Pakistan as a security state
By Irfan Husain | Dawn 12 Dec, 2009
Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Ayub Khan in Karachi. PHOTO: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
Over the years, many readers have asked me why Pakistan should fear an attack from India. They suggest that as we are under no threat from our eastern neighbour, our army could move more of its troops to the Afghan border where heavy fighting is going on, and where our embattled units could do with reinforcements.
For the answer to this question, we need to enter into the innermost recesses of the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche. The younger generations on both sides of the border obviously have no direct knowledge of the bitterness and bloodshed that attended partition.
I was three when we arrived in Karachi from New Delhi, and the story of how our train was attacked on the way is part of the family lore. I have a vague recollection of Liaquat Ali Khan’s famous speech in which he pointed his fist in India’s direction in a show of defiance. He was assassinated shortly thereafter, in 1951.
For just a brief moment, step into the shoes of a senior army officer surveying the strategic scenario from his GHQ in Rawalpindi, shortly after the birth of Pakistan. He sees a large, hostile neighbour to the east. East Pakistan is separated from West Pakistan by over 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Hordes of refugees are flooding across the border. Many of the military resources that were to be transferred to Pakistan have been blocked by India.
Soon after partition, hostilities begin in Kashmir, confirming the establishment’s worst fears about Indian intentions. Never mind that after the initial attack launched by tribesmen into Kashmir to help their Muslim brethren, it was the Pakistan Army that played a major role. In the mind of most Pakistanis at the time, this was a legitimate campaign to bring Muslim-majority Kashmir into the fold.
Even as a child, I remember hearing constant talk about how India wanted to ‘undo’ partition, and was waiting for the new state to collapse. Newspapers were often full of statements by leaders on both sides of the border hurling threats and accusations at each other.
Against this backdrop of fear and paranoia, it is easy to see why the Pakistani leadership reached to the West to bolster security. India had already established close relations with the Soviet Union, and China had not recovered from decades of chaos caused by war and civil strife.
Every state has security concerns, and needs resources to address them. The task of the leadership is to decide how total available funds will be divided between the imperative of guarding national frontiers, and the needs of the population. In a democracy, these competing demands on the exchequer are mediated through parliament. But when the military seizes control of the state, it can dictate the size of the cake it wants for itself.
In Pakistan, where we currently have all the outer trappings of democracy, the army has made sure that elected governments are too weak to challenge it either on the question of resource allocation, or over core security-related policies. The recent army-inspired furore over the Kerry-Lugar Act is an indication of the grip the generals have on real power.
Over the years, the army came to perceive that apart from external threats, it also had to guard against internal weakness. In the eyes of the military establishment, the political class and the democratic system were both sources of instability, and thus had to be kept under strict check. What it failed to see (and still does not) is that its own repeated interventions have done more to weaken the fabric of the state than any other factor.
By becoming the self-appointed guardian of ‘Pakistan’s ideological frontiers,’ the army took on a third role, and one for which it needed the cooperation of the Islamic parties.
This suited the mullahs perfectly, as it permitted them to advance their reactionary agenda in a Muslim country where they were regularly thumped at the polls. This marriage of convenience was sanctified during the Afghan war when jihadis from around the world flocked to fight the godless Soviet Union.
Generations of young officers at the military academy at Kakul have been taught that India is the eternal enemy; and that civilians are a necessary evil who have to be endured, but never trusted. A part of this indoctrination is the notion that one Muslim soldier is equal to 10 Hindus.
These are the officers now manning the highest positions of the defence forces. They are also the ones who shape Pakistan’s foreign relations, especially with nations affecting our security.
In the 1990s, when India made rapid economic strides, it became clear to even our military establishment that Pakistan could no longer compete in terms of conventional military power. While we matched India’s nuclear programme at crippling expense, we could not keep up with our traditional foe in terms of planes, tanks and men.
Above all, we had lost the technological edge that American weaponry had given us. Years of sanctions triggered by our nuclear programme lie behind the anti-Americanism that infects our officer corps, and through them, much of our media.
In order to restore the military balance, our establishment turned to the army of jihadis raised to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. When the Kashmiri uprising began spontaneously following rigged elections in the late 1980s, Pakistan reacted by first training Kashmiri freedom fighters, and then infiltrating Pakistani terrorists belonging to various jihadi outfits. India responded by sending in several army divisions. This suited our generals fine, as they had tied down close to half a million Indian soldiers by sending in just a few thousand jihadis.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan’s support of the Taliban in this period held out the promise of a compliant government in Kabul. These policies were turned on their head by 9/11, when all forms of terrorism began to be viewed as anathema by the international community. The Americans, in particular, put huge pressure on Musharraf to halt his use of Islamic holy warriors as proxies.
But old habits die hard. India is still seen as the real foe. Above all, Pakistan’s generals are convinced that sooner rather than later, the Americans will be forced to pull out because of flagging public support, much as they did from Vietnam. In this scenario, they are sure India would be asked to step in to ensure that the Taliban do not return to Kabul.
Should this happen, Pakistan would be encircled by Indian forces, and this is the security state’s worst nightmare.