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”.
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”.
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’.
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’.  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’. 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’. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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’. 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’. 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’. 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”. 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’. 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.
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.
Eric A. Nordlinger, “Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government” (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977), p. 54
Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 65
Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p. 118-19
Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p. 59
Nordlinger. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Government”, p.
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
Quadir, F. Iqbal. Vice Admiral (Retd). Pakistan – A Political Experimental Station. Defence Journal, May 2002
Lodhi, Maleeha. “Pakistan’s Encounter With Democracy” (Lahore: Vanguard Books), p. 139-40
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
Ibid, p. 420
Koonings. “Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy”, p. 339
Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 54
Nasir, Javed. Lt. General (Retd) After The Nuclear Fever is Over. Defence Journal, July 1998
Welch & Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 72
Welch and Smith. “Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations”, p. 16