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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Militarization of the civilian mind in Pakistan

In the context of Pakistan, and especially for this article, militarization refers to the peculiar mindset of Pakistan's who's who – the civil bureaucracy, feudal lords, politicians, media persons, and businessmen, in short, all those who matter in the society.

In the wake of the “Letter Gate”, the Army is again in the eye of the storm. It is the same old story. To wrest power, the civilians are partners in hatching conspiracies with the generals. Once in power, they don’t want to share it with their former co-conspirators. And when booted out of power by the generals, they try to project themselves as martyrs and champions of democracy. This is their dilemma.

Militarization here does not mean the universally acknowledged process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. In the context of Pakistan, and especially for this article, militarization refers to the peculiar mindset of Pakistan’s who’s who – the civil bureaucracy, feudal lords, politicians, media persons, and businessmen, in short, all those who matter in the society. Let us see what is so unique about all these groups. They envy the armed forces, particularly the army, use it to reach the corridors of power, try to ride the military horse, and scream when the horse throws them to the ground.

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I had written earlier

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, that 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’s civilians – I mean all those who rub shoulders at the high places, have a love-hate relationship-an obsession, with the army. They hate the army’s “condescending demeanor” while envying its way of life.

A majority of Pakistan’s civil elite believe, or tend to believe that it was Ayub Khan who had imposed Pakistan’s first martial law in 1958. It was Iskander Mirza, Pakistan’s first civil president, who abrogated the constitution, declared martial law, and made Ayub Khan PM and Chief Martial Law Administrator. Iskander Mirza had intended to commission a team of foreign and Pakistani constitutional experts to frame a new constitution based on the presidential form of government and continue ruling as the president.

Mirza was a civil bureaucrat who had left the Royal Indian Army after a brief service and joined the Indian Political Service. After the partition, he was appointed defense secretary in Liaqat Ali Khan’s cabinet. After Quaid’s death, Iskander Mirza prevailed upon Governor General Ghulam Muhammad to grant him the local rank of Major General.

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He liked to be addressed as General Iskander Mirza

We all know that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was introduced into politics by President Iskander Mirza and was assigned different ministries during President Ayub Khan’s military rule. Appointed Foreign Minister in 1963, Bhutto was the proponent of Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir, leading to the 1965 war with India. After the Tashkent Agreement ended hostilities, Bhutto fell out with Ayub Khan and was sacked by the government.

It is interesting to know how these aces of the civil society tend to forge friendships with the Army top brass, socialize with them, manipulate to use them as movers and shakers in their quest for power, and then loath them when the generals de-seat them and assume power. One such case of the naked quest for power was Bhutto’s role before the 71 war.

On leaving Ayub Khan’s government, Bhutto started confiding with his friends that, to come into power, it was imperative that the army should be destroyed, even if it required a manipulated war with India. In November 1971, General Yahya sent Bhutto as the head of a delegation to China. He was accompanied by Lieutenant General Gul Hassan and Air Marshal Rahim Khan, CGS Pakistan Army, and Air Chief respectively. The purpose of this visit was to appraise the military and political situation in erstwhile East Pakistan and ask for Chinese help.

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What happened next?

Contrary to the Bhutto instigated propaganda that the Chinese leadership expressed their inability to help Pakistan at this critical juncture, this is what they told Bhutto, Gul Hassan, and Rahim Khan:

“The Chinese leadership expressed deep concern over the situation and agreed that India was poised to attack East Pakistan in the name of Bengali freedom fighters, the Mukti Bahini that had been raised and equipped by the Indian Army for fighting the civil war in East Pakistan. While the Chinese assured of their complete political, diplomatic and material support, they were apprehensive of any meaningful military support. This was because of the approaching winters, which would make the Himalayan passes snow-bound and insurmountable. The movement of Chinese troops along the Sikkim border, or raising any form of military threat by China would be unrealistic and void of the desired effect. The Chinese leadership, therefore, advised that we should stall an open conflict with India, if possible altogether or at least until the opening of mountain passes, the following year.”

After the meeting with the Chinese leadership, while Bhutto went to sleep in his bedroom on the pretext that he was having a headache, Gul Hassan, who was already in cahoots with Bhutto, told Rahim Khan that:

“The East-West break-up was a foregone conclusion. And with it the fall of Yahya regime, discrediting the ability of armed forces leadership to rule the country anymore”.

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Having painted a gloomy scenario Gul came up with his punch line. The situation could still be salvaged he said, ‘if we play our cards right. When East Pakistan falls ‘we should somehow make Yahya willingly step down in favor of a civilian set up that would protect the likes of us who were only marginally involved in Yahya’s martial law’…….. “When the Air Marshal asked Gul to come to the point, he disclosed his plan, which in fact, was a downright conspiracy”. ‘When East Pakistan falls and there is a call to bring in a civilian set-up, they should suggest installing Bhutto at the helm of affairs.”


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.