Military Exceptionalism in Pakistan

by Anatol Lieven

South Asia 50 mins read

Since Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, the country’s military has  governed the country outright three times and exerted a strong political  influence even when not in power. Pakistan’s tradition of military dominance stems above all from the fact that the Pakistani military is the only  institution that works more or less as it is meant to, as measured against  the generally accepted standards of a modern state institution.

This creates  the belief among some sections of Pakistan’s population that the efficiency  displayed by the military within its own sphere can be extended via military  government to the working of the state as a whole. This belief, however, is  a mistake. Each time the military takes over the entire Pakistani system, it  soon finds that the state is so weak that it has no choice but to work through  the same old local elites, using the familiar methods of patronage, corruption and exploitation of kinship ties. 

Within its own sphere, the military is undeniably impressive. One reason  for this is that the military is the only state institution that truly embodies a  modern (and potentially modernising) ideology, that of Pakistani national ism. Another, closely related reason has to do with the ancient question of  how a society that is ethnically divided and structured around kinship loyalties and rivalries can generate an army that will not itself be riven by these  divisions, and therefore be rendered useless or, worse, become a source of  endless civil wars. 

The Mameluk imperative

From its first years, the Pakistani high command has been haunted by the  fear that the factionalism of Pakistani politics would spread to the military,  dividing it along ethnic, political, personal or clan lines. Hence the categori cal resistance of the military to any involvement of elected prime ministers  in the military-promotion process, the threat of which has several times led  to military coups or the threat of them. In the words of a senior officer of  Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with  whom I spoke in 2009,

Under the British, the military was kept in cantonments very separate from  society. That was a good model, because in Pakistan, there is a permanent  threat of politicisation and corruption of the military. We fear this very  deeply and try to keep ourselves separate … We have a great fear of the  politicians interfering in military promotions and appointments. This  could split the Army and if you split the Army you destroy the country.  Look at what happened under Nawaz Sharif’s last government. Karamat  [General Jehangir Karamat, then chief of army staff] accepted a lot from  Nawaz, but in the end the Army couldn’t take any more. Whenever a  civilian government starts trying to interfere in this sector, we have to act  in self defence.1

In both past and present autocracies, one way of preserving the unity  of the military has been to restrict membership in the armed forces to the  monarch’s own tribe. This approach is still alive in the Middle East, as seen  in the efforts of the late Saddam Hussein to create an army composed only  of Tikritis, of the Assad dynasty in Syria to establish an all-Alawite army  (Alawites are a religious sect but with many of the characteristics of a tribe),  and of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi to similarly favour his own tribe in Libya. 

This strategy has two massive drawbacks. Firstly, it creates an army that  may be useful for internal repression but which will be too small to engage  in wars of conquest or national defence against a powerful enemy. Secondly,  the monopolisation of the military by one tribe is likely to cause such resentment among the other tribes that they eventually unite in revolt against it.

The simplest solution to the unity dilemma is to recruit only eunuchs as  state servants, as these cannot form kinship groups and loyalties. A wide  range of states have resorted to this solution, but for some reason (despite  the glorious record of the Byzantine eunuch General Narses), this is not an  approach that has ever caught on among militaries. 

Instead, faced with the twin challenges of excluding kinship divisions  from the army and guaranteeing its loyalty to the sovereign, Muslim rulers  of the Middle Ages and the early modern period resorted to a solution  which was at once successful and disastrous: the recruitment of soldiers  from outside the dominant society. In the Middle East and South Asia,  Muslim rulers recruited Turkic troops from among prisoners of war. These  troops were called Mameluks, from the Arabic word for ‘owned’ (hence the  name often given to the Mameluk dynasty of Delhi from 1206 to 1290 CE,  the ‘Slave Kings’).  

In their first centuries, the Mameluks were extremely successful mili tarily, defeating the Crusaders and beating back the Mongols. At the same  time, however, they also overthrew their Arab sovereigns and took state  power for themselves. Perhaps with this history in mind, the Ottoman  Turkish sultans adopted a different approach, conscripting (and converting  to Islam) boys from the Christian minorities of the empire, who by defini tion could have no kinship links to the Turkish tribes. These were known  as the Janissaries, from the Turkish for ‘new soldiers’, yeniceri. Given their  backgrounds, the Janissaries could not seize supreme power, but they did  become such a powerful and obstructive force within the state that in 1826  a reforming sultan, Mahmud II, felt compelled to disband and massacre  them.2 

Pakistani soldiers do not serve a hereditary autocrat, and are neither  Mameluks nor Janissaries. However, they do owe their unity, discipline and  effectiveness largely to the fact that they are at least partly separate from  society and therefore independent of the kinship loyalties that dominate  the Pakistani political system, and which are bound up with the extraction  of patronage that so cripples and corrupts the rest of the Pakistani state.  Consequently, the military functions to a great extent as a modern meritoc racy, and internally is remarkably free of corruption, at least as compared with the civil service, the police and the judiciary, let alone the elected poli ticians. While electoral politics are dominated by a mixture of wealth, birth  and kinship links, in the army, as an officer told me,

You rise on merit – well, mostly – not by inheritance, and you salute  the military rank and not the sardar [tribal chieftain] or pir [hereditary  religious leader] who has inherited his position from his father, or the  businessman’s money. These days, many of the generals are the sons of  clerks and shopkeepers, or if they are from military families, they are the  sons of havildars [non-commissioned officers]. It doesn’t matter. The point  is that they are generals.3 

Indeed, at the time of writing, Pakistan’s chief of army staff was General Ashfaq  Kayani, the son of an non-commissioned officer from a peasant family, while  the heads of the main political parties and factions (with the exception of the  Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami and the purely urban Muttahida Qaumi Movement  in Karachi) were all hereditary landowners or hereditary industrialists.

Kinship, politics and patronage

Kinship is central to the weakness of the Pakistani state not just because of  the way it is entwined with the plundering of state resources for political  patronage, but more fundamentally because, in much of the Pakistani coun tryside (and still more in neighbouring Afghanistan), true sovereignty – in  the sense of primary collective loyalty and the enforcement of collective cus tomary law, and even the provision of effective security forces at the local  level – resides in the kinship group rather than the state. Thus, Pakistan is in  some respects at an earlier stage of state formation than the Western states  on which its institutions are formally modelled. 

In addition to the competing demands of kinship loyalty, the Pakistani  state suffers from rivalry between two more sets of alternative loyalties. The  first, a modern loyalty, is to ethnicity, leading at its weakest to a deep-seated  unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of Pakistan, and at its strongest  to outright demands for secession, as have already been made by Pashtuns,  Sindhis and Baloch. The second, a much older loyalty, is to forms of religious belief and allegiance which are in conflict with the demands of the state, a  phenomenon going back to the very first decades of Islam. This has led to  the current rebellion by various Islamist groups against the Pakistani state. 

The strength of kinship ties, which can vary considerably depending  on the circumstances and degree of kinship, is rooted in a sense of collec tive solidarity directed at the defence and promotion of kin-based interests.  These interests do not just involve the pursuit of concrete advantage, but  are also inextricably bound up with powerful feelings of collective honour  or prestige (izzat) and shame; and indeed, a kinship group which is seen  as dishonoured will find that its interests decline in every other way. This  sense of collective honour is reflected most dramatically in the prevention or  punishment of any illicit sexual behaviour by the kinship group’s women,  but is also seen in efforts to advance the political and economic power and  public status of the group.  

As Alison Shaw and others have noted, the immense strength and flex ibility of the kinship system in Pakistan (and in most of India too) are shown  by the way in which it has survived more than half a century of transplanta tion to the very different climes of Britain. Shaw writes that

families [of Pakistani origin] in Oxford are … best seen as outposts  of families in Pakistan whose members have been dispersed by labour  migration … [In Britain] a distinctive pattern of living near close kin  has emerged, echoing that of earlier migrations within the Indian  subcontinent.4 

The need to defend the honour and interests of the kinship group usually  outweighs loyalty to a party, to the state or to any code of professional ethics,  not only for ordinary Pakistanis, but for most politicians and officials. Thus,  Pakistani corruption is not the result of a lack of values (as it is usually seen  in the West) but of the positive and ancient value of loyalty to family and  clan.  

Since the kinship group is the most important force in society, the power  of kinship is inevitably reflected in the political system. As in much of the  rest of South Asia, a majority of Pakistan’s political parties are dynastic. The Pakistan People’s Party, for example, is the party of the Bhutto family; the  Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz is controlled by the Sharif family; and the  Awami National Party is the party of the Wali Khan family. 

The local political groupings that serve as the building blocks of these  parties are themselves based on local dynasties. With the exception of the  Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the religious parties, all of Pakistan’s  political parties are controlled by landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses  seeking state patronage for themselves and their followers and vowing  allegiance to particular dynasties. Most of these individuals inherited their  positions from their fathers or (more rarely) other relatives. In cases where  new individuals gain political power, they invariably found political dynas ties of their own, and seek to pass on their power, influence and followers to  their own sons (or occasionally their daughters). 

Indeed, the most powerful remaining ‘feudals’ in Pakistan owe their  power not to the extent of their personal landholdings but to the fact that  they are the chiefs of large tribes. This type of authority extends to the lesser  gentry as well. The way in which individual landowners are embedded  in landowning clans (such as the Gujjars of Attock, the subject of a classic  study by Stephen Lyon) gives them tremendous strength and resilience, and  allows them to go on controlling the politics of the countryside, and indeed  of the country as a whole.5 

If the political power of the kinship group in Pakistan depended only  on the distribution of patronage, this power might well have declined over  time, given that patronage will always be limited. However, it is also rooted  in the oldest of social compulsions: collective defence. As one landowner politician in Sindh told me,

This is a hard country. You need family or tribal links to protect you,  so that there are people who will stick with you and sacrifice for you  whatever happens. That way you will not be abandoned even when out  of government. The tribal people gives even ordinary tribesmen some  strength and protection against attack, whether by dacoits [bandits], the  police, the courts – your tribesmen will get you out of jail, lie for you to the  court, avenge you if necessary.6

Since the days of British occupation, outside the Baloch and Pathan areas  collective defence has rarely been a matter of the whole clan taking up arms  against a rival clan. Rather, in a violent society in which none of the institutions of the state can be relied upon to act in accordance with their formal  rules, close relations with kinfolk are essential for securing help against  rivals, against the predatory and violent police, in the courts, in politics, and  in the extraction of political patronage, all areas of activity which overlap  and depend on each other.  

The weakness of the state, combined with the power of kinship, is an  important reason why urbanisation has had a much smaller impact on political patterns and structures than one might otherwise have expected. Rather  than driving the emergence of a new urban population, the huge influx of  peasants into the cities has instead caused the reproduction of rural cultural patterns in urban areas. The peasants remain deeply attached to their  kinship groups, which are still needed for many of the same reasons as they  are in the countryside. Underlying all this is the fact that a large proportion  of the urban population remains semi- or informally employed, rather than  moving into modern sectors of the economy, largely because such sectors  usually do not exist.  

Of course, while the power of kinship is necessary to defend against the  predatory state, it is also one of the key factors making the state predatory,  as kinship groups use the state to achieve their goals of attaining power,  wealth and dominance over other kinship groups. As Muhammad Azam  Chaudhary put it,

Below the level of the High Courts all is corruption. Neither the  facts nor the law in the case have real bearing on the outcome. It all  depends on who you know, who has influence and where you put  your money.7

In addition, the power of Pakistan’s elites, rooted in the leadership of local  kinship groups and in control over local sources of wealth, also allows them  successfully to resist paying taxes, thereby undermining the state’s ability to  invest in essential infrastructure and services.

The roots of military exceptionalism

The virtues of the Pakistani military as compared to the rest of Pakistani  society are due to four factors, which can be summed up as isolation,  recruitment, money and morale. Several of these features originated in  the British Indian Army from which the Pakistani Army is derived and on  whose structures it is still largely based. Following the Indian mutiny of  1857, the British were perennially anxious about the loyalty of their Indian  soldiers. In response to these fears they adopted a range of strategies, which  included isolating the soldiers as far as possible from Indian society as a  whole, recruiting them from a very limited number of areas and ethnic  groups, and extending the considerable rewards of military service not just  to soldiers but to soldiers’ families as well.  

The mutiny in 1857 of most of the soldiers from the traditional British  recruiting grounds of Bihar and Awadh left the British unwilling to trust  soldiers from these regions again. By contrast, Muslim and Sikh soldiers  from the recently conquered Punjab mostly remained ‘true to their salt’. In  the case of Muslims, this was partly because the British had delivered them  from the hated rule of the Sikhs. To this was added British racial prejudice,  which saw the tall, fair-skinned Punjabis and Pathans as ‘martial races’,  superior in military terms to the smaller and darker peoples of the rest of  India – a prejudice that is shared by the Punjabis themselves, Pakistani and  Indian alike.  

By the 1920s, Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and  Nepal (home of the Gurkhas) were providing some 84% of the soldiers of  the British Indian Army. Punjabi Muslims alone accounted for almost 30%  of soldiers in the lead-up to the Second World War. These were recruited  chiefly from the Potwar (Potohar) area of northwestern Punjab adjoining the NWFP, where the chief British military headquarters and depot at  Rawalpindi were located. The Jat, Rajput, Awan, Gakkhar and Gujjar tribes  of this region, together with Pashtuns from a few neighbouring districts of  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) continue to provide a majority (though a diminishing one) of Pakistani soldiers  today.8 Thus, more than 80% of the rank and file of the Pakistani army (and  even more of the infantry and armoured forces) is drawn from less than 15% of Pakistan’s population. This has regularly allowed the army to be used to  suppress rebellions or disturbances in Sindh, Balochistan and even some  Pashtun areas (though this has caused severe problems of morale in the mil itary). Whenever unrest has spread to northern Punjab, the high command  has become anxious concerning the loyalty of its troops. 

The British also sought to consolidate the loyalty of their troops through  pay and benefits far above those available in the villages from which they  came. This practice has endured and today the Pakistani armed forces offer  both high pay and services that measure up to world standards. In addition, these services are offered not just to active soldiers and their immediate  families, but also to retired soldiers and to soldiers’ parents. The effect has  been to make military service very attractive for many ordinary Pakistanis,  and to ensure a high standard of volunteer. It has also meant that the armed  forces are less susceptible to corruption, as a journalist in the Sindhi town of  Larkana explained:

One friend of mine, a colonel in the army, is about to retire. He has been  allocated a plot of land in Islamabad, which he can either build a house on  or sell for a big profit, and there is also a job in the Fauji Foundation. So  he doesn’t need to steal. Another friend, an SSP (Senior Superintendent of  Police), will also retire soon, and he will have nothing but his miserable  pension to live on, so he has to secure his retirement through corruption.9

Equally, the superintendent of police will need to maintain all his kinship  links and loyalties so as to gain political cover and protection for his corrupt  activities. In return, he will have to offer the protection and help of the police  to his kinsmen in their disputes with other kinship groups. 

Benefits to servicemen are therefore of immense importance in maintain ing discipline and obedience to the high command, even when this conflicts  with the soldiers’ own feelings on specific issues. This has been of immense  importance in the context of Pakistan’s assistance to the United States in  Afghanistan and of its actions (at least until 2009) against militants within  Pakistan itself, activities that have been very unpopular with many soldiers  and the communities from which they are drawn.

To maintain the military’s benefit scheme and to ensure that it is not  plundered requires both a strong sense of collective solidarity, with the  dedication and honesty that this creates, and a great deal of money. Neither  element can exist without the other. The Pakistani military has been able  to maintain its relative immunity to the demands of kinship ties and the  imperatives of corruption in large part because, since 1947, it has been able  to direct a huge share of the resources of the Pakistani state to its own ends. 

Of course, military benefits, and the very large share of the overall  state budget they require, have proven unpopular among other sections  of Pakistani society. Two types of benefit have been especially criticised.  The first is the grant to the military of huge urban landholdings, plots of  which are then sold to officers on easy terms in order to help them prepare  for retirement, a practice with roots in the British system of providing land  grants to Indian soldiers, and beyond that to the Mughals.10 

Lt-Gen. (Retd) Tanvir Naqvi justified the military’s system of land purchase to me this way:

The officer in general sees himself as leading a frugal life compared to  the civilian officials, let alone the politicians and businessmen. An officer’s  career may seem privileged, but it involves a nomadic life, living for long  years in freezing or boiling garrisons in the middle of nowhere, not being  able to look after your children after a certain age because they have to  be sent off to school and live with your parents. Wages have gone down  radically compared to the private sector over the past 30 years, though  you are still quite handsomely rewarded at retirement. That is why it is  so important to have the possibility to buy land for a house over a long  period and on easy terms.11  

The problem is that the military’s power over and importance to the  state have meant that over the years it has given the military free land in  what used to be the outer suburbs of cities but which is now among the  most expensive pieces of real estate in Pakistan. In the case of land grants  in Lahore, for example, the BBC has reported that the real value of a plot  increased from $65,000 in 2000 to more than $1.5 million in 2006.12

Inevitably, officers, who can acquire up to four plots depending on their  rank (or even more at the very top: President Pervez Musharraf had seven)  are purchasing plots at subsidised rates and then making a fortune by selling  them at market prices. This practice, while perfectly legal, could be said to  come under the heading of behaviour that is not illegal but damned well  ought to be, and has even attracted some criticism from within the military  itself.13 

The second main area of criticism relates to the military’s possession  of extensive industrial holdings, which also serve to look after retired  and disabled soldiers.14 The foundations were laid by the British Military  Reconstruction Fund for retired and wounded Indian soldiers during the  Second World War. In 1953, the Pakistani military decided to invest its share  of the remaining funds in commercial ventures, with the profits used to  support needy soldiers as before.  

In 1967, the resulting complex of industries and charitable institutions  was renamed the Fauji Foundation. By 2009, the Fauji Group (the commercial  wing) had assets worth Rs125 billion ($1.48bn), while the Fauji Foundation  (which runs the welfare institutions) controlled assets worth Rs44bn ($510  million). Contrary to popular belief, the Fauji Group’s commercial activities  are not exempt from taxation, and in 2005–06 it paid Rs32.4m ($380,000) in  taxes. The Fauji Foundation’s welfare spending, however, is tax-exempt. 

One of the key activities of the Fauji Foundation, with a budget of around  Rs4bn ($50m) a year, is to provide health care, education and vocational train ing for the children and dependents of ex-servicemen, and for the parents,  widows and families of soldiers killed or disabled in action. Men actually  serving in the military are helped by the welfare trusts of the Army, Navy and  Air Force. The Army Welfare Trust has total assets of some Rs50bn ($590m),  and owns, among other things, 16,000 acres of farmland, rice and sugar mills,  cement plants, and an insurance company.15 Unlike the Fauji Group, the  welfare trusts benefit from lower rates of tax and other state subsidies. 

The military and nationalism 

The Pakistani military distributes its internal benefits in an honest and  orderly way, for the good of soldiers but also of the armed forces as a whole. Thus, in some ways the military could be regarded as a kind of  kinship group, extracting patronage from the state and distributing it to its  members. The military could not do this, however, without a strong sustain ing and disciplining ethos. Instead of the blood ties that sustain ordinary  kinship groups, this ethos is provided by Pakistani nationalism, of which  the military feels itself to be the embodiment.16 

A central reason for the military’s belief in its own indispensability and  superiority over all other institutions is that it feels itself to be the only section of Pakistani society, and certainly the only state institution, which is  a true bearer of Pakistani loyalty. Outside the military, Pakistani national ism is seen as hopelessly qualified by some mixture of corrupt self-interest  and loyalty to other kin-based, ethnic or religious allegiances.  

Loyalty to Pakistan is drilled into both officers and the rank and file  from the moment they join the military, and great care is taken, not least  by Military Intelligence, to discourage soldiers from holding any other  allegiance, at least as long as they remain in the service. For this reason,  with the exception of General Zia’s term as military dictator, the Army  has not favoured open religious preaching within the military. (General  Zia favoured the preaching of the Tablighi-Jamaat organisation, which  is explicitly non-political, but even so his successors have sought, with  some success, to roll back its influence.) Despite the growth of explicitly  Islamist allegiances, the military continues to regard Islam as a personal  matter and as a feature of the national identity, rather than as a guiding  ideology. 

Of course, nationalism can be just as dangerous as religion. True, it has  been crucial to state-building and economic and social progress in many  parts of the world. Often, an appeal to strengthen the nation is the only thing  that can motivate large numbers of people to overcome their separate loyalties and identities and pool their efforts behind a common purpose. Equally,  nationalism very often is the only force that can legitimise the beating down  of old customs and entrenched elites for the sake of modernisation. On the  other hand, nationalistic appeals have frequently been directed at strengthening the nation against enemies, and the wars that have resulted have all  too often plunged whole societies into disaster.

In Pakistan, leaders such as Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and military rulers Muhammad Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf have explicitly  patterned their rule on that of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, whose secular,  modernising nationalism laid the foundation of modern Turkey. Both  Generals Khan and Musharraf publicly honoured Ataturk’s memory and  saw themselves as promoting programmes of Kemalist-style nationalist  modernisation in Pakistan. Both were strongly opposed to religious con servatism, and both made some attempt to modernise Pakistani society, especially concerning the treatment  of women.17 Despite the rise of the conservative lower middle classes in the officer corps, some aspects of this  commitment to social modernisation have remained in  the military. This can be attributed in part to a recognition that some degree of modern thinking and attitudes  are essential to the maintenance of effective armed forces. 

Also of great importance is the fact that, in fighting with Baloch tribal chieftains and Pashtun Taliban ultra-conservatives, the Army has developed an  idea of itself as representing some degree of social progress and modernity. 

This aspect of the military struck me rather strongly during a visit in  March 2011 to the district of Swat, which was largely controlled by the  Pakistani Taliban and their local allies until spring 2009, when the militants  were driven out by a ruthlessly effective military counter-offensive. At a  military centre for the rehabilitation of lower-level Taliban prisoners, I saw  how the Army was trying to counter Taliban ideology with a mixture of  Pakistani Muslim nationalism and education in literacy and other modern  skills.  

Even more striking was a visit to a centre for the vocational training of  women near the town of Matta, formerly a Taliban stronghold. Local women  were being taught sewing and handicrafts, and helped to market their products in Pakistan’s cities, both to boost their incomes and to encourage them  to use their influence in their families against the militants. Twice a week, a  female military doctor held a clinic to treat these women and their children.  The photographs on the walls of the clinic, which depicted women in the  military, were clearly intended to inspire these women with a belief both in Pakistani nationalism and in their own capacity for development and progress. The largest image showed one of Pakistan’s six women fighter pilots  climbing into the cockpit of her plane, wearing her helmet and goggles – a  sight to gladden any Kemalist’s heart. 

Unfortunately, there is almost no chance that the Pakistani military will  be able to successfully pursue a nationalist modernising strategy, as the  failures of both Ayub and Musharraf demonstrate. For this, the military  would need its own strong sense of nationalism to be replicated among the  general population, something that Pakistan’s deep ethnic and ideological  divisions have worked against. While the restricted ethnic make-up of the  military may be crucial to preventing it from disintegrating along ethnic  lines, an Army composed chiefly of northern Punjabis cannot possibly  mobilise Sindhis, Baloch or even southern Punjabis to revolt against their own elites in the name of strengthen ing Pakistan. Unlike Ataturk, who benefited from a very  strong sense of Turkish ethnic nationalism among large  sections of the population, Pakistan does not enjoy such  unity and cannot generate it. 

The contrast with Kemalism highlights another way  in which nationalism is not only inadequate for the trans formation of Pakistan but also threatens Pakistan with destruction. Ataturk’s ability ruthlessly to modernise Turkey was founded  not just on a strong sense of nationalism but on a national military victory,  which saw Turkey defeat the French, Armenians and Greeks, confront the  British and expel all non-Turkish forces from Anatolia. These were enemies  the country could feasibly defeat: the weak forces of Greece and Armenia,  and the exhausted ones of Britain and France, had been worn down by the  horrors of the First World War. Pakistani nationalism, on the other hand,  especially among the military, is structured around hostility to India,  a country with six times Pakistan’s population and almost ten times its  economy.18 (Over the past decade, the United States too has in some respects  become Pakistan’s enemy, through Washington’s ‘tilt towards India’ and  through the US military presence in Afghanistan, which is detested by most  Pakistanis and seen by the Pakistani security establishment as embodying a future threat of Indian domination of Afghanistan.) Yet India (to  say nothing of the United States) is a rival far beyond Pakistan’s strength.  Ayub’s prestige was shattered, and his modernising programme brought  to an end, by the failure of his war against India in 1965. In 1971 in East  Pakistan, the Pakistani military suffered a defeat from which its prestige  has never fully recovered. The US and international response to the Kargil  adventure of 1999 and to the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 (carried out by  Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a group established with the help of the Pakistani military to attack India) should have demonstrated to Pakistan that, quite apart  from India’s own strength, the international community will not tolerate  Pakistani attacks on another nuclear-armed power. The Pakistani military  dreams that China’s growing power will in future allow Pakistan to balance  against the United States and India, but so far China has pursued a very cautious strategy in this regard. Meanwhile, the military’s anti-Indian strategic  calculations over the future of Afghanistan have brought it into ever greater  conflict with the United States.  

Thus, while the Pakistani military can maintain the existence of Pakistan, it  is not nearly strong enough to transform the country into a successful modern  state. The armed forces’ Mameluk-style features, so important for saving it  from disintegration, work against its ability to unify the country. At the same  time, the nationalism on which the military relies to maintain its own morale  and discipline serves to draw the country into dangerous international rivalries and equally dangerous entanglements with extremist groups such as the  Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayiba. If there were to be another successful  terrorist attack on the United States by a Pakistan-based terrorist group, US  retaliation could threaten Pakistan and its army with destruction.


1 Interview in Islamabad, 15 July 2009.

2 For a fascinating discussion of  Mamelukism and its origins see  Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of  Political Order (London: Profile Books,  2011), pp. 189–228.  

3 Interview in Peshawar, 1 September  2008. 

4 Alison Shaw, Kinship and Continuity:  Pakistani Families in Britain (Reading:  Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000),  p. 99.

5 Stephen M Lyon, An Anthropological  Analysis of Local Politics and Patronage  in a Pakistani Village (Lampeter: Edwin  Mellen, 2004). 

6 Interview in Shikarpur, November 1988.

7 Muhammad Azam Chaudhary, Justice  in Practice: The Legal Ethnography of a Punjabi Village (Oxford: Oxford  University Press, 1999), p. 43. 

8 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords: Pakistan,  Its Army and the Wars Within (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2008), pp.  570–1. 

9 Interview in Larkana, 25 April 2009.

10 See Tan Tai Yong, The Garrison State:  Military, Government and Society in  Colonial Punjab, 1849–1947 (London:  Sage Publications 2005), p. 26. 

11 Interview in Karachi, 1 May 2009.

12 Adnan Adil, ‘Pakistan’s Post 9/11  Economic Boom’, cited in Brian Cloughley, War, Coups and Terror:  Pakistan’s Army in Years of Turmoil (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books,  2008), p. 157. 

13 Criticism from General Naqvi and  other officers with whom I have  spoken. 

14 See Ayesha Siddiqa, Military Inc.:  Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy  (Karachi: Oxford University Press,  2007). 

15 Figures available at the Fauji  Foundation website,

16 Stephen P. Cohen, The Pakistan Army (Karachi: Oxford University Press,  1999), pp. 105–6. 

17 Shahid Javed Burki and Craig Baxter,  Pakistan Under the Military (Boulder,  CO: Westview Press, 1991).  18 Cohen, The Pakistan Army, p. 179.

Survival (IISS) 2011. Anatol Lieven (2011) Military Exceptionalism in Pakistan, Survival, 53:4, 53-68, DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2011.603562.