Ishtiaq Ahmed’s latest book is another outstanding piece of scholarship by an erudite scholar. This intellectually stimulating work is an important addition to the corpus of writings on modern and contemporary Pakistan, which by design and default has emerged as a ‘Garrison State’.
Book Review: Pakistan The Garrison State: Origins, Evolutions, Consequences, 1947-2011
Author: Ishtiaq Ahmed
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi; 2013
Ishtiaq Ahmed’s latest book is another outstanding piece of scholarship by an erudite scholar. This intellectually stimulating work is an important addition to the corpus of writings on modern and contemporary Pakistan, which by design and default has emerged as a ‘Garrison State’. While Farzana Shaikh’s Making Sense of Pakistan helps us understand why political Islam has become the most powerful political ideology and symbol of national identity in Pakistan, the volume under review makes us understand why the military is so preponderant, powerful and influential in the country, so much so that ‘Garrison State’ has become the right expression to describe the country. This well-written book is complementary to several recent publications on Pakistan, especially Husain Haqqani’s Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military; Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc.; Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink; Imtiaz Gul’s The Most Dangerous Place; and last but not least, Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country.
Ishtiaq Ahmed has quite convincingly proved his thesis that Pakistan’s armed forces have virtually become the state, and the main custodian and proponent of political Islam, including ones championed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, Deobandi clerics, the Taliban and other Islamist extremists. The author reveals that thanks to the growing influence of army officers recruited during the Zia regime (1977-1988) — the so-called ‘Zia bhartis’ (Zia recruits — so far as the Pakistan Army is concerned, the so-called “folk-Islam” or liberal Sufi Islam of the Barelvi school of ulema has receded into the background. This informative and analytical work elucidates the following features of the Garrison State: a) how the Pakistani armed forces, especially the army, have established themselves not only as the defenders of the nation’s borders (albeit purportedly, as they were instrumental in the disintegration of the country in 1971) but also of Islam, the state ideology, which seems to be in a constant state of ‘danger’ since 1947;
and b) from time to time ever since the first military takeover in 1958, the armed forces invent new philosophies and policies that have been moulding the nation into a pre-modern civil-military oligarchy.
The author has rightly traced the roots of the Garrison State to the British occupation of the Punjab in 1849, and their subsequent reliance on the province as the ‘sword arm’ of the Empire till the end of the Raj. One finds beautiful narration and critical appraisal of the post-independence history of Pakistan in this volume with regard to the further entrenchment of the military in the body politic of the country. The author has shed new light on the old story as to how and why the bulk of Pakistanis often legitimise military rule, and consider the military the custodians of their freedom, dignity, and most importantly, of Islam.
We find Pakistan is the only nuclear-armed “Islamic nation” tied to the belief that the “enemies of Islam’ within and beyond the region are hell-bent on destroying Islam and Muslims to subjugate them forever “in the eternal conflict between Dar-ul-Islam and Dar-ul-Harb” or between the “House of Islam” and the “House of War”. The author’s illustration of the indoctrination process of the Pakistani masses by their leaders is fascinating. How elite manipulation and cultural hegemony work in neutralising the so-called autonomous domain of mass consciousness (through “false consciousness”) is crucial. As the author demonstrates, contrary to what we find in neo-Marxist Subaltern historiography, elite manipulation has programmed the Pakistani masses into believers of the “evil triumvirate” of the Hanud-Yahud-Nasara (Hindus-Jews-Christians) as the main enemy of Islam, and their country (that even the self-styled “enlightened moderate” General Pervez Musharraf considers) “Islam ka qila” or the “fortress of Islam”.
Thanks to the promotion of the siege mentality, and the consequential popularity of the threat perception, the average Pakistani favours strong armed forces and nuclear weapons.
The book has written 18 well-written chapters. The author has competently used historical, economic, sociological and contemporary data and methods in preparing this significant work on the Garrison State of Pakistan, which academics, analysts, policymakers and security practitioners within and outside Pakistan will find very useful. This volume is a departure from all the previously written — traditional and modern — works on contemporary Pakistan, its armed forces, Islamic militancy and the immediate and long-term future of the country.
I find chapter one, “The Fortress of Islam: A Metaphor for a Garrison State” the most well-written and important chapter of the work. Other chapters are on the British, American and Soviet attitudes towards Pakistan in its formative phase; the colonial roots of its army; the First Kashmir War of 1947-1948; the First Military Takeover; the 1965 War; the growing disenchantment of East Pakistan; the 1971 War and the separation of Bangladesh; the Bhutto and Zia regimes; Islamisation of the polity; the Afghan jihad and other security and governance issues in Pakistan under General Musharraf, and the subsequent civilian government in relation to Islamist militancy, India, the US and the world at large.
The concluding appraisal of the state of affairs in Pakistan is not promising but very important to reflect on by Pakistani elites, policymakers, security analysts and the country’s old and new friends and donors like the US, China and Saudi Arabia:
“The state seems to have lost control in the internal domain as fanatics have been able to hit targets almost at will. Pakistan’s reputation as the epicenter of global terrorism and a rogue state is there to stay for quite some time. Another major terrorist attack outside Pakistan can create a dangerous situation for the security and existence of Pakistan. It is, therefore, imperative that the stakeholders in the Pakistan power equation — especially the military — work out a long-term policy and strategy that can create stability, peace, and prosperity within Pakistan as well as help normalise relations with its neighbours — provided they, too, nurture similar aspirations” [p.470].
(To be continued)
The writer is a professor of Security Studies at the Austin Peay State University, Tennessee, USA