India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in August 1947, with a difference of one day. The departing British colonialists had granted dominion status to both these South Asian colonies, with the proviso of full independence upon framing their respective constitutions.
Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”
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Understanding the matter better
The newborn dominions, emerging after 348 years of indirect and direct British rule, had waded through rivers of blood caused by conspiracies, infighting, betrayals, famines, two world wars, and a protracted freedom struggle. Both of them had a common historical background and socio-economic traditions.
The British East India Company was formed in 1599 under a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1600. The British Joint Stock Company, as it was known earlier, was founded by John Watts and George White for trade with Asian nations in the south and southeast. The formal British rule in India is under- stood to have commenced in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when the Nawab of Bengal surrendered his dominions to the British East India Company. Henceforth the British Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to a political entity that virtually ruled India.
The formal British rule in India is under- stood to have commenced in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when the Nawab of Bengal surrendered his dominions to the British East India Company. Henceforth the British Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to a political entity that virtually ruled India.
John Company (as the British preferred to call the British East India Company) ruled India till 1858 – the end of the Sepoy Mutiny, when the company rule in India was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (who, in 1876, was proclaimed Empress of India. It lasted until 1947).
The common cultural and historical heritage of these two South Asian giants was marred by mistrust and religious hatred during the independence struggle that spanned the period between the two world wars. However, it was believed that after gaining independence both of them would follow the path of democracy and social justice promised by the leading lights on both sides of the political divide. Surprisingly, this did not happen.
India framed its constitution soon after independence. It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on 26 November 1949 and became effective on 26 January 1950. The constitution laid down the division of powers between the state institutions. During the last 75 years, the Indian constitution had, by and large, performed adequately, including the civil-military jurisdiction.
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It was a different story in the case of Pakistan which remained a British Dominion, like Canada and Australia, until 1956. It is believed that the delay in framing the constitution happened due to the mistrust between the two wings – the West Pakistani center of gravity, comprising mainly of the landed aristocracy, was wary of sharing power with the Bengalis who were in majority.
How did the struggle for power frame the civil-military relations in Pakistan?
The civil-military relations in Pakistan have been impacted by:1) the First Kashmir War, and, 2) the game of musical chairs during the1950s, culminating in the 1958 martial law. Pakistan’s response to the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, soon after independence, was determined by a civil government that found itself incapable of launching an overt military invasion of the state and was thus constrained to seek help from non-state actors. Pakistan Army’s role in this conflict remained confined to seconding two of its officers to a ghost headquarters covertly set up with the blessings of Pakistan’s prime minister for planning, preparation, and execution of the secret war in J&K.
It also sent some of its officers on leave to provide leadership to the infiltrators. Pakistan Army was fully involved in the conflict in the spring of 1948 when the Indian Army was threatening to advance beyond Line Uri-Poonch- Naushera. This was how the Indo-Pakistan hostility paradigm was framed. Integration of Jammu and Kashmir state with Pakistan was not possible without taking the risk of employing the Pakistan Army. However, General Muhammad Akbar Khan, one of the key players in the planning and execution of the first Kashmir war, disillusioned by the political and military leadership, joined the communists and tried to topple the government in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy. This was the beginning of Bonapartism in Pakistan.
During the Cold War era, Pakistan was the only country in the so-called “Free World” where the political government had the serving army chief (General Muhammad Ayub Khan) double as the country’s defense minister. Behind the Iron Curtain, Marshall Grechko of the Soviet Union held this honor. The point here is, the civil governments involved the army in politics and then cursed it when it went out of their control. This pattern was refined during the decade spanning the period between the end of the First Kashmir War and the imposition of martial law in 1958.
Pakistan remained under military rule till it was dismembered in December 1971. Thereafter, power in Pakistan has alternated between pseudo-democratic and military governments. We say pseudo-democratic because frequent military interventions have throttled nurturing of a democratic culture. This again-off-again jockeying for power has created a deep chasm between the politicians and the military.
Over the last four decades, successive Pakistani governments have, through cronyism, destroyed the heavy industry. The heavy industries nationalized by Bhutto, Karachi steel mills, and Karachi shipyards are but a few examples. The remaining plants are under the hammer. After depleting the country of its industrial assets, successive political governments have encouraged the emergence of a few cartels which control the entire economy.
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Presently, the economy is being held hostage to sugar, fertilizer, and textile barons, most of them politicians and retired bureaucrats. The economy of Pakistan, as it stands today, cannot support the armed forces to even maintain a semblance of a viable defensive posture. And this is when the army and the air force are fighting the war on terror as well as keeping more than an eye on the eastern border. In such a situation, when Pakistan’s armed forces are financially hamstrung in meeting their defence needs, they will continue to play a larger-than-life role in the national decision-making process.
Another factor that has massively impacted the power matrix in Pakistan is the nuclear trigger. Since Bhutto was overthrown by Zia, nuclear deterrence remained as potent an instrument of power in the hands of generals as it was with the political forces. The military has also used nuclear deterrence as a dimension of borrowed power to underwrite its clout in the power matrix.
In India’s case, political stability was facilitated by the presence of Nehru who remained in power for 17 years, allowing him time to build the national institutions. Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, died one year after independence, leaving the country at the mercy of dwarfs who brought it to the tumultuous situation where it stands today.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.