Forbidden Fruit: Military and Politics in Pakistan (and beyond)

From Dr Hamid Hussain

While browsing through some old material, found an old piece written in 2003 when General Pervez Mussharraf had just completed the political engineering project. It is lengthy and indulges in some theories but gives some context to what is happening now. While pondering over it, I found words of Amjad Islam Amjad as best description;

Hum loog;

dairoon mein chalte hein

dairoon mein chalnen se

daire to barhtey hein

fasley nahin ghatey

aarzoen chalti hein

jis taraf ko jate hein

manzilein tammana ki

saath saath chalti hein

gard urhti rehti hey

dard barhta rehta hey

rastey nahin ghatey

subhe dam sitaroon ki

tez jhilmilahat ko

roshni ki amad ka

pesh baab kehtey hein

ik kiran jo milti hey

aftab kehte hein

daira badalne ko

inqilab kehtey hein

Enjoy if you have some extra time on hand.


Forbidden Fruit – Military & Politics

Hamid Hussain



Politics and profession of soldiering has nothing in common. They are totally different but essential elements of any society. Politicians and soldiers have an interesting relationship in all societies. In societies where civilians are in control, military officers act in accepted boundaries though ready to defend their turf against civilian encroachment. In societies where political institutions are weak and there is lack of consensus on legitimate course of succession, soldiers gradually expand their area of influence. They gradually restrict the role of civilians in various areas and sometimes directly take over the state replacing the civilians. This generally accepted model does not mean that military as an institution has no relevance to the important policy decisions. Even in countries where the tradition of civilian supremacy is well established, military has a political role relating to national security, albeit a different one. One commentator has correctly pointed that “the military’s political role is a question not of whether but of how much and what kind”. [1]

This article will evaluate soldier’s attitude towards political activity and how it develops. This will be followed by the details of Pakistani experience of politicization of officer’s corps and how repeated and prolonged military rules have militarized the politics. In the end, the complex relationship between soldiers and politicians will be summarized.

Soldiers & Politics

Soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians is universal. Soldiers by nature of their training and job requirement place high value on discipline, recognized chain of command and espirit de corps. These values are essential for any professional army. Soldiers generalize these values and attitudes to the whole society without appreciating the difficulties and various conflicting demands by interest groups in a modern nation state. In under-developed countries, the problems are compounded by host of other negative social and economic factors. Discussion, debate and arguments about different points of view are essential ingredients of politics in every society. The nature of political activity is more chaotic on surface. Soldier’s concept of political order is based on the model of discipline, which he has learned in his barracks and daily life. “Institutions that permit disorder are condemned. The men who purposefully encourage disorder, as well as those whose inactions inadvertently allow for disorder, are dangerous”.[2] This is how soldier sees the political activity of his society. Political activity is seen as undermining of the discipline of society and politicians as opportunists and self-seeking demagogues. This thought process is at the root of how a military first withdraws respect and later support of any civilian government which is followed by kicking the quarrelling politicians out of the corridors of power. The chaos and instability caused by the weak civilian institutions is blamed for paving the way for military to take over the state. This is the universal justification used by all military rulers. Once the politicians are condemned as useless bunch, the question arises then who is competent to run the state? Now the self-righteous attitude of officer corps comes into play. In under-developed countries, military sees itself as the most modern institution of the society. In addition, being a member of a well organized and disciplined force and overdose of patriotic and nationalistic symbols reinforces the notion that soldiers are more competent than civilians. In countries where military is the dominant institution, the military leadership considers itself as ‘final arbiters of political process, final judges as to whether a particular turn of events is acceptable from their standpoint as the guardians of national integrity’. [3]

Modern military is essentially a large bureaucratic organization. The negative attitude of soldiers towards politics is partly related to this fact, which is shared by the civilian bureaucrats. Soldiers look at the policy decisions and difficult conflicts of the society in administrative and technical terms. In case of Pakistan, this thought process is deeply rooted in the colonial past of the country. British colonial policy makers in twentieth century thought that natives were not educated enough or mature enough to run their own affairs. What they needed was a good administration. Make sure that law and order is maintained and there is peaceful environment for economic activity. Natives were allowed to run the municipalities and serve at Viceroy’s Council as advisors but had no role in vital decision-making process. This colonial model of running the state was based on the notion of ‘administration’ rather than ‘governance’. The ‘sword arm’ and ‘steel frame’ of the Raj was the real government. Politicians were men who were allowed to run only ‘certain’ affairs and could be send home anytime when it was determined by British that they were not doing their job. The armed and unarmed bureaucrats of Pakistan who took control in the first ten years after independence were the product of this system. From soldier’s point of view, military’s direct control of the state was aimed at ‘lifting government above politics’.[4] The general negative attitude of Pakistani officer corps towards political activity is not different from any other military. [5]

The soldier has replaced the civilian. What to do next? Due to the nature of their ethos and training, military leaders run a tightly controlled and highly authoritarian model of government. The decision making process is not seen a ‘political enterprise’ but ‘an apolitical, problem-solving exercise’. [6] Military leaders disdain political activity and mass participation as it causes disorder. In the early part of the military rule, this can be achieved easily without excessive use of force. The circumstances under which Ayub Khan in 1958 and General Musharraf in 1999 took over gave some transient room for personal charisma of the coup leader. Unstable political activity from 1954 to 1958 (the main cause of which was the authoritative intervention and intrigues of Governor General) and charisma of Ayub resulted in initial welcome of coup by general public. Similarly, complex problems of a soft state like Pakistan in 1999 had caused sufficient apathy of general public and personal charisma of Musharraf worked in favour of military. Both cases proved once again that ‘legitimation through charisma alone tends to be unstable and transitory’. [7] The military men should know better. Even genuinely populist civilian leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could not last more than four years as he was unable to address the fundamental issues facing the society. Once the military rule is prolonged some kind of participation becomes essential. This means that the reluctant military leader has to embark on a course, which he hates. He has to indulge in ‘the demeaning and distasteful business of compromise and bargaining’. [8] This confusion in soldier’s mind, believing that the particular course is harmful but then he has no choice results in a very confusing and complicated situation. Ayub Khan had extensively spoken and written against politics and politicians. Once his rule was extended, he had to shed his uniform (a fatal mistake which his successor would not repeat), patronize a political party named Conventional Muslim League and had to work with political entities. He ruled long enough to see the futility of his exercise when he has to sit with quarrelling politicians of Pakistan in a round table conference and to his utter dismay had to accept their demands. General Zia-ul-Haq experimented with a non-party election in 1985 but it proved to be a non-starter. In less than three years, he had wound up the whole facade of democracy without politics. General Musharraf confident of his abilities to sort out the national mess also held the simplistic notion. He declared the democracy, which he has kicked out, was ‘sham’. In three years, he was recycling the same politicians he had denounced and propped up a shaky coalition of diverse interest groups on the shoulders of military. The chances of present civilian set up to last even two years are very slim. If it lasts longer than that it will be only due to the corruption of the politicians and deliberate decision of the parliamentarians to work under the benevolent patronage of the GHQ and never to question the will of the generals.

Politicization of Military

When military takes over the state, it needs ‘civilian allies or backers for reasons of legitimacy, expertise, or policy implementation’.[9] Military attempts to address the legitimacy dilemma by arranging for an electoral process which is closely monitored and if needed adjusted by the soldiers. Ayub’s experiment of Basic Democracies, Zia’s holding of elections in 1985 on non-party basis and present civilian set up carved by General Musharraf are examples of attempts of military leaders to give some semblance of legitimacy. In all these cases, army chief was the final arbiter of all major policy decisions. Military governments use civilians in areas, which need special skills like economic affairs. Military leaders usually choose non-political technocrats for such jobs. Veteran bureaucrat Aziz Ahmad worked with Ayub, Mian Muzaffar Ahmad with Yahya Khan, Ghulam Ishaque Khan and V. A. Jafri with Zia and Shaukat Aziz with General Musharraf to run the economic sector and planning for development programmes. In case of Pakistan, military rulers have used civilian bureaucrats for policy implementation at all levels. All these measures inevitably involve soldiers with political decisions.

In case of Pakistan, the political role of the military has been institutionalized over the last fifty-five years. The methodology has been redesigned according to the prevailing circumstances. Pakistan army like any other army is a hierarchical organization with a visible chain of command and proper methodology of carrying out the orders of the military leaders. The military leaders have used what is called a ‘managerial approach’.[10] Army chief works with Corps Commanders and Principle Staff Officers (PSOs) about carrying out the will of the organization. At higher level, chief informs and consults his colleagues with reasonable amount of debate and discussion about various decisions. This approach actually strengthens the command and control of the military as an institution. This helps the chief when he is negotiating or dictating to civilians and when military is in direct control of the state helps to implement policies with least friction.

Politicization of army officers is the natural outcome of military intervention although the degree may be different depending on the methodology of the ruling regime. Once the military becomes the dominant institution, a new class of officers emerges which elaborates military’s political role. This is the ‘military intellectual’ class. In case of Pakistan, this class of officers (exclusively senior officers) has attended Command and Staff College at Quetta and National Defence College (NDC) in Islamabad. Increasingly, officers belonging to two military intelligence organizations, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) are visibly found playing plain politics. In Pakistan, the most vocal proponents and defenders of military rulers are the most politicized officers who have been directly involved in political intrigues. When the military’s role is expanded to nation building tasks, the political role of the military is not seen as a defence of specific class or ethnic interest but as the autonomous representation of the ‘national interest’. The external threat from a larger neighbour was seen only in military terms, which resulted in no meaningful dialogue about defence issues as generals kept everybody else out of this area. To this, external threat was added the issue of internal subversion by dissatisfied citizens. In this background, the expanding role of the state’s intelligence and security apparatus is a logical outcome as ‘internal threat’ is a significant one and military assign itself the mission “to prevent the ‘internal enemy’ from threatening the economic, social and political order”.[11] In 50s and 60s Pakistan was closely allied with United States through various defence pacts. A large number of officers were trained in United States and it was quite natural for them to view the world through the prism of cold war. The ‘anti-communist’ stand of the officer corps was almost universal. Progressive and left leaning officers were gradually eased out of the armed forces especially after the failed coup attempt in 1951. This didn’t mean that ‘religious’ officers replaced them. The senior brass was thoroughly westernized and secular in outlook. The military brass came to the conclusion that the country’s strategic interests will be served better with alliance with United States. In 60s and 70s, there was close cooperation in defence areas with China. Although China is considered a reliable friend by defence establishment, they are not anxious to implement Chinese model for armed forces or society. In 80s, Pakistani military intelligence agency, ISI worked closely with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in not so covert operations in Afghanistan against Soviet Union.[12] This interaction was a bit different than earlier cooperation in 50s and 60s. There were limited number of officers (mainly from intelligence and military police branches) who were trained in US institutions and role of CIA operatives inside Pakistan was limited. Different weapons and explosives experts from various branches of US armed forces trained their Pakistani counterparts. Since 1980s, more officers are from middle and lower middle class due to shrinking employment opportunities for youth. In addition, after the disintegration of Soviet Union and retreat of leftists, the links between Pakistan defence establishment and US first became estranged and later completely cut off. This new generation of senior officers, which is now at the senior posts, is trained at facilities inside Pakistan. The general trend of the society towards closer look at Islam has also touched the armed forces. Many senior officers are practicing Muslims like civilians. This does not mean that these officers have turned extremists. They are more nationalistic and concerned about issues affecting other Muslim communities and consider United States as an unreliable partner as far as Pakistan’s interests are concerned. This trend is reflective of the change, which has occurred in the society in the last two decades. This change further reinforced the self-assigned role for the military to directly administer the state. The army was now not only responsible for the state of Pakistan but as a nuclear power has some obligation to the imaginary Muslim community (Ummah) all over the world. September 11 and its international aftermath forced the military brass to think more rationally and take into account the ground realities which had been conveniently ignored in the past.

Military officers generally blame civilians for politicization of the armed forces and Pakistan is no exception. A former close associate of General Zia-ul-Haq, blaming the civilian politicians states that it is due to ‘immaturity of political parties’ that show ‘lack of vision in politicizing the defenders of the country’.[13] General Musharraf after his coup in 1999 also accused Nawaz Sharif of trying to politicize the senior brass. The issue is not that simple and one sided as generals try to put forward. Even a cursory look at the fifty-five year history of the country gives a totally different picture. It is actually the military rule, which politicizes the army officers. Repeated military intervention has lowered the threshold for the involvement of army officers in civil affairs. The fragmentation of boundaries between civil and military life has resulted in now even middle rank officers uttering partisan political statements. In Pakistan, with each successive coup, the number of officers involved in political activities has gradually increased. Ayub Khan after initial consolidation co-opted various civilian groups to run the state, although various political programmes of the regime were discussed in the armed forces. When Ayub decided to introduce the Basic Democracies, the Navy Chief at a navy commanding officers meeting discussed the programme.[14] Yahya Khan’s tenure was too short and traumatic (separation of Eastern Wing as independent country in 1971) to ensure entrenchment of army officers but some of them became adept to playing politics. Zia’s long haul gave enough time for gradual spilling of army officers in political arena. Over the last three years, many officers of present military government have gradually got their feet wet in the art of politicking. When senior officers hob knob with politicians and involved in making and breaking of political parties, it is quite natural that these officers will make their own alliances for personal or institutional reasons. This creates a very complex situation, further embroiling them in political intrigues. Major General Rao Farman Ali was sent to East Pakistan as political advisor of the Yahya regime and in this capacity was involved in political manoeuvring. During 1970 elections, the Director of IB, N. A. Rizvi collected Rs 4 million from ten leading industrialists to help the candidates of different political parties. The money was given to senior army officers in East Pakistan for election purposes. Farman was the main link between politicians of East Pakistan and military government. After the 1977 coup, General Zia brought Farman to his newly established election cell to make use of the political intrigues he had learnt in East Pakistan. Similarly, Zia brought Major General (later General) Khalid Arif as his Chief of Staff (COS) due to his previous experience with Martial Law duties. Arif had served as President of a summary Military Court when he was Major in 1962. In March 1969, as Lt. Colonel, he worked at GHQ and was part of the team, which finalized the details of Yahya Khan’s take over. After 1969 Martial Law, he worked under Brigadier (later Major General) Rahim Khan in the nerve centre of military regime at GHQ. In his long military career, in the senior position, Arif had commanded only a brigade for two short years. It is quite natural that such experiences will result in sharpening of political rather than military skills of an officer. In 1988, when Zia died in a mysterious plane crash along with top military brass, the military decided to work behind the scene. The blatant interference of senior army brass in domestic political intrigues further complicated the situation rather than solving problems. Army Chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg summoned Provincial Chief Ministers to GHQ. He plainly told his audience that, “the PPP must not win the forthcoming elections and Benazir Bhutto will be unacceptable to the Army as Prime Minister”. He also reassured his audience that Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM – a relatively new party representing interests of the descendants of Muslim refugees who emigrated from India in 1947. General Beg belongs to that community) was in his pocket.[15] The task was assigned to Brigadier Imtiaz who served as Additional Director of Political Wing of ISI in 1988. In this capacity, he worked to cob an alliance called Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic Front) against Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). A former aid of Nawaz Sharif admitted that Brigadier Imtiaz helped even in coining Punjabi slogans for the alliance.[16] He became close to Nawaz Sharif during this time. PPP got most of the seats and due to various factors military had to allow Benazir Bhutto to become Prime Minister with significant limitations. In late 1989, opposition parties at the encouragement of military brass started to work on a no-confidence motion against Benazir. In November 1989, Brigadier Imtiaz and Major Amir (heading the Islamabad section of ISI) in a clandestine move offered large sums of money to two members of PPP (Rao Rashid and Arif Awan) to encourage other members of PPP to support no-confidence motion. Brigadier Imtiaz who was no more with ISI was sufficiently politicized and had his own interests at play that he participated in this plan. The government with the help of Intelligence Bureau (IB) trapped the two officers and recorded their conversation and gave to army chief, who simply retired the two officers and no action was taken against them.[17] When Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister, he rewarded the two officers by giving them prestigious posts. Brigadier Imtiaz was made Director of IB while Major Amir was made Special Advisor to the Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province. The question whether these two officers were acting on their own on a personal agenda or had support of some in the GHQ has never been answered. Lack of accountability of politicized officers by military brass sends a wrong signal to the officer corps. Some officers may want to play the game of political intrigue as it may bring rich dividends. In 1990, when Benazir government was dismissed and new elections were scheduled, ISI collected Rs 140 million ($6.5 million) and distributed to various politicians to influence the outcome of the elections.[18] It is inevitable that officers who are involved in the political role of the military will have different perceptions about various issues facing the country. Few examples will show how the views of politicized officers are influenced by their assignments and perceptions can change so quickly when they have to deal with complex problems themselves. During Pakistan National Alliance’s (PNA) agitation against Bhutto in 1977, one of the demand was withdrawing cases against Pushtun and Baloch leaders who were being tried in Hyderabad on secession charges and winding up of military operations in Balochistan. Bhutto referred this particular demands to General Zia and military brass. There was a unanimous opinion of military commanders against accepting this demand. Zia had a meeting with leaders of PNA and vehemently opposed the idea. DG ISI Major General Ghulam Jilani Khan also gave a presentation giving the evidence against the detained leaders to Maulana Mufti Mahmud. After Martial Law in 1977, when Zia himself had to handle the complex situation, he dissolved the Hyderabad Tribunal, set everybody free and gave general amnesty to Baloch insurgents. Arif calls this ‘Zia’s political understanding and statesmanship’.[19] When civilians are running the government (with all limitations), military brass accuses them for being soft with India and any attempt of reconciliation is seen with suspicion. The view takes a U-turn when army is in charge of the country. Arif calls Zia’s decision to attend the funeral of Indira Gandhi ‘an act of considerable acumen and foresight’.[20] General Musharraf did not approve of Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to negotiate with India and skipped the function of reception of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vernacular press hounded the Prime Minister for his ‘soft’ position towards India. When Musharraf took over, the difficult situation of the country now dawned on him and in next two years, he went out of his way to try to open a dialogue with India.

Assignment of political role to serving officers is not a simple and straightforward of normal military chain of command issue. It raises an important question of how a junior officer is supposed to act when asked by the senior to perform an essentially political activity? The officer is professional and does not believe in political role but ordered by the senior. Can he refuse the order? If yes, then can he be punished through military law? If he obeys the order, is he liable for his actions, which are carried out on the orders of senior officers? Where lies the responsibility? These are the critical issues, which need an in-house dialogue and discussion at the highest level at GHQ. If military continues to perform the task of running the state, they have to come up with a working formula, otherwise it will further confuse the situation. The officers, who have joined politics after retirement, have become highly politicized during their service and have been accused of many transgressions. Most of these officers have been at senior positions during 1971 crisis or have served with military intelligence organizations. Just like politicians, when the politicized officers are accused of some wrongdoing, it is quite natural that they will defend themselves. Due to the nature of their profession, the accusation will be related to defence or national security area. In their defence, the officers tend to use arguments by using the rhetoric of patriotism and try to label their accusers (usually politicians) as non-patriotic. This is done to portray them in favourable light and cast doubt about others. Recently, the over use of Islamic symbols and themes by these officers to divert the onslaught against them are becoming more prominent. A few examples will illustrate how this activity confuses the situation and polarizes the society further. It is damaging not only to the political process but also the institution of armed forces. When Gul was heading ISI, three important events directly relating to the institution he was heading occurred. In April 1988, the huge ammunition dump at Ojhri Camp in Rawalpindi (a large amount of arms and ammunition was stored in the centre of a major city against all normal military safety rules for onward supply to Afghan resistance fighters) blew up resulting in huge loss of life and property. In August 1988, army chief and President of the country General Zia-ul-Haq along with top military brass died in a mysterious plane crash. In February 1989, the ill-planned Jalalabad offensive was launched which was a dismal failure with a large number of casualties. Gul has been criticized on professional grounds about the Jalalabad operation but he countered by blaming the civilian government of Benazir Bhutto and using ideological rhetoric. The result was that critical evaluation of a military operation gone wrong got bogged down into personal accusations and counter-accusations. Nobody has yet even asked the question of any responsibility about Ojhri Camp blast and Zia’s plane crash. Later, when he was sacked, he added the anti-American flavour to the debate. After retirement, as a private citizen, he has the right to express his opinion about different issues, with which one may agree or disagree but that should not cloud the basic concept of responsibility for one’s actions while in service. Pakistan’s Afghan policy (run exclusively by ISI and army) of the last two decades has been embedded in the rhetoric of ideological and Islamic symbolism, preventing any rational and critical analysis and lessons learned. The political and ideological camouflage by various politicized officers have prevented any meaningful dialogue and serious debate about various military operations and national security policies, let alone any accountability. A very curious and strange phenomenon has been operational in Pakistan, where wearing two, three or four stars with associated perks and privileges is considered an achievement without a grain of responsibility. The perverted logic, which is used is that the officer deserve the lofty appointment but is not responsible if something goes wrong during his watch.

In any society, the relationships between armed forces officers and various civilians including politicians are not an anomaly as long as the armed forces are not vying for direct power. In case of Pakistan, due to repeated military interventions, both politicians and senior army officers have used this relationship to mutual advantage. When one looks closely, a very interesting picture emerges. Lt. General Fazal Haq had close relationship with political leaders of all parties including Wali Khan (Awami National Party), Mufti Mahmud (Jamiate-Ulamae-Islam) and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao (PPP). Chief of National Democratic Party (NDP) Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari used to be personal guest of Fazal Haq in the Governor House whenever he visited Peshawar. Major General (Retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar is a close friend of former Sindh military governor Lt. General Jahandad Khan during Zia rule. As a senior leader of PPP, not infrequently, arrest orders of Babar were issued. He would spend the night in the Governor House and when he would come out in the morning, the police will take him to another comfortable place. This pathetic exercise was done when ordinary PPP workers were being tortured in different jails and publicly flogged. Zia’s Air Force Chief Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan had differences with Zia. This automatically brought him close to Benazir Bhutto and PPP. He served as ambassador to Washington during PPP government in 1989. This mutually beneficial relationship prevents any accountability of politicians who have close personal ties with military elite during military rule and any accountability of military brass during civilian rule. This mutually corrupting influence has long-term negative effects on the development of responsible political culture and has eroded professionalism of the armed forces. On the other end of the spectrum, mutually hostile relationship between some officers and politicians has also unwanted consequences. When the differences between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf became apparent after Kargil operations in 1999, a very difficult situation emerged. Several senior officers aligned themselves according to the prevailing situation. Sidelining of two Corps Commanders (Lt. General Tariq Pervez and Lt. General Saleem Haider) by Musharraf who were perceived as having sympathies with Sharif resulted in total breakdown of any trust between the Prime Minister and army chief. Musharraf saw this act essential to keep cohesion of the senior brass to confront civilian leaders while Sharif saw this move as a deliberate effort to isolate him by removing all officers who may have some soft corner for the civilians. Pakistan may have to wait a decade before the details of October 1999 coup and the role of different civilian and military players come into limelight. If past is any guide, one can fairly easily visualize the scenario. While the initial takeover by the military could be camouflaged under patriotic and idealistic symbols, ‘but too often the military’s custodianship of government degenerates into factionalism, extravagant defence budgets and corporate featherbedding, and social irresponsibility’.[21] Despite lofty ideals, this is unfortunately the legacy of military rule.

The rise of intelligence and security apparatus is the inevitable outcome of prolonged and repeated military domination of the society. The political armies for effective control use increasing internal and external surveillance for systematic information gathering. It painstakingly builds up ‘the organization of permanent supervision through informants or political commissars, and widespread practices of repression, intimidation and political blackmail’.[22] In case of Pakistan, there has been a meteoric rise of the intelligence agencies in the last two decades. The clout of intelligence officers in the society and military has dramatically increased.[23] This has further complicated the political scenario. The effect on military itself can be judged from the fact that a large number of heads of MI and ISI have been sacked/retired before completing their terms. The list of generals includes Hamid Gul, Asad Durrani, Javed Ashraf Qazi, Javed Nasir, Ziauddin Butt and Mahmud Ahmad. In addition, increasing role of officers with intelligence background in different sections of the society after retirement is another landmark of the complexity of the problem.

Militarization of Politics

Once the domination of the military in a society is complete, the polity undergoes a radical change. ‘Military leaders are thus wooed not only by incumbent elites but also by their oppositions, each group seeking to advance its own interests by allying to itself the managers of organized coercion’.[24] The politicization of military, the sole legitimate arm of state coercion further complicates an already confused environment. The politicians who are against the incumbent civilian government, knowing the real source of power, hobnob with the military brass to achieve their objectives. They see the major source of support and potential threat from the military. This means that they will look for officers who are loyal to their political party and try to influence the promotions, postings and transfers of these officers when they are in power. This results in undermining of the cohesion of armed forces. Politicians, rather than fighting their political duels at polling booths and in the legislative assemblies, tend to take the short cut by creating such a situation where military steps in to remove the civilian foes. In addition, the political parties seeing the odds against the entrenched army officers in all areas try to woo army officer to their ranks. This helps them in two ways. First, it makes them acceptable to military brass as they have a fair number of former army officers in senior positions. Secondly, it gives them ammunition and legitimacy in criticizing the ruling military regime to extract maximum concessions from the military rulers. Criticism by Benazir Bhutto is generally labelled as unpatriotic activity by defence establishment but the scathing criticism by the military member of PPP, Major General (Retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar does not get similar treatment. Pakistani politics has seen an interesting phenomenon where disproportionately large number of retired officers of armed forces are finding place in political parties. A close look at the career of officers who have joined the much hated and despised political arena gives an insight into the dynamics of power politics in Pakistan. Major General Akbar Khan (former Chief of General Staff – CGS) was convicted in 1951 for the conspiracy to overthrow the civilian government and sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment but was released after four years. Later in his life, Akbar talked about his thinking in 1951. He stated that ‘we had disagreement with the government about Kashmir independence, agreement on ceasefire and delaying the formulation of a constitution by Liaquat Ali Khan’. He added that although we have fought in Kashmir, the government agreed to ceasefire ‘without asking us’.[25] After his release in 1955, he joined Awami League of Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy (he was member of central working committee). In 1958, he was organizing a new political party named ‘Millat Party’, when Ayub Khan took over and banned all political activities. In 1968, he joined Pakistan Peoples Party and served as the member of Central Working Committee. He lost the election in 1970 for the National Assembly but served as Bhutto’s National Security Advisor and later Minister for Internal Security. He also served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia and labour advisor. Major General Sher Ali Khan who was sacked by Ayub served as Minister of Information and National Affairs during Yahya Khan’s government in 1970. Lt. General Umrao Khan (a close confidant of Ayub Khan) joined Jamaat-e-Islami briefly after his retirement. Lt. General Muhammad Azam Khan was a close confidant of Ayub Khan and served as minister and Governor during first military regime. After his disagreements with Ayub, when he was sacked, he openly supported Miss Fatima Jinnah during 1965 elections against Ayub. Later, he led his own faction of Muslim League called Jinnah League. Major General (Retd) Tajjamal Hussain Malik (former General Officer Commanding of a Division who was convicted for conspiracy to overthrow Zia government in 1980 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released when Benazir took power) joined Tehreek-e-Istiqlal (headed by former Air Force Chief Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan). In six months, he got fed up and announced the formation of his own party, Islami Inqilab Party (Islamic Revolution Party). Lt. General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi (Commander of Eastern Command in East Pakistan in 1971, where he surrendered to Indian forces and became prisoner of war) when he came back from India at one time became head of another faction of Muslim League (Qayyum Group). Major General (Retd) Rao Farman Ali was in-charge of Political Affairs in East Pakistan in 1971. The reason he was assigned this task that he had done an administrative staff course which qualified him for political intrigues. His official appointment was Chief of Staff to Governor. In this capacity, he had close contacts with political leaders of East Pakistan. After his return from India, he served as Chairman of Fauji Foundation. After Zia’s coup, he was member of the election cell set up by Zia and was involved in meetings with politicians. He lost the election bid in 1985 non-party elections. Later, he joined National Peoples Party (NPP), a splinter group from PPP orchestrated by the military government of Zia and headed by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (a former colleague of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). Lt. General Khawaja Muhammad Azhar had served in ISI during Ayub regime as Colonel and at one time was acting DG of ISI. In this capacity, he was involved in surveillance of political and military foes of the regime, especially during the crucial early part of Martial Law when Sikandar Mirza was ousted. He had personally interrogated many prominent people who were not considered loyal to Ayub. During Yahya regime he served as Quarterm/aster General (QMG) and military governor of N.W.F.P. Later he became Secretary General and Vice President of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan. Major General Muhammad Hussain Ansari was GOC in East Pakistan in 1971. After the surrender he spent few years in India as prisoner of war (POW). This traumatic experience for many soldiers had its effects. A number of officers during their sojourn as POW in India looked towards religion for solace. A number of these officers joined Sufi organizations. When Ansari came back from India, he was made Director of Lahore Development Authority. He joined Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan and was elected to national assembly in 1988 elections. He is in charge of Accountability Cell of the party. Air Marshal Noor Khan was Air Force Chief when Yahya Khan took over in 1969. In the loot for ministries during that time, he ended up taking four ministries (Education, Health, Labour and Social Welfare) under his wings. When the internal conflicts between ruling junta started to strain the relationships, Yahya retired him and sent him as Governor of West Pakistan (the Naval Chief, S. M. Ahsan was also retired and sent as Governor of East Pakistan). He was elected to National Assembly in 1985 non-party elections from Attock. Colonel Abbasi was heading Azad Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islami in 1977. In 1985, Lt. General Faiz Ali Chisti, former Corps Commander and close confidant of General Zia who was retired in 1980, toyed with the idea of forming a new political party (with the help of Justice (Retd) Shaukat Ali who was head of Liberal Muslim League), but seeing no response shelved it. Lt. General Fazal Haq was a close confidant of Zia who served as Corps Commander and military Governor of N.W.F.P.. He retired in 1985 and in 1987 was elected to Senate. In 1988 when Zia sacked Junejo government, Haq became caretaker Chief Minister of N.W.F.P. In 1988 elections, he was elected to National Assembly. Lt. General Abdul Majid Malik during Ayub regime as Major was involved with Martial Law work as staff officer. He retired in 1976 and served as ambassador to Morocco. He was elected to National Assembly in 1985 and 1988 elections and served as Chairman of Anti-Corruption Committee. He joined the resurrected military supported political party, Muslim League but later joined the Nawaz Sharif faction of Muslim League. After the ouster of Nawaz Sharif by military in 1999, he joined the splinter faction of Muslim League named Quaid-e-Azam, organized by intelligence agencies of Musharraf government. He is now member of National Assembly after the 2002 elections.

Lt. General Javed Nasir worked closely with Nawaz Sharif both during active service and after his retirement though he was not a formal member of Muslim League. He is also actively involved in the non-political, proselytizing Tableeghi Jamaat. Nasir is not known for his intellectual brilliance or political acumen but he was kept on board as he was the former super spy of Pakistan. It is quite natural that he will have soft corner for Nawaz Sharif. After the nuclear tests in 1998, he gave all credit to Sharif. He stated, “Allah was very kind and put in his heart a momentous decision”.[26] Even a common man on the street knows that no civilian leader has any clue about the nuclear programme let alone making any important decision regarding this area. Lt. General Hamid Gul is head of his own small party while former army chief Mirza Aslam Beg leads another small party called Awami Qiadat Party.

The working relationship between officers of armed forces and political parties is an interesting area of study in case of Pakistan. A closer look at Pakistan Peoples Party, a party, generally viewed as against military rulers gives an interesting insight into the dynamics of this equation. Former Army Chief General Tikka Khan was for a long time Secretary General of PPP. Major General (Retd) Akbar Khan worked closely with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in various capacities and was member of Central Committee of the party. Major General (Retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar (former Inspector General of Frontier Corps – a paramilitary force responsible for defence of western border of the country with Afghanistan) was the right hand man of Benazir Bhutto and served as her Interior Minister during her two stints as Prime Minister. Babar played a significant role in Pakistan’s Afghan policy (1988-1990 and 1993-96) despite that his responsibilities as Interior Minister were restricted to internal law and order of the country. The former Provincial head of ISI in Sindh province, Brigadier Aman is Secretary to Benazir Bhutto. Another member of Central Committee of PPP is Major (Retd) Masud Sharif Khattak who has served as Director of Intelligence Bureau (IB), a civilian intelligence agency of the country. Major General (Retd) Ahsan Ahmad served as Minister of Health and Population in Sindh during the military government of Musharraf. In October 2002, he joined PPP. Government alleged that he had been removed due to his malpractices and corruption while Ahmad in a press conference criticized Musharraf for destabilizing the country.[27] Interestingly, after diligently serving as provincial minister with all perks for a long time in a military government, the change of heart was so quick that he resigned/sacked in the morning and joined PPP in the afternoon. Major (Retd) Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao served for a long time the PPP head in N.W.F.P. before deciding to venture into a solo flight.

In 1977, after the military take over, Zia faced a difficult dilemma and he had to postpone elections as pre-coup conditions could not be allowed to come back. For obvious reasons, PPP could not be allowed to come back in power while assessment by various people aligned with Zia was that in case of elections, PPP would win despite recent setbacks. Zia established an election cell run by two serving generals (Lt. General Faiz Ali Chisti and Major General Jamal Said Mian) and two retired Major Generals (Rao Farman Ali and Ehsan-ul-Haq). In this capacity, these officers held meetings with different political leaders. Military regime has to work on re-engineering of the social and political scene before it could give back some of the powers to civilians. It was with this aim that the Muslim League was resurrected during Zia time. The DG of ISI Major General (later Lt. General) Ghulam Jilani Khan started to work with a large number of politicians who were opposed to PPP. He was instrumental in connecting a large number of politicians with Zia regime. Later, as Governor of Punjab province, he was solely responsible for grooming a new political elite under the direct patronage of military rulers. Nawaz Sharif along with most of his colleagues was the product of this experiment. He gradually worked his way up from provincial finance minister to chief minister and finally Prime Minister of the country twice before being booted out by the army itself. Many colleagues of Nawaz Sharif were retired army officers. Lt. General (Retd) Majid Malik (served as federal minister for Kashmir Affairs), Lt. General (Retd) Javed Nasir (former DG ISI who served as special advisor), Brigadier (Retd) Imtiaz (served as Director of IB), Major (Retd) Amir (special advisor to Chief Minister of N.W.F.P.), Major (Retd) Nadir Pervez (served as Minister of State for Interior after 1985 elections and Minister of State of Water and Power after 1990 elections), Colonel (Retd) Mushtaque Tahir Kheli (political secretary). In addition, many relatives and sons of senior officers have worked closely with Nawaz Sharif. During the present military government, the Corps Commanders held regular meetings with all political leaders. The political wing of ISI headed by Major General Ihtesham Zamir was instrumental in the formation of the Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) group before elections in October 2002, which consisted mostly of former colleagues of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. After the military take-over, almost all of his former colleagues gathered under the benevolent patronage of military, made a new party and got elected to new assembly in 2002. After elections, several senior officers were involved in political manoeuvring to instal military’s nominated political party. The party, which Nawaz Sharif led, had two third majority in the National Assembly in 1996 with 140 seats. After cleansing and restructuring, Nawaz Sharif’s party has now only 14 seats in the assembly. This tells a lot about the sham called democracy in Pakistan under the guidance of military. After the 2002 elections, the military has used the carrot of perks and privileges and stick of accountability to line up politicians of different hue and colour to support its nominees. After the October 2002 elections, ten members of PPP rebelled and voted in favour of General Musharraf’s nominee for Prime Minister (Zafarullah Khan Jamali). Out of ten dissident members, six were awarded with cabinet posts out of which two were retired army officers (Major (Retd) Tahir Iqbal and Major (Retd) Habibullah Warraich). The exercise has been done in such a clumsy manner that it has created a hilarious situation. Pakistan is the only country in the world the Interior Minister of which is on the Exit Control List published by his own ministry and wanted in cases of corruption. Two more Federal Ministers (Minister of Power Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Labour Minister Abdul Sattar Laleka) are also forbidden to leave the country, as they are wanted by National Accountability Bureau in various corruption cases. Another interesting phenomenon, which has emerged in Pakistan, is that family members of former senior military officers are increasingly finding place in the political arena. Ayub Khan’s son Captain (Retd) Gauhar Ayub has been elected member of national assembly and served as foreign minister during Nawaz government). Ayub’s two sons-in-law were also members of national and provincial assemblies. General Akhtar Abdur Rahman’s (former DG ISI and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee) son Humayun Akhtar is a multimillionaire businessman and now minister of commerce and General Zia-ul-Haq’s son, Ijaz-ul-Haq was member of National Assembly. The last fifty-year experience of Pakistan has given ample proof that military’s guardianship has a ‘debilitating and corrosive’ effect on the political system of the country. ‘In many instances it stifles sorely needed change and reinforces social inequality and injustice’.[28] The reason is that all military take-overs have been geared toward maintenance of status quo rather than attempts to change fundamental anomalies of the structure through radical reforms. Even the prospects of success of radical reforms by the military without any popular participation are very limited. The best-case example of such failure is that of Egypt under Gemal Abul Nasir.


The political role of the military has its negative effects in long term, which may not be visible, in short term. In case of Pakistan, there has been no radical coup and no violent showdown between different interest groups (with the exception of Bengali nationalism which resulted in separation of Eastern wing with the help of Indian arms). Even military rulers understand the limitations of overt coercion and repression. They use ‘parallel power mechanisms provided by intelligence services, paramilitary, private or criminal armed entities’.[29] Over the last two decades, Pakistani military leadership has used informal types of coercion. Private armed groups run by religio-political parties were not only used in the military’s foreign policy agenda in Afghanistan and India in 1990s but were selectively used to pressurize the civilian governments. In 2002, the military leadership has learnt the hard lesson of futility of such shortsighted policy decisions. The role of intelligence apparatus has been institutionalized while paramilitary force (Rangers) has been rapidly expanded. This approach has resulted in two negative consequences. First, it has eroded the cohesion of armed forces and damaged its institutional integrity. Second, the political entities have become more polarized making any reconciliation very difficult.

In the last fifty-five years, repeated military take-over have added new complexities into the already fragile state of Pakistan. After every coup, political manoeuvrings of military brass becomes essential, as pre-coup conditions cannot be allowed to stage a come back. This had resulted in two unfortunate consequences. One is politicization of the officer corps and second is militarization of the politics. Military guided civilian governments are neither more clean nor efficient than any other government. Political institutions of a country are reflective of the society. They do not prop up in vacuum. They are formed by interaction of various forces including general public, judiciary, press and other segments of society. They evolve with the evolution of the society and are carefully nurtured and pruned according to the needs of the society to serve its purpose. Painstaking efforts by a select group of self-righteous senior officers to implant a model on the nation from above based on their thinking and training has never been successful in the modern history of the world. The fifty-five year history of Pakistan has amply shown that such attempts have further polarized the society and added new complex factors on national scene rather than solving old problems. Some fundamental dilemmas facing the nation have to be discussed at various forums to reach a ‘minimum’ consensus about basic elements of running the state with some agreement on legitimacy, rules of succession and role of various groups in this setup. Both civilian and military leaders have to accept the fact that for smooth running of the state ‘the areas of exclusive policy authority for each’ and ‘the areas of shared policy authority’ needs to be agreed upon.[30] The balance between these two authorities constitutes civil-military relations. Without addressing these issues simultaneously, it will be very difficult to break the cycle of crisis, which is plaguing the country. The establishment of effective political authority has two main ingredients:

the aggregation of consent and control over the means to organized coercion.[31]

Even if the political parties are able to achieve the difficult task of aggregating the consent which will bring political organization and legitimacy but the armed forces are not subordinated to the direction of state, the stability of the political process will be a mirage.


[1] Claude Emerson. Welch and Smith K. Arthur (Ed.) “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations” (North Scituate, Massachusetts: Duxbury Press, 1974), p. 6

[2] Eric A. Nordlinger, “Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government” (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977), p. 54

[3] De Kadt, Emanuel. The Military in Politics: Old Wine in New Bottles? in Koonings, Kees & Kruijt, Dirk (Ed.). “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy” (London & New York: Zed Books, 2002), p. 315

[4] Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 65

[5] For details of the attitude of Pakistani officer corps towards politics, see Hussain, Hamid. Back to Barracks – Pakistan Army’s experience of withdrawal from active control of the state. Defence Journal, September 2002

[6] Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p. 118-19

[7] Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 66

[8] Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p. 59

[9] Koonings. “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy”, p. 339

[10] Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p.

[11] Koonings. “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy”, p. 23

[12] For details of cooperation between CIA and ISI, see Hussain, Hamid. Forgotten Ties: CIA, ISI & Taliban. CovertAction Quarterly (Washington, D.C.), Number: 72; Spring 2002), pp. 3-5

[13] Arif, M. Khalid. General (Retd). “Khaki Shadows: Pakistan 1947-1997” (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 366

[14] Quadir, F. Iqbal. Vice Admiral (Retd). Pakistan – A Political Experimental Station. Defence Journal, May 2002

[15] Lt. General Fazal Haq’s (who attended the meeting) interview with General Khalid M. Arif cited in Arif, Khalid. Khaki Shadows, p. 352-53

[16] Lodhi, Maleeha. “Pakistan’s Encounter With Democracy” (Lahore: Vanguard Books), p. 139-40

[17] PPP Information Secretary Salman Taseer released the tapes to public in August 1992.

[18] Former Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and former DG ISI Asad Durrani have admitted this in an affidavit submitted to Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Supreme Court has not given its decision about the case which has been pending since 1997

[19] Arif. “Khaki Shadows: Pakistan 1947-1997“, p. 196

[20] Ibid, p. 420

[21] Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 72

[22] Koonings. “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy”, p. 339

[23] For details of Pakistani intelligence organizations, see Hussain, Hamid. Lengthening Shadows. Covert Action Quarterly, Number: 73; Summer 2002, p.18-22

[24] Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 54

[25] Interview of Major General (Retd) Akbar Khan in Hassan, Ali. Generals aur Siyasat. Urdu (Generals and Politics) (Lahore: Vanguard Books, 1991), p. 292-93

[26] Nasir, Javed. Lt. General (Retd) After The Nuclear Fever is Over. Defence Journal, July 1998

[27] The News (Online Edition), October 24, 2002

[28] Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 72

[29] Koonings. “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy”, p. 343

[30] Welch and Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 16

[31] Ibid, , p. 53.

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

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6 years ago

“Soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians is universal.” ????

It is not universal. It depends on the country. In direct or indirect military dictatorships that can be the case. In Israel, many of the politicians came from military experience, but they did not try to subvert the political system there.

6 years ago

Beautifully explained. Some questions

1) Why do even journalist who despise the military rule write as if they are sympathetic to the military. The tone of the article gives this impression that a bulk of it is the civilian’s fault. It sort of espouses that military should not interfere in politics for its own sake, so that it does not corrode the military ethics , while in standard democracies this stand should have been on more firmer principle like civilian supremacy.

2) I have heard this argument from my liberal Pakistani friends who are for civilian rule that the best way for civilian rule is to start “performing”, whatever that means, almost justifying that its alright for the military to take over if the Govt is not performing.(something which should be the job of opposition, not the military). Whats up with that?

3)”Progressive and left leaning officers were gradually eased out of the armed forces especially after the failed coup attempt in 1951. This didn’t mean that ‘religious’ officers replaced them. The senior brass was thoroughly westernized and secular in outlook”
Dont you think this are exaggerated, like left leaning officers et all,who have no compulsion using religious tribals in Kashmir but somehow still secular. You cannot be more senior than Ayub, and the things he writes in his book about the “other”, i fail to understand why do sane minded people say that they were westernized and secular. Either that or we have different version of what secular means. Its similar to how Jinnah is being “secularized” now.

6 years ago

Huge developments in Pakistan this week.

Nawaz Sharif has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, Maryam Nawaz to 7 years and Captain Safdar (the son-in-law) to 1 year. Safdar is the only one of the three in Pakistan and he led a huge rally of supporters in Rawalpindi before finally surrendering. NS and Maryam are supposedly coming back to Pakistan on Friday. Will they be arrested at the airport? Will their supporters arrive in droves?

I feel that even if Nawaz Sharif is corrupt (which seems to have been proven), he is not any more corrupt than Zardari etc. Unless accountability is practiced across the board, this is a blatant attempt by the establishment to destroy the PML-N. And it comes less than three weeks before the national elections. How then can we call these free elections?

6 years ago
Reply to  Kabir

“It is clear that those at the helm of the affairs want to finish the political careers of Sharif and his daughter. The father-daughter duo has taken a clear stand against the establishment. In her recent statement, Maryam Nawaz minced no words vis-à-vis the establishment. Her defiance in the face of adversity has turned her into a real leader. There were many who thought Sharif and Maryam Nawaz would not return after the Avenfield verdict because they do not wish to go to jail. While the chances of the PML-N forming the next government are slim, given the electoral engineering, if the father-daughter duo return on Friday the 13th as has been announced, it will certainly take the wind out of their opponent’s sails. Coming back to Pakistan when an imprisonment sentence awaits them will give strength to their supporters and certainly their party. It will also seal the fate of Maryam Nawaz as the next leader of the PML-N.”

Brown Pundits