- The Normative Underpinnings of Pakistan’s Military
The number of books devoted to the study of Pakistan’s military continues to grow, and with good reason. Any understanding of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy begins with an appreciation of the role played by the country’s premier political institution, the army. The volumes by C. Christine Fair, T.V. Paul, and Aqil Shah add richly to the literature on the army and militarism in Pakistan. As in other studies, the preoccupation of Pakistan’s military with the perceived threat of India looms large in the authors’ analyses. The adversarial nature of civil-military relations and the military’s mercurial relations with the United States are also familiar themes. These three books stand apart, however, in the weight given to strategic culture in forming attitudes and behavior within Pakistan’s military. Fair finds the army’s ideology and mentality necessary for explaining the biases in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Shah focuses on those beliefs and mindsets in the army that lead to its repeated interventions against civilian authority. Paul shows how the military’s thinking, particularly about India, has prevented the country from emerging as a development-oriented state and has instead turned it into a garrison state.
While employing a similar normative approach, the books frame their analyses around different leading questions. Fair asks why after almost seven decades Pakistan has been unable to accommodate itself to India’s regional preeminence and has stayed committed to a revisionist foreign policy regarding Kashmir, despite the detrimental consequences. She finds the answer in Pakistan’s apprehensions about its larger neighbor that are driven more by ideology than security. It is a military fixed on an image of India as an aggressive power whose aim is to dominate Pakistan and the South Asian region. Fair describes a military that uses Pakistan’s founding national ideology, Islam, to unify the country against India’s supposed existential threat.
Paul is most concerned about why Pakistan has remained a security state and has failed to move toward becoming a sustainable democracy. After explaining the historical and sociological reasons behind this failure, he argues that in large part what perpetuates military dominance [End Page 143] is war preparation that has siphoned off the country’s scarce resources and distracted its citizens from demanding economic and social reforms. Paul points to the state’s execution of U.S regional strategic objectives in return for aid as having disincentivized the political elite from taking the route to sustainable economic growth and political reform.
Shah explores why the military has repeatedly intervened in the country’s political affairs. Drawing on historical evidence, he traces the expansion of authoritarianism to nation-building problems and the conception of members of the army’s higher officer corps about the appropriate institutional role of the military in national security, governance, and democracy. Shah finds that the perceived security threat from India, coupled with ethnic and linguistic cleavages during Pakistan’s formative years, led to the military’s rapid modernization and development at the cost of economic growth and civil-institution building. Periods of instability under civilian rule strengthened the army’s belief in itself as the protector of the state against external threats, ethnic fragmentation, and incompetent and corrupt politicians.
In the best sense, these are academic books. They ground their analyses solidly within the political science literature and international relations theory. All three books provide deep historical context and single out the importance of political events in the shaping of the military’s frame of mind. Largely free of jargon, they are written for both a well-informed and general readership. Methodologically, there are commonalities. Fair and Shah are particularly interested in...