- The Military and Pakistan’s Political and Security Disposition
The military is the most formidable political player in Pakistan. The long years of direct and indirect rule have given enough experience and confidence to the military to overshadow core political institutions and processes even when it stays in the barracks. It retains professional skills, organizational capacity, discipline, and determination to set aside civilian processes through direct intervention. However, the military’s preference since 2008 is for exercising political clout from the sidelines for reasons beyond the scope of this review essay. This has given some space to civilian leadership to function in a relatively autonomous manner. The military periodically builds pressure on the civilian government by publicly disagreeing on policy matters, encouraging the political opposition to become more active, forcing a change in civilian political power arrangements, or exercising strong influence in the policy areas of its choice.
Pakistan’s drift from a civilian political system to a military-dominated political order and the implications of this change for the Pakistani state and society, as well as for the country’s foreign and security policies, have drawn the attention of academics and political analysts. Four factors explain this interest: Pakistan’s perennial conflicts with India, its active cooperation with the United States and conservative Arab states to build up Afghan-Islamic resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979–89), Pakistan’s role in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, and its use of Islamic militant groups as an instrument of foreign policy.
The three books under review—The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan by Aqil Shah, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War by C. Christine Fair, and The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World by T.V. Paul—are the latest additions to the literature on Pakistan. All three books show a strong focus on the Pakistani military as a state institution, its ascendancy to power, its dominance of internal political and societal processes, and the formulation of Pakistan’s security and foreign policy profile.
Aqil Shah has contributed the most current and comprehensive study to the literature on civil-military relations in Pakistan. The Army and Democracy combines an analysis of hard historical data with a consideration [End Page 147] of the major theoretical formulations about different facets of civil-military relations and the experiences of several developing countries. This approach enables Shah to assess the dynamics of the Pakistani military’s ascendancy to power, the problems of different military regimes, the means by which these regimes seek to craft political systems that ensure the continuity of the military’s tutelary role, and the impact of military dominance on Pakistan’s internal political choices, foreign policy, and security disposition over the years.
Shah also examines the gradual degeneration and decay of political and societal processes in Pakistan. He identifies the country’s perceived security threats, the inability of civilian and military regimes to ensure meaningful political participation and socioeconomic equity for different ethnic and regional groups, and the unnecessary delay in the framing of a democratic constitutional political order as the main causes of this downward trend. Shah discusses how the Zia and Musharraf regimes strengthened the military’s tutelary role and also analyzes the interaction between various civilian rulers and the top military brass.
While acknowledging the explanations given by other writers for the Pakistani military’s rise to power and expanded role in civilian sectors, Shah focuses on the mindset, orientations, and disposition of the military officers as the principal causes. The critical factor in his view is how the officers articulate their role and self-image as well as their perception of civilian leaders and political...