- Getting beyond Opacity:New Light on Pakistan’s Enigmatic Army
The Pakistan Army is one of the largest ground forces in the contemporary world. It is also arguably one of the most important military institutions in Asia and the neighboring Persian Gulf region. Factors contributing to the Pakistan Army’s significance include its role in the near-term future of Afghanistan and in the stability of Pakistan itself, its long history of conflict with India, its predominant position in Pakistan’s premier national intelligence agency, and its management of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The Pakistan Army has also been the deciding voice in the country’s most sensitive foreign relations, has ruled Pakistan for more than half of the country’s existence, and has been the most powerful actor on the domestic political scene even when a general has not been serving as president. Yet despite its importance, this army remains largely opaque, little studied, and poorly understood, even within Pakistan.
A key reason for our limited knowledge is the wall of secrecy that the army assiduously maintains to protect its image. The near-total absence of archival material is one result of the army’s information policies. Hard data is rare and researchers are left to sift through interviews, personal experiences, and the military’s limited range of publications in search of deeper understanding. Despite these daunting research challenges, a growing number of scholars have attempted to penetrate the army’s armor in recent years. The three works under consideration here are valuable additions to this encouraging trend at both the theoretical and empirical levels.1
Although all three draw heavily on Pakistan’s history, these are not military histories per se. Rather they are analyses of the army as an institution and its interaction with the Pakistani state, society, and foreign policy, especially with regard to India, Afghanistan, the United States, and, to a lesser degree, China. Several key features are worth noting at the outset. First, all three authors place their analyses in helpfully explanatory [End Page 138] theoretical frameworks. T.V. Paul takes an international relations approach to examine Pakistan as a “warrior state” with a “Hobbesian, hyper-realpolitik” worldview and suffering a “geographic curse” analogous to the “resource curse” that distorts development in other parts of the world. He contrasts Pakistan’s status with that of “war-making” European countries and erstwhile military-ruled Asian and African states that he sees as benefiting from the global economy and moving toward democracy or at least some form of greater political inclusion. While Paul asks why Pakistan has remained on a garrison state trajectory when other states have changed course, C. Christine Fair interrogates the Pakistan Army’s publications to explicate the state’s persistently “revisionist” behavior. “Revisionism,” in her terminology, goes well beyond the territorial dispute over Kashmir to embrace a far more ambitious goal of “holding India back” to maintain some kind of permanent parity with its much larger neighbor. She thus argues that Pakistan’s “revisionism” is driven more by ideology than security and asks why Pakistan has continued on this path when its efforts over the past six decades have yielded only negative consequences for its own fortunes. Aqil Shah’s analysis is more focused on Pakistan’s domestic political structure, probing the army’s tenacious dominance of state power when many other countries have moved away from authoritarian military regimes over the past two decades.
The theoretical frameworks these authors have selected allow them to offer comprehensive and fresh assessments of Pakistan and its armed forces. Their analyses are buttressed by utilization of untapped source material. All three draw on interviews and standard secondary works, but Fair and Shah...