The Gradual Rise of the Military

What helped the military most to maintain its professional disposition was Pakistan’s syndrome of insecurity, which is due mainly to the strained relations with India dating back to the early years of independence. The Pakistani elite viewed India’s policies as a threat to Pakistan’s security and survival as a nation-state. A strongly held view was that India wanted to subdue, if not dismantle, the Pakistan state. Perceptions of India based on antagonism and fear influenced Pakistan’s domestic politics and foreign policy.

Pakistan became more security conscious in the post Bangladesh period because India had clearly demonstrated its military superiority in defeating Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Pakistan was reduced in size and it suffered from a crisis of confidence. The power balance in South Asia, which already favoured India, further tilted to its advantage as New Delhi embarked on a massive military expansion in the 1970s. Moreover, despite the restoration of peace through the signing of the Simla Accord in 1972, mutual distrust and conflicting national aspirations often disrupted dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s national security policy was also shaped by Afghanistan’s irredentist claims on Pakistani territory and intermittent troubles in the tribal areas. India’s support for Afghanistan’s policy towards Pakistan was a source of further concern. As Pakistan joined the US-sponsored defence alliances in the early 1950s, the Soviet Union retaliated by openly supporting Afghan territorial claims on Pakistan. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 and the intensification of the civil strife in Afghanistan exacerbated Pakistan’s security problems and led it to seek support from the West and from Muslim countries.

These security compulsions had several important implications for civil-military relations. For one, defence requirements enjoyed top priority in Pakistan. Whether the government was under a civilian or a military leader, Islamabad always allocated the largest percentage of its national budget to defence. When it functioned, the national legislature underlined the need to maintain a strong defence posture and supported the high budgetary allocations for defence. General Zia ul Haq argued that defence was not merely important in its own right ‘but the economic prosperity of a country depended on the military’s capability to defend its geographical frontiers’ (Dawn 6 February 1987). He further maintained that the armed forces guaranteed a secure environment for national development in industry, agriculture, education and allied fields (Pakistan Times Overseas Weekly 28 February 1988).

Second, security pressures were often cited by the military governments to deflect demands for political participation and suppress dissent. The standard official argument was that there were serious threats to Pakistan’s territorial integrity and the opposition groups should not make political demands. The military regimes also raised the spectre of linkages between external adversaries and dissident groups within the country who were alleged to be serving the cause of the ‘foreign masters’.

Third, the maximum possible allocation of resources to defence facilitated modernisation of the armed forces. The military also benefited from Pakistan’s decision to join Western-sponsored pacts in the 1950s as well as by the reinvigoration of Pakistan-US relations after the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. The new weapons, military hardware, and extensive training that the three services obtained under these arrangements improved their professional disposition and gave them greater confidence.

And finally, these developments served to accentuate the imbalance between the disciplined, cohesive and self-confident military and the weak and fragmented political institutions. The military grew in stature and continued to enjoy respect in society. The reputation of politicians declined and the political institutions degenerated over time. They were unable to control the military. ‘It was too powerful for civilians to tamper with and virtually ran itself without outside interference’ (Cohen 1987). It was therefore not surprising that when the military decided to displace civilian governments in 1958, 1969 and 1977, it faced no opposition and many groups welcomed the assumption of power by the military.