially true especially if one compares the two systems without incorporating their attendant peculiarities. It is easy to be professional and efficient in the military: everyone is trained to do their job and there is an established hierarchy of rank structure buttressed by an uninterrupted history of functionality as an institution. Furthermore, the military leaders only have to deal with highly indoctrinated troops who, being soldiers, have no right to any kind of free will or civic rights. It is easy to command and manage a captive audience.

Our civilian systems, however, neither have a continuous history of functionality nor do they comprise a system in which the hierarchy is clearly established and articulated. Because of various martial laws and other military interventions neither the people nor the so-called leaders have truly learned the ethics and politics of public political life. Resultantly, most of our politicians see their offices as a path to self-agrrandization and have no qualms about using their influence to enrich themselves. Since the system is unstable, the politicians’ psyche is connected to short-term goals. So, instead of refining their message and streamlining a long-term, people-oriented politics, our politicians are more focused on the short-term goals. If the threat of military take-overs had been eliminated, just like the Indians did, then over the last sixty years we would have also developed a more responsive and transparent system of politics and governance.

Pakistan is also still burdened with a medieval system of production in which the large landholders still rely on captive labor to continue reproducing the inequalities that we inherited at the time of the partition. How is the army to blame for this? Quite simply, one look at who did the military mobilize during their regimes will be a good answer: Ayub Khan relied on some heavy weights of Pakistani feudality and Zia-ul-Haq, despite his pseudo-Islamic policies, also worked through the same ”notables” in all regions of Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf, notwithstanding his pronounced liberalism, also worked with cahudries of Gujraat and other such parasites to keep his regime functional. In the entire thirty or so years of the aggregated military rule, not even one of them even hinted at land reforms or tried to disrupt this unjust, unequal system of wealth distribution. In fact, by supporting the zamindars and the waderas, the military has provided them new inroads into the nation’s politics: pretty much all major parties now field feudal candidates from the rural heart of Pakistan, candidates who are basically there to safeguard their own interests and to maintain the status quo.

It is often declared that without the army, Pakistan will disintegrate as a nation. Maybe, that is partially true as a functional national government does need a strong and established armed force to maintain order within its borders, to provide emergency relief, and to also safeguard against foreign aggression. But a deeper look at our system suggests that military itself has become the main cause of Pakistan’s instability and bleak future. This isn’t something new; one look at human history is enough to prove that eventually it is always the high military expenditure that brings nations and empires down. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire relied heavily on the Roman legions for the expansion of empire. But in the end the legions themselves became too expansive to maintain and thus became the cause of the failure of empire. Same happed to the Soviet Union. We are headed the same way. We all know that we cannot afford to spend so much on the military but we must, as our politicians neither have the courage nor the popular support to reign in the military elite.

The civil military relationships in Pakistan, therefore, are a symptom of a nation gone wrong, a nation in which people are still living in squalor while their leaders and their generals live like kings.

It is quite obvious that our politicians are mostly corrupt and probably do not care about the people, but part of this apathy is systemic: if the politicians are in it for the short term and do not have to worry about their long term obligations to their constituents, then the system does not force them to become more receptive to popular demands. The generals, on the other hand, have no reason to pander to the people especially if they can continuously rely on popular distrust of the politicians and a constant invocation of outside threats. The result of this military civilian symbiotic relationship is that Pakistan has increasingly become a dysfunctional state in which might is right and the only way to make ourselves look better is to keep deriding other nations.

Rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a direct result of, among other things, the unequal and unjust society that the army and the politicians have constructed over the years. Think of it this way: if you feel powerless and silenced with no recourse to a functional justice system or a vibrant social system, then you will sign up with anyone who promises to literally restructure the entire socio-economic edifice. The left in Pakistan has never been able to promise such an upheaval: in fact, the Pakistani left, whatever is left of it, has itself become an elitist pursuit by some real and mostly pseudo intellectuals whose political alignment is mostly with the feudal or industrial bourgeoisie. In such a scenario, only the most fundamentalist mullahs can mobilize the people as they can, at the end of the day, at least promise revolutionary change.

In wake of the recent Memogate scandal and other national debacles, it has become evident that the interest of the army and those of our politically elected leaders are on a divergent course. Yes, we need the armed forces: at least, they provide employment for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis directly and indirectly. But we need an army that knows that it is one tool in the hands of popularly elected governments, an army that enables Pakistan to become a viable, pluralistic democracy.

Our politicians also need to learn that they are servants of their people and unless they internalize this core principle, they will continue the inane and self-serving politics that has now made them a joke in the region as well as in the world.

If the present government finishes its term, ineffective as it maybe as a government, it will be the first popularly elected government to do so in my entire lifetime. So, yes, their corruption and failure notwithstanding, let us aid and help this government so that we can have another and yet another popularly elected government. A functioning system of politics is the only way for Pakistan to become a viable nation and for that to happen, the Pakistan army will have to learn to think of itself as an instrument of Pakistani state and the generals will have to learn to be servants of their people: Yes, the very people whose poverty and suffering underwrites the privileges that our generals enjoy as their rights.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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The Arab Spring and the Autumn of the Dictators

For the last few weeks, I have been, like so many other people from the Muslim world, engrossed in the uprising in Libya hoping for a quick end to Qaddafi’s dictatorship. As someone who comes form a country where one after the other dictator has conveniently defiled the national constitution in the name of national service, this new tide of popular uprisings against dictators is really heartening.

This new wave of popular revolutions not only dispels the often racilized views of Arabs and Muslims (A FOX news commentator recently declared that Arabs were genetically unfit for democracy) but also sends a strong message to any future adventurers in our part of the world. It seems our people will no longer allow local dictatorial puppets to become the local policemen for the imperial interests.

These new revolutions, of course, should also be a lesson to the generals in Pakistan: it seems they can no longer oust popularly elected governments in the name of national security.

There is an ironic moment in Pervez Musharraf’s (remember him?) post-coup speech where he indicts Nawaz Sharif’s government for “politicizing the armed forces.” The fact that he does that with a straight face exactly at the moment when he himself has suddenly become a politician is akin to work of art in sophistry.

I also like this image of Musharraf in uniform being greeted in Lahore as he canvasses for his so-called referendum: a general playing a political without even a hint of irony.

let us hope that this new wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East will forestall any future military adventurism.

Next, we need to teach some lessons to our over-fed and anachronistic waderas and zamindars. I am sure there time will come soon.

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Review, India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms, By Amit Ranjan

India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms. Ashutosh Misra. Palgrave Macmillan Publications: New York, 2010. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-230-61937-1.

Lots of books, research articles and editorials focusing upon the need for good relations between India and Pakistan have been written, but the two South Asian, nuclear-armed neighbors are still adamantly hostile to each other. The root cause of their conflict is their claim and counter claim to the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir. They have even fought three full wars, one limited war and a series of proxy wars but are yet to resolve this issue. No formal or informal talks between India and Pakistan can be concluded without raising the subject of ‘Kashmir’. Thinking rationally, one feels that the two countries, for the time being, should put this issue into political cold storage and focus on other bilateral conflicts between them. In the event they resolve those issues they could apply the same mechanism and methods to address Kashmir. Ashutosh Misra’s work is a step in
that direction. Unlike others, he has tried to cautiously avoid the Kashmir issue and focuses upon the negotiations and dialogue process over resolved and nonresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan.

Leaving aside a detailed analysis of the Kashmir question, the author has talked about the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, the Siachin dispute, the Sir Creek dispute, the Rann of Kutch and the Tulbul/ Wular barrage. On the basis of his research, Misra has described the conflict between the two as an “enduring conflict,” a term used by many, including T.V. Paul, to describe India-Pakistan dispute. But despite such disagreements, on certain issues both countries follow the defensive neo-realist dictum that even traditional rivals cooperate if they find that cooperation is in their mutual interest. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is one
such example.

The author has taken into account the theoretical aspects of negotiations, and talks about how negotiations proceed, about ripeness of the dispute, pre-negotiations, negotiation and agreement. India and Pakistan have followed this process but the
relationship is so delicate and complex that one untoward incident negates all the hard work done by an individual or group of individuals. Mr. Vajpayee’s and Nawaz Sharif’s intentions were mowed down by the Kargil episode, then Dr. Manmohan Singh’s and Pervez Musharraf’s step forward faltered due to Mumbai carnage. Once these types of incidents take place the relationship goes back to zero and for any further political engagement one has to start from scratch. There is an absolute lack of continuity in bilateral dialogue, which is a must for resolution of any ensuing conflict. . . .

(For the full version, please visit Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies)


Report: Class, caste and housing in rural Punjab – the untold story of the Marla schemes

Class, caste and housing in rural Punjab – the untold story of the Marla schemes

This research is provided by Hussain Bux Mallah, from Click on the link below to open/ download the PDF version of this research.