Pakistan The Garrison State: Origins, Evolutions, Consequences, 1947-2011
Author: Ishtiaq Ahmed
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi; 2013
Ishtiaq Ahmed’s interesting book demonstrates how and why a weak and apolitical army evolved into the most powerful institution in Pakistan, virtually having de facto veto power over politics. It also controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and formulates its domestic and foreign policies. The circumstances that turned the Pakistan army into one of the most pampered armies in the world and the “custodian of Islam” are interesting. The author has beautifully narrated the story in historical and contemporary perspectives as to how Pakistan has become a Garrison State.
We learn from the book that as the British promoted a “proto-garrison state” in what is Pakistan today, the Cold War also played an important role in the ascendancy of the military in the country; and that Pakistan’s “three donors”, the US, China and Saudi Arabia, have played important roles in this regard. The author also elucidates as to how from the 1980s onward, hawkish and Islamist officers have been nurturing the concepts of global jihad and Pan-Islamism beyond South Asia. “Along with hard-core Islamists, the hawks began to imagine Pakistan as a great, expansive, regional power extending to western and central Asia and a liberated Kashmir free from Indian occupation,” explicates the author (p.4). Ahmed has rightly pointed out that while officially Pakistan spends around 2.6 percent of its GDP on defence or around $ 5.5 billion (compared to India’s $ 34 billion), it actually spends much more. In 2009 it spent around 23 percent on defence and only 1.3 percent on health and 7.8 percent on education. The cocorresponding figures for India are18 percent on defence, 3.4 percent on health and 12.7 percent on education. And that Pakistan’s rich and powerful hardly pay any income tax. Relying on Ayesha Siddiqa’s data, the author reasserts the fact that a Pakistani general legally acquires assets worth Rs 150 to 400 million.
We know that Pakistan is possibly the worst example of a post-colonial state. After the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the bureaucracy literally ran the country until the first military takeover in October 1958. The overdeveloped bureaucracy and military along with a well-entrenched “feudal” aristocracy have been running the country, while the weak and marginalised civil society and further marginalised masses remain subservient. Thanks to the Cold War exigencies, while Islamists flourished, leftist and even liberal democratic opposition have remained weak and disorganised. The author points out that Hamza Alavi ignored the Cold War aspect in the marginalisation of the left and the corresponding rise of Islamist forces in Pakistan. Weak civilian organisations have failed to tackle better-organised armed forces that also carry arms. The military has not only legitimised itself as the custodian of freedom and Islam but has also promoted the culture of mistrust towards democracy and civilians. The military from time to time also projects “internal threats” as the biggest security challenge to Pakistan. The author has aptly suggested that Pakistan’s physical distance from the US has been a factor behind the country’s enjoying “considerable autonomy” when compared to Latin American countries with regard to US intervention.
This work helps us understand Harold Lasswell’s arguments that a) advanced military technology alters the civil-military relations to the advantage of the military; and b) a broad social base rather than the traditional narrow social base of the ruling classes supports the garrison state. Military officers in a garrison state provide a broad range of services besides security. They run the state and its economy; create jobs; and provide other services. Most importantly, they create an “obedient and docile population indoctrinated to believe in the inevitability of war” and the indispensability and superiority of the armed forces. As the author argues, Pakistan has become an ideal Machiavellian garrison state where political Islam being the state ideology has turned the country into the “Fortress of Islam”.
The book is very enlightening both for experts and general readers. I find the following expositions by the author very useful that: a) all coup makers justify their action as “unpleasant” but “necessary” for the safety and integration of the country, to protect from internal threats (from politicians); b) as articulated by Asghar Khan, the Pakistan Army was responsible for all the four wars it fought against India. The author has aptly argued that the rationale for the Garrison State lies in the successful manufacture of fear of foreign aggression and fear of internal subversion by civilians in cahoots with politicians, by manipulating the generals. We cannot agree more with the author that: “In addition to the fear of foreign aggression, historical and cultural factors can help generate an ideology of the garrison state.” A state needs a “damning narrative about the enemy, a victimhood self-identity, and an imperative to maintain a strong and powerful military.” Consequently, as the author argues, in Pakist an “threat perception” rather than “threat” has become the main steering force of statecraft. He has succinctly narrated the history of the failure of civil administration in Pakistan after the assassination of its first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951.
As the author has elaborated the internal dynamics of “garrison states”, he has also discussed the external factors behind such states. He has rightly pointed out the US as the superpower that tolerated and promoted several garrison states besides Pakistan, such as Taiwan, Israel, South Korea and Indonesia during the Cold War. I find the author’s following observation very interesting for understanding why countries like Pakistan are under military tutelage: “Pakistan can continue as a post-colonial garrison state as long as the donors are willing to provide it with the required resources, and it can convince or coerce its population that the struggle for survival necessitates prioritisation of the allocation of scarce resources to security and defence.”
Last but not least, the author has shattered the myths that only the military is responsible for turning a democracy into a Garrison State. Civilian politicians play an important role in this regard; and that a country under military rule is better able to fight external enemies. Pakistan narrowly survived the 1965 war against India and in the next encounter with India in 1971 it lost its eastern wing. And during both the wars that Pakistan forced on India, generals ran the country.
The writer is a professor of Security Studies at the Austin Peay State University, Tennessee, USA