Is Punjab dominant due to the Army?

Raza Habib Raja

We know that Pakistan is an ethnically diverse society and such society actually requires a decentralized political arrangement. However, due to a strong centre primarily dominated by Punjab, there are widespread and mostly justified complaints from the smaller provinces.

The dominance of Punjab is springing from a host of possible reasons, which are: high population allowing it to dominate legislature; resource allocation mechanism which is based on population; dominance in civil and military bureaucracy ; and promotion of “patriotic “ nationalism and Islamic identity which are basically geared at ensuring a strong centre.

One of the major rationales often cited about Punjab’s ability to dominate is its extraordinary representation in armed forces. It is argued that since army, both officer as well as lower cadre, is chiefly drawn from Punjab, therefore it allows the province to enforce its hegemony over the smaller provinces. While there is no doubt that Punjab benefits more due to higher representation in army, but it remains to be seen whether army is systematically and consciously working/conniving to ensure Punjab’s interests.

The key questions are: Does the army systematically and more importantly INTENTIONALLY safeguard Punjab’s interest or army is merely protecting and promoting its institutional interests and Punjab due to its dominance in the army gets  “spill over” benefits?

In my personal opinion, Punjab’s dominance primarily springs from other reasons such as an unfair NFC award, excessive centralization, ideological stress on promotion  of political Islam and only to some extent from armed forces though having a huge representation in armed forces does benefit Punjab.

There is absolutely no doubt that Punjab dominates the armed forces both in the jawan as well as officer cadre. Armed forces have a tremendous budget allocated to them (a huge portion of it is not quantified even though Miss Ayesha Siddiqua’s book does make a good attempt). Consequently, as a result the benefits accruing to army affect more Punjabi households rather than other provinces. And these benefits are extraordinary ranging from subsidized commercial plots, after retirement high profile civilian jobs to memberships at paltry rates to otherwise very expensive clubs.

However a closer look would reveal that most of these benefits are actually accruing to three districts of Attock, Jhelum, and Rawalpindi. The high recruitment from these areas is a legacy of colonial times. Yes there is a spill over effect to other areas as well but primarily the economic benefits within Punjab are restricted to these areas.

Secondly it is true that while Punjab gets more benefits due to its higher representation but army’s interest may or may not be completely synonymous with Punjab’s interests each time. Yes these may even overlap at times but we need stronger evidence to conclude that army is a non elected political institution SOLELY geared to just ensure Punjab’s hegemony.  Let’s not forget that army has intervened two times to remove Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi Politician. First time it was a completely chaotic situation with a very realistic chance of a clash between federal security and Punjab police (1993). The second time army moved to protect itself as an institution and deposed Nawaz Sharif after he had dismissed General Musharraf who was of Mohajir ethnicity. Before the whole Musharraf drama occurred, Nawaz Sharif was actually trying to take peace measures with India. It is argued and with justification that army staged Kargil to derail peace process at that time.

Musharraf’s coup is an interesting case as it took place when technically Musharraf was not even a CNC. He had already been deposed and there was no “official” obligation for the core commanders.  The majority of core commanders who brought the coup were from Punjab and they moved to ensure the preservation of their institution’s privileged status and had no qualms in deposing Nawaz. For army, its own interests reign supreme and these may or may not always coincide with that of Punjab and its civilian rulers.

However, having said that whereas army may not be always consciously safeguarding and promoting Punjab’s interest its ideological orientation does have some effect. Ideologically armed forces are geared to hold up Islamic values as well as Pakistani nationalism in terms of their orientation and identity. This ideological orientation, designed chiefly to ensure internal cohesiveness and combating zeal, is also identical with the general state nurtured ideology which tries to negate ethnic plurality.  So whenever army is in direct power its ideological thrust amalgamates with and in fact reinforces that of the broader state’s cultivated ideology. In fact that is why generally armed forces are viewed as more “patriotic’ by a substantial chunk of Punjabi middleclass as they appear to hold the same values as that of the latter.

Moreover, the centralised modus operandi of army, though originally designed for military and professional purposes, gels well with the overall centralized state structure when army is in power. Thus small wonder that every military rule has seen a reinforcement of centralized way of governance and thus ethnic rift has increased during every rule.

Personally I think that the relationship between army and Punjab’s dominance exists but is somewhat murky to be conclusive with respect of causality. Dominance even if attributed to Punjab’s high representation in armed forces is not always a result of their (armed forces) conscious efforts. Yes there are times when the interests of the province and army will coincide but army does not consciously, at least most of the time, connive to promote Punjabi interests.

Yes, if we change the army’s composition it will ensure more benefits to other provinces but may not change the centralized structure favouring Punjab. Over emphasis on population based distribution of resources  is diverting too much resources to Punjab’s advantage  The overall state structure with all its political institutions, elected and non elected, are geared towards excessive centralization both administratively and ideologically. This centralized structure is the major culprit and it has Punjab as its major beneficiary. Beneficiary parties, irrespective of their ethnicity, seldom give up privileges voluntarily.

The better way to wriggle out of this situation would be decentralize, remove emphasis on promotion of political Islam and yes may be divide Punjab into smaller provinces. In NFC award the percentage weightage of revenue collection and poverty has to increase.


Filed under Army, Identity, Islam

19 responses to “Is Punjab dominant due to the Army?

  1. Feroz Khan

    @ Raza

    A very interesting article.

    The removal of political Islam is impossible in Pakistan, because the promotion of political Islam is what sustains the politics in Pakistan.

    This is where the money is; the politicans know this and they will not kill this golden goose. The biggest promoter of political Islam in Pakistan is Saudi Arabia. I doubt there is a single politican in Pakistan with the guts to call a spade a spade, when it comes to Saudi involvment in Pakistan but they do occassionally refer to it as “the hidden hand”.


  2. Raza Raja

    @ feroz khan..

    well i think the political Islam has not been used to radicalize the population but as a strategic tool to subdue sub national ehtnic expression and also to appease the right wing at critical moments.
    I think too some extent Punjab also owns its dominance to this strategy though this is not the only factor.
    Any ways the central thrust of the above article is to introspect the relationship between armed forces and Punjab. It argues that while Punjab may partially owe its dominance to armed forces but other factors are more responsible.

  3. pankaj

    Respected Sir,
    Punjab province has around 60 percent population.

    And power in pakistan oscillates between Army and politicians.
    So basically the power struggle is a “Punjabi struggle ” .

    Army is mainly Punjabi and the majority of the of number of MP s is also Punjabi.

    So The punjabi ” tug of war ” is what pakistani politics is all about

  4. Raza Raja

    @ pankaj

    the article has a different thrust as it tries to inspect a relation between Punjab’s dominance and army.
    Army though dominated by Punjab also constitutes a substantial pukhtun element. plus army in my opinion tries to defend its own interests first rather than Punjab’s interests as such.
    Punjab dominance is only partly due to army and chiefly due to other factors.

  5. Ally

    As a Pakistani Punjabi person, i wish they would cut the current Punjab into three smaller provinces… then you will see that the northern province is the one calling all the shots regards the army, it is the Lahore – Faislabad area that is more economically dominant and that is what it is more skewed towards, the southern part is dominated by big landlords who keep their ppl down…

    Once Punjab is split further, the smaller provinces can blame the appropriate part, instead of the Punjabi bashing that they like to partake in, as if we are the source of all the problems!

    When they won’t have Punjab to blame then they should look to thier own vaderas/choudries/nawabs etc.

    The economically more advanced areas are also better developed, why? Because we Lahoris have worked hard at it, we encourage business and enterprise (maybe not as much as Karachi) but all you have to do is look across the Ravi to see how India is doing… why is it doing better, because they concentrate on economics instead of vaderas and religious indoctrination…

    If the Seraikis and Potoharis have a problem i would rather they go to Multan and Rawalpindi and question their representatives directly, instead of taking the easy way out and blaming Lahore…

    They want their own province and i would happily want them to have it…

  6. I think we should not drag Army into domestic politics of provinces. Pakistan Army is far above it and we should leave it like that. The mere numbers are because Punjab’s population is more than others.
    I think the writer has not served in the Army, otherwise he would have know that there exists no nonsense about Punjab’s dominance in the Army and its thinking. When wearing boots all respect each other and remain united.
    Let posts like this should not create misunderstandings, God knows at the behest of whose?

  7. Raza Raja

    @Jalal HB

    Sir have you read the article even? It actually negates the commonly held view that army is consciously safeguarding Punjab’s interests.
    I think rather than coming up with remarks such as
    “Let posts like this should not create misunderstandings, God knows at the behest of whose?”
    At least read the article first.

    This article was writtten because there is this widely held view that army is consciously promoting punjab. It tried to inspect that and concludes that Punjab’s dominance is due to other factors.

  8. Talha

    ISI is majority Pathan though, for obvious reasons.

  9. Feroz Khan

    @ Raza

    Punjab’s dominance of Pakistani politics actually has its roots in an administrative sense. In pre-1947, Lahore was the administrative center of the British Raj in India and was the most developed of all the provinces that came to Pakistan.

    While the other provinces of Pakistan were developing after partition and responding to the problems, Punjab was already better placed and simply took advantage of its situation to become the first among equals.


  10. Raza Raja

    @ feroz khan

    Yes historically it is correct. However it also benefits due to higher population and NFC award based on it. resoources are too some extent skewed towards Punjab.

  11. due

    The real CIA that is misusing Pakistan is not the US-CIA but the triad-CIA comprising of China I.(=the religion) and Arabs (=their money-bags and racism/chauvinism).

    The west-panjabis (=pakistani panjabis) are reduced to being minions (even bootlickers) of this triad-CIA.

    When A oppresses and insults B then B looks around for some C weaker than himself and lets loose his anger at C.

    The pashtuns have an imperialist-robber history and are ready to kill at the slightest insult. Hence the muslim panjabi is scared of them. So the muslim panjabi lets loose his anger at sindhis, baloch, ahmediya, christians, hindus etc.

    This development is pre-programmed in the idea of Pakistan.

  12. Talha

    @ due

    LOL, classic comment.

    Thanks for the good laugh.

  13. Hira Mir

    Pakistan is ethnically diverse but there is a concern of intolerance in the country. Minority rights and sectarian violence lead to lack of peace in the country.

  14. Sh

    Well if population is the only criteria for selection in Pak army then I wonder why there were not enough Bengalis in Pak army before 1971. It should be accepted that punjabis dominated the army even when they were not in majority. About there patriotism…. Our soldiers fight only when Punjab is in danger… they fought in 1965 but not in 1971…. We lost 60% of Pakistan’s population…. No one cared about that 60% share of bengal then… Only thing that they were busy with was wine, wealth and women as stated in Hamood-ur-rehman commission report… The report has a lot to say and perhaps that is why the whole report has never been made public just to keep the identity of these BRAVE GENERALS hidden… It is indeed true that major part of the armed forces come from northern punjab but they are punjabis anyway…. I am not against the recruitment of Punjabis in the army but wonder why there had not been a single sindhi or balochi General…. Often I’ve heard that people from these two provinces are not that brave…. If that is so how are they fighting a war against the Pakistan military from the caves of Balochistan?? Pakistan has been ruled more by army then by elected governments which clearly means that during all those periods when army ruled, the interests of punjab were safeguarded at the cost of other provinces.

    Example of Nawaz sharif has been given just to tell that even a punjabi prime minister was removed. He was removed because he was interferring in the internal matters of the army otherwise he would have stayed in power. He was punjabi thats why he was not killed and neither he had a media trial. There are videos and photos that are enough evidence to keep him and other members of his party in jail for attacking the judiciary. Judges had to run from their chambers to save their lives. Yet no one says anything against nawaz sharif in the media. Asif Zardari remained in jail for so long and no charge against him was proved in the honourable court. Still if you see any of the talk shows on tv , the anchor and others would be chanting the mantra of “remove zardari”
    Often journalists write in newspapers that he is an unpopular leader. If he had been an unpopular leader he wouldn’t have been an elected president. Besides when he came out of the jail and when he arrived in lahore after exile he was received by much people then the so-called popular leader from punjab Nawaz Sharif.
    When Nawaz Sharif came back to Pakistan after living in exile which was a result of a deal between him and musharraf only few people went to receive him at the airport. He was not allowed to enter the country but when BB came and people thronged the airport to receive her punjab at once decided that nawaz sharif should come back even if he has no one to receive at the airport. That move was made because a premeir from sindh is hard to digest for the punjab based army so had to cut her votes. Later the world saw how brutally she was killed and now her husband is being accused for everything wrong.
    That is being done just to tarnish the image of PPP. The ghost of zulfikar bhutto is still a nightmare for many Generals. They just don’t want an elected govt and they are afraid of the Sindh because this province has never ever supported the autocratic rule. Sindh was against the formation of one unit and the martial laws. Sindh was against the bombing of the caves in Balochistan for killing a baloch leader. No province has supported democracy and given the lives of their leaders for the sake of democracy as Sindh has…. Still people from sindh and balochistan are thought to be not as patriotic as punjabis…. If killing of the elected prime minister, attacks on the judiciary, illegal construction of link canals, martial law is what called patriotism then I don’t think sindhis or balochis will ever be called patriotic….

  15. Talha

    @ Sh

    “The report has a lot to say and perhaps that is why the whole report has never been made public just to keep the identity of these BRAVE GENERALS hidden”

    The brave Generals you are referring to includes Yahya Khan, Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi and the likes.

    Yahya should not have become C-in-C, he was a favorite of Ayub and that is the only reason why he was COAS. A better option would have been General Akhtar Hussain Malik.

    Musa Khan too should not have become C-in-C, it should have been General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi.

  16. Sh

    Ayub again was a General so here at least we cannot blame any civilian prime minister to have made a wrong choice…
    Yes I was referring to the same generals u have mentioned…. They were exporting Paan from Bengal when we were in a state of war… Money!! thats all they wanted to have in their life

  17. Talha

    @ Sh

    Ayub, though I like him and his time, only became C-in-C because Maj. Gen Iftikhar Khan died in a plane crash.

  18. Sh

    well I didn’t know this… Thank you🙂
    Haven’t seen his time so cannot say anything🙂

  19. Rashid Aurakzai

    You forgot to mention Chakwal as Army’s another nursery.

    It does draw its support mostly from Panjab but it also has its own class (petty feudal and burgeoise) created over years by obliging retired officers. Mush Era in particular has converted even junior but ‘smart’ officers, into businessmen.

    Defence budget and strong center are rarely accepted as basic issues ailing Pakistan. For healthier and viable polity the first thing necessary is cutting and restructuring of defence followed by complete provinicial autonomy.

    This can hardly be expected from nascent and yes weak democratic opportunists, as we have but that does not make an argument for another overture of democracy. Until such a party evolves intellectuals must articulate Army’s overstepping of constitution.

    Masses and Islam are inalienable. Even a serf in Sind is waiting for Allah.The best and pragmatic approach will be

    1.Stopping its false teaching and misinterpretting by the state itself and its non-state actors,

    2. Inculcating and incouraging free and rational thinking in national carriculum.

    3. Incouraging argument and debate on religiously shying issues.

    4.Countering religiosity with more Islam.

    5. Emphasising and promoting more Quran than Hadith or Imams’ quotes.