Review of The Pakistan Garrison State: Origins, Evolutions, Consequences, 1947-2011 by Ishtiaq Ahmed Oxford University Press

The Pakistan Garrison State: Origins, Evolutions, Consequences, 1947-2011. Ishtiaq Ahmed. Karachi: Oxford University Press Pakistan, 2013. ISBN: 9780199066360

Ishtiaq Ahmed’s latest book is another outstanding piece of scholarship by an erudite scholar. This intellectually stimulating work is an important addition to the corpus of writings on modern and contemporary Pakistan, which by design and default has emerged as a “Garrison State”. While Farzana Shaikh’s Making Sense of Pakistan helps us understand why political Islam has become the most powerful political ideology and symbol of national identity in Pakistani, the volume under review makes us understand why the military is so preponderant, powerful and influential in the country – so much so that “Garrison State” has become the right expression to describe the country. This well-written book is complementary to several recent publications on Pakistan, especially Husain Haqqani’s Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military; Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc.; Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink; Imtiaz Gul’s The Most Dangerous Place; and last but not least, Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country.

Ahmed has quite convincingly proven his thesis that Pakistan’s armed forces have virtually become the state and the main custodian and proponent of political Islam, including ones championed by the Jamaat-i-Islami, Deoband clerics, the Taliban and other Islamist extremists. The author reveals that thanks to the growing influence of army officers recruited during the Zia Regime (1977-1988) – the so-called “Zia Bhartis” (Zia Recruits) – so far as the Pakistan Army is concerned, the so-called “folk-Islam” or liberal Sufi Islam of the Brelvi School of ulama has receded to the background. This informative and analytical work elucidates the following features of the “Garrison State”: a) how the Pakistani armed forces, especially the army, have established themselves not only as the defenders of the nation’s borders (albeit purportedly, as they were instrumental in the disintegration of the country in 1971) but also of Islam, the state-ideology, which seems to be in a constant state of “danger” since 1947; and b) from time to time ever since the first military takeover in 1958, the armed forces invent new philosophies and policies that have been moulding the nation into a pre-modern civil-military oligarchy.

The author has rightly traced the roots of the “Garrison State” to the British occupation of the Punjab in 1849, and their subsequent reliance on the province as the “sword arm” of the Empire till the end of the Raj. One finds beautiful narration and critical appraisal of the post-independence history of Pakistan in this volume with regard to the further entrenchment of the military in the body politic of the country. The author has shed new light on the old story as to how and why the bulk of Pakistanis often legitimize military rule, and consider the military the custodians of their freedom, dignity and most importantly, of Islam.

We find Pakistan is the only nuclear armed “Islamic nation” tied to the belief that the “enemies of Islam” within and beyond the region are hell-bent on destroying Islam and Muslims to subjugate forever “in the eternal conflict between Dar-ul-Islam and Dar-ul-Harb” or between the “House of Islam” and the “House of War”. The author’s illustration of the indoctrination process of the Pakistani masses by their leaders is fascinating. How elite manipulation and cultural hegemony work in neutralizing the so-called autonomous domain of mass consciousness (through “false consciousness”) is crucial. As the author demonstrates, contrary to what we find in the neo-Marxist Subaltern historiography, elite manipulation has programmed Pakistani masses into believers of the “evil triumvirate” of the Hanud-Yahud-Ansara (Hindus-Jewish-Christian) as the main enemy of Islam, and their country, which even the self-styled “enlightened moderate” General Musharraf considers “Islam ka qila” or the “fortress of Islam”. Thanks to the promotion of the siege mentality, and the consequential popularity of the threat perception, the average Pakistani favours strong armed forces and nuclear weapons.

The book has eighteen well-written chapters. The author has competently used historical, economic, sociological and contemporary data and methods in preparing this significant work on the Garrison State of Pakistan, which academics, analysts, policymakers and security practitioners within and outside Pakistan will find very useful. This volume is a departure from all the previously written – traditional and modern – works on contemporary Pakistan, its armed forces, Islamic militancy and the immediate and long-term future of the country.

I find Chapter 1 “The Fortress of Islam: A Metaphor for a Garrison State” the most well-written and important chapter of the work. Other chapters are on the British, American and Soviet attitudes towards Pakistan in its formative phase; the colonial roots of its army; the First Kashmir War of 1947-1948; the First Military Takeover; the 1965 War; the growing disenchantment of East Pakistan; the 1971 War and the separation of Bangladesh; the Bhutto and Zia regimes; Islamization of the polity; the Afghan Jihad and other security and governance issues in Pakistan under General Musharraf, and the subsequent civilian government in relation to Islamist militancy, India, America and the world at large.

The concluding appraisal of the state of affairs in Pakistan is not promising but very important to reflect on by Pakistani elites, policymakers, security analysts and the country’s old and new friends and donors like the US, China and Saudi Arabia:

The state seems to have lost control in the internal domain as fanatics have been able to hit targets almost at will. Pakistan’s reputation as the epicenter of global terrorism and a rogue state is there to stay for quite some time. Another major terrorist attack outside Pakistan can create a dangerous situation for the security and existence of Pakistan. It is, therefore, imperative that the stakeholders in the Pakistan power equation – especially the military – work out a long-term policy and strategy that can create stability, peace, and prosperity within Pakistan as well as help normalize relations with its neighbours – provided they, too, nurture similar aspirations [p.470].

Ishtiaq Ahmed’s interesting book demonstrates as to how and why a weak and apolitical army evolved into the most powerful institution in Pakistan, virtually having de facto veto power over politics. It also controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and formulates its domestic and foreign policies. The circumstances that established the Pakistan army as one of the most pampered armies in the world, and as the “custodian of Islam”, are interesting. The author has beautifully narrated the story in historical and contemporary perspectives as to how Pakistan has become a “Garrison State”.

We learn from the book that as the British promoted a “proto-garrison state” in what is Pakistan today, the Cold War also played an important role in the ascendancy of the military in the country; and that Pakistan’s “three donors”, the US, China and Saudi Arabia have played an important role in this regard. The author also elucidates as to how from the 1980s onward, hawkish and Islamist officers have been nurturing the concepts of Global Jihad and Pan-Islamism beyond South Asia. “Along with hard-core Islamists, the hawks began to imagine Pakistan as a great, expansive, regional power extending to western and central Asia and a liberated Kashmir free from Indian occupation,” explicates the author (p.4). Ahmed has rightly pointed out that while officially Pakistan spends around 2.6 per cent of its GDP on defence or around $5.5 billion (compared to India’s $34 billion), it actually spends much more. In 2009 it spent around 23 per cent on defence and only 1.3 percent on health and 7.8 per cent on education. The corresponding figures for India are18 percent on defence, 3.4 per cent on health and 12.7 per cent on education. And that, Pakistan’s rich and powerful hardly pay any income tax. Relying on Ayesha Siddiqa’s data, the author re-asserts the fact that a Pakistani general legally acquires assets worth Rs 150 to 400 million.

We know that Pakistan is possibly the worst example of a post-colonial state. After the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the bureaucracy literally ran the country until the first military takeover in October 1958. The over-developed bureaucracy and military along with a well-entrenched “feudal” aristocracy have been running the country, while the weak and marginalized civil society and further marginalized masses remain subservient. Thanks to the Cold War exigencies, while Islamists flourished, leftist and even liberal democratic opposition have remained weak and disorganized. The author points out that Hamza Alavi ignored the Cold War aspect in the marginalization of the left and the corresponding rise of Islamist forces in Pakistan. Weak civilian organizations have failed to tackle better-organized armed forces that also carry arms. The military has not only legitimized itself as the custodian of freedom and Islam but has also promoted the culture of mistrust towards democracy and civilians. The military from time to time also projects “internal threats” as the biggest security challenge to Pakistan. The author has aptly suggested that Pakistan’s physical distance from the US has been a factor behind the country’s enjoying “considerable autonomy” when compared to Latin American countries with regard to US intervention.

This work helps us understand Harold Lasswell’s arguments that a) advanced military technology alters the civil-military relations to the advantage of the military; and b) a broad social base rather than the traditional narrow social base of ruling classes supports the garrison state. Military officers in a garrison state provide a broad range of services besides security. They run the state and its economy; create jobs; and provide other services. Most importantly, they create an “obedient and docile population indoctrinated to believe in the inevitability of war” and the indispensability and superiority of the armed forces. As the author argues, Pakistan has become an ideal Machiavellian garrison state where political Islam being the state ideology has turned the country into the “Fortress of Islam”.

The book is very enlightening both for experts and general readers. I find the following expositions by the author very useful: a) all coup makers justify their action as “unpleasant” but “necessary” for the safety and integration of the country, to protect from internal threats (from politicians); b) as articulated by Asghar Khan, the Pakistan Army was responsible for all four wars it fought against India. The author has aptly argued that the rationale for “Garrison State” lies in the successful manufacture of fear of foreign aggression; and fear of internal subversion by civilians in cahoots with politicians, by manipulating generals. We cannot agree more with the author that: “In addition to the fear of foreign aggression, historical and cultural factors can help generate an ideology of the garrison state” – a state needs a “damning narrative about the enemy, a victimhood self-identity, and an imperative to maintain a strong and powerful military”. Consequently, as the author argues, in Pakistan “threat perception” rather than “threat” has become the main steering force of the statecraft. He has succinctly narrated the history of the failure of civil administration in Pakistan after the assassination of its first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951.

As the author has elaborated the internal dynamics of “garrison states”, he has also discussed the external factors behind such states. He has rightly pointed out the US as the super power, which tolerated and promoted several “garrison states” besides Pakistan, such as Taiwan, Israel, South Korea and Indonesia during the Cold War. I find the author’s following observation very interesting for understanding why countries like Pakistan are under military tutelage: “Pakistan can continue as a post-colonial garrison state as long as the donors are willing to provide it with the required resources, and it can convince or coerce its population that the struggle for survival necessitates prioritization of the allocation of scarce resources to security and defence.”

Last but not least, the author has shattered the myths that only the military is responsible for turning a democracy into a “Garrison State”, civilian politicians play an important role in this regard; and that a country under military rule is better able to fight external enemies. Pakistan narrowly survived the 1965 War against India and in the next encounter with India in 1971 it lost its eastern wing. And during both the wars that Pakistan forced on India, generals ran the country.

Reviewed by Taj Hashimi, Austin Peay State University
Edited by Jill Gaeta

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 7, Fall, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy. [Originally published on the St. Scholastica website]