Pakistan has been called a garrison state since it gained independence in 1947. The presence of the military and its associated organizations, such as the intelligence agencies, has historically been an important aspect of politics and society. During times of crisis and instability, the military establishment comes to play a central role. In addition to playing a key role in national security, institutions with strong military connections have also played a major role in politics, economy, and society. The armed forces have staged successful coups on three occasions: 1951, 1958, and 1977.
In each case, the intervention was to restore order rather than introduce new policies or initiate social change. The generals believed they could do it better than politicians who were seen as corrupt and inept. There are historical as well as structural reasons for this dominance of the military in Pakistani society that cannot be explained away by individual misconduct or incompetence of leaders at any given time. This article explores these factors that make Pakistan a garrison state that is controlled by its army chief rather than elected government officials.
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Strong Military Tradition and Culture
The Pakistani military is one of the strongest in the world. It has a long history, having been created in 1947 from Indian Armed Forces units that served in British-run India. It has also had a strong tradition of independence from elected officials. For example, it kept the government from acquiring nuclear weapons by threatening to intervene in the 1990s, even though the elected civilian officials had the authority to do so.
It has also intervened in elections, as it did in August 2018 to overthrow a democratically elected government through a military coup after elected leaders lost control over the country and the economy and refused to account for the money lost through corruption. The Pakistani military is a strong and proud organization that is revered by many Pakistanis as a symbol of national pride.
Weak Civilian Leadership
Pakistan has had a long history of weak civilian leadership. The first leader of Pakistan, Liaqat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951, the second, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed in 1979, and the third, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007. For most of its history, Pakistan has had a weak parliament, which has been dominated by military officers. In the past, the two institutions have shared power; however, since the 1980s, the military has gained primacy. The executive branch has been particularly weak.
Military officers, who serve as governors in the provinces, have been able to exercise considerable authority. In addition, the bureaucracy is controlled by military officers who are not accountable to elected officials.
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Institutional presence of Intelligence Agencies
At independence, there was only one intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB). In 1972, General Zia-ul-Haq created the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to have a more centralized intelligence agency. Other intelligence agencies that have been created since then are the Federal Security Bureau (FSB), Military Intelligence (MI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). All of these intelligence agencies have been accused of acting in ways to promote their own interests at the expense of the government.
The ISF has been particularly infamous for manipulating elections and politics in Pakistan. In addition to these intelligence agencies, the military has also created a number of non-military organizations. The most important of these are the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Corps of Engineers (COE).
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Limited Rule of Law and weak State Capacity
One important feature of state capacity is its ability to establish the rule of law and enforce it. State capacity is the ability of a country to provide public goods and services through an effective government. It has two major components: legislative capacity and administrative capacity. Legislative capacity refers to the ability of the legislature to enact and implement laws. Administrative capacity refers to the ability of the government to implement policies and provide services to the population.
Pakistan’s weak state capacity has been a key structural factor in the dominance of the military establishment. Unfortunately, Pakistan has had a weak legislative capacity and a poor record of regularly passing laws. Pakistan’s administrative capacity is also weak. Like other aspects of the relationship between the military and state, the extent of state capacity has waxed and waned according to the capacity of individual leaders.
The Pakistani military has long been a powerful political force, both in theory and in practice. In theory, it is subordinate to the elected government – and to the civilian-controlled judiciary. In practice, however, it has consistently acquired more power and authority than is formally given to it by the constitution and the law. This has been possible because the military has controlled many of the most important aspects of Pakistani political and social life: it has dominated the political system; it has controlled the country’s foreign policy; it has controlled the country’s economy, and it has controlled the country’s internal security.
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It has done so not only through its inherent power but also through its control of the country’s major organizations: the bureaucracy, the legislature, the judiciary, the economy, and the press.
Muhammad Abid Hussain shah Jillani is a Doctoral student of International law at Zhengzhou University. The author is a Lawyer by profession and is currently based in Multan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.