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Monday, January 28, 2008

Army needs to pull out for its own survival'

Army needs to pull out for its own survival'
-- Dr Ayesha Jalal, renowned historian and Professor at Tufts University

The News on Sunday: Given the circumstances in which Pakistan was created, with the country inheriting a huge army, do you think the military's intervention in politics was but natural?

Dr Ayesha Jalal: There were structural constraints. Pakistan's defense requirements were out of proportion with its resource base. We inherited 30 per cent of the Indian defense forces and only 17 and a half per cent of the financial assets. Moreover, the entire defense of the undivided India was based on defending the North West Frontier regions. So, effectively, what it cost to defend the undivided India cost to defend Pakistan. With the resource base that was much less -- 17 and a half per cent (23 per cent of land base and 18 per cent of the population), there was a disjunction.

As a historian, I don't subscribe to inevitability; there are structural restraints but there's always a choice. So, choices were made, to bring Kashmir into Pakistan. And following that policy, priority was given to military's requirements for defense. Once hostility started on Kashmir, India withheld arms and ammunition and that, of course, created a need to go to the world markets. And the story goes on.

All I'll say is that, yes, structurally there was a problem, but ultimately human choice was responsible for the direction Pakistan took, which eventually resulted in greater military domination.

I think one of the great flaws in our understanding of Pakistan history has been that everybody assumes that it's in 1958, but military dominance had started much earlier. Certainly it started in '51 with Liaquat's assassination and in '53. So, in fact, we need to distinguish between phases of dominance and actual intervention by the military. Even when we say the military has ruled us for 36 years, in fact it was much more when you weigh in the dominance factor.

TNS: So, where does that leave us?

AJ: The military's dominance in politics is something that we have to conceptualise. What we mean when we talk in terms of where Pakistan should go. Because, when you look at the dominance of the military in other countries -- let's say, Latin America, especially Argentina and Brazil, two countries where the military ruled the roost for long -- they have succeeded in the last 10-odd years.

Now the question arises as to why did that happen. First of all, what did happen in the case of Argentina was a complete loss of face on the part of the army. There was a huge civil society movement against the missing people. And, even if we talk about the army pulling out of politics we must realise that the space that is created must be occupied by the civil society which has been asleep and pulverised for too long. That's what Argentina's example shows you.

But, the more interesting thing that has to be kept in mind -- which I think has echoes of the situation currently facing Pakistan -- is the Brazilian example. The Brazilian army chose to withdraw because it was in there, because it began to realise that there were parts of the army that were getting infiltrated. So, the coherence of the army as an institution was at stake. The Brazilian army intelligently withdrew from politics but did not give up its prerogatives. So, what I want to suggest is that even if the Pakistan army withdraws from politics, we cannot assume that its prerogatives and privileges will go. The dominance will stay for extended periods of time.

TNS: Why should the army pull out?

AJ: An army pulls out when its internal coherence is at stake. We need the army to carry out the operations in FATA. It's vital. But, the civil society has to occupy the space that the army will try to concede. The army needs to focus on what it is supposed to be doing rather than in running the country or its intelligence interfering in elections. That is clear. And, that is achievable. I think, some of the things are in place. Clearly the army itself has to be persuaded to pull out a little bit, and I think the internal coherence point is there, too, but the pressure from the civil society has to continue. The press and media have also got to continue to play their roles.

The other point that I want to make is that the civil society has been weak in this country; it's been pulverised and manipulated. But the civil society has to have a more effective means of constantly holding the electoral process and the political process accountable. We can't just think that the civil society has to become active at election time only; it's a constant thing. And, this is what we haven't had.

TNS: But, where is the impetus going to come from?

AJ: Debate is clearly very important. We've done it before. Remember what happened in '73? When Bhutto came and after Bangladesh seceded, there was a great opportunity but it wasn't exploited.

TNS: How do you view Pakistan's strategic placement and the US strategic compulsions that turned Pakistan into a 'strategic rentier'?

AJ: Pakistan was definitely strategically placed. The land entry points of Frontier happened to fall in Pakistan. We needed the same amount of defense as was required to the undivided India. For its part, the US started off with a far less of an interest. In 1947, when Pakistan went begging for money to avert bankruptcy, America was less interested and more involved, at that stage, with Greece and Turkey. In '49, it became more lukewarm. The Americans began to strike out on their own in South Asia only around the time of the Korean War, and they were also concerned about what was happening in the Middle East. But, the relationship was based on divergent interests. For America, it was an opportunity to use Pakistan's forces to defend what it called the Persia-Iraq sector, the lucrative oil fields. For Pakistan it was a means to raise a shield of defense against India, to acquire the weapons. We didn't have the money. So, in a sense, it is right to say that Pakistan basically sold itself to acquire those bits and pieces of arms and ammunition it needed to build an army. I am currently reading Gauhar Ayub's book and it has chapters on arms procurement. Gauhar also says that it was an obsessive dimension.

TNS: Was it the military leadership that was taking the initiative each time?

AJ: The military said they needed arms. When Jinnah told Gen Messervy to go into Kashmir, the fact is that there was no army. Messervy said that army was not capable of putting up a fight against the Indians in Kashmir. They had to come through the international border. So, they had to give up the idea, the desire for Kashmir, which means that the political leadership was itself involved. But, yes, the drive ultimately was coming from the military for arms.

In the first few years, the army was looking more at the British, and Pakistan wasted a lot of very precious money to pick up obsolete World War II arms which had to be then got rid of. So that drive was very important. But that still doesn't explain the ultimate involvement -- the involvement that begins with the removal of Liaquat Ali Khan -- a clear shift, first of all, from the Karachi-based Urdu speaking group to a die-hard pro-West consisting of the likes of Ghulam Muhammad and Gurmani. All these characters were then in cohorts with the army. The other main reason was to keep the Bengalis at bay, because you didn't complete constitution-making since the Bengalis were in a majority. So, you got to sort of play around with the Constitution. That shifted from '51 -- then getting rid of Nazimuddin in '53 -- that was our first coup carried out by Ghulam Muhammad. From that point onwards, the army's involvement has prevented the civil, elected institutions from strengthening and blossoming.

TNS: Would you also accuse our politicians of showing a lack of sagacity?

AJ: Your first lot of politicians was emmigre politicians. They were from India. Liaquat had support among the Mohajir group, but he didn't have a natural constituency in Pakistan. So, they were not pushed to build the Muslim League in the real sense. They were, in fact, threatened by the Muslim League. So, the result was that the Pakistan Muslim League was handed over to Khaleeq-uz-Zaman -- a UP politician -- and he began to appoint wayward people from the top to the provincial leagues. The provincial leagues then revolted, with people like Mamdot wanting their own fiefdom. Instead of building up the Muslim League as a party with a base of support throughout the country, what they did was to focus on state consolidation. That worked to the advantage of the civil bureaucrats. They were taking decisions that should have been taken by the politicians. So, you see, it happened very early on. A confluence of factors resulted in a scenario where the civil officials -- in cohorts with certain army guys -- began to play a very prominent role.

The other point I'd like to make is that Pakistanis have always been crying 'America!' But, the Americans have had their own legitimate strategic interests in Pakistan. You are taking money from America, and then you are saying, 'How dare you dictate?' You can't have it both ways.

TNS: Regarding Kashmir, would you say that we had a choice at all? Kashmir remains the 'unfinished agenda' from partition times?

AJ: Well, one always has a choice. Gauhar Ayub writes in his book that troops were sent into Sri Nagar, and that the opportunity was there, but they didn't take it. I disagree with that. Clearly, it was not something that Pakistan could have achieved militarily. It was going to have to be done politically -- either with the Kashmiris, and you've got to look at the reality on the ground which was that Abdullah was very popular at that stage. The opportunity came in '53 when Abdullah was thrown out. But once you had got yourself entangled militarily, it became much more difficult to press the advantage politically.

It's not a complete zero-sum game. India will need to give you something in order to justify taking that position. This may be an opportunity to get a solution on Kashmir that is acceptable to the people of Kashmir. That has changed, by the way, in Pakistan. That hand-us-over-Kashmir business has done us a lot of damage, because the world didn't buy that. It was a legitimate stance, but the world saw Pakistan as an opportunist and that undermined the country's position.

Kashmir is certainly a flashpoint, but it is by no means the only issue, because, let's say, tomorrow the Kashmir issue is solved, do you think that we will be in a position to roll back the defence? My answer to you is, we won't. What's very interesting is that in 1951, prior to the Rawalpindi conspiracy case, the British and the Americans were pushing the Pakistan army to accept a division of Kashmir along the Chenab River. This was acceptable to senior officers as the only practical solution. From a military point of view, however, it was the politicians who couldn't sell it -- because it meant giving India three quarters and living with one-thirds that you have. So, in that sense, you have to admit that the politicians are to blame, and I connect Liaquat's stance with the fact that he made up for his lack of popular support with the Kashmir issue, or tried to. They paid a price.

TNS: The issue has been there throughout. We fought the 1965 war over Kashmir.

AJ: The famous story is that civilians were responsible for the war. But, clearly, there has been a nexus on as far as Kashmir is concerned between the politicians. It's not that we're to point the finger strictly at the army, but the army has been the ultimate beneficiary of this. And, once it got into the saddle, it has prevented every other institution from developing. There has been constant interference -- and the politicians are to blame as well -- because if you look at the past few decades, all the politicians were happy to work with the ISI or get the ISI on their side to deploy against the others.

TNS: By the 1990s, the common understanding was that military is a 'given'. How can we get out of that situation?

AJ: I think what has been fundamentally flawed with this country is that institutions haven't been able to strike any kind of a balance. Either we've had no institutions or utter chaos, or the army comes in and then tries to rule it. It's very possible that people think they're doing their best. But, the net result today is that there is a severe institutional imbalance. Army is far too involved in everything. And, for its own sake, it's own institutional coherence as an effective fighting force and as an effective army, it needs to pull out.

TNS: How sincere, in your view, are Gen Kiyani's intentions to pull the army out of civil institutions?

AJ: Frankly, I would't know. I don't know Mr Kiyani. But, the past record of the army suggests that we have to take this very lightly -- because, there are structural reasons why the army can't pull out. It may well be that they will pull out the serving officers, but not the retired lot. The sum total of the issue is the army's involvement in politics. Are they going to now allow some degree of freedom to the political process? Every political process has its dynamics. You cannot constantly manipulate and manage. There is far too much manipulation and management of the intellectual scene in Pakistan.

TNS: Would you say that independent judiciary could ensure democracy?

AJ: See, judiciaries don't ensure democracy; democracies ensure the independence of the judiciary. The lawyers' movement has definitely been a remarkable one. It is because of them that we've come this far. But, we've got to go further on from here. A vibrant, vigorous debate through the press should be of help.

TNS: Constitutionally, is there a provision of ISI getting involvement in politics?

AJ: See, the 1973 Constitution has been distorted to the extent that to call it a constitution would be a misnomer; thanks to constant amendments. The Army Act is also a disaster -- totally unconstitutional.

TNS: What are the dangers to the Pak federation under a military rule?

AJ: That's quite obvious. In smaller provinces, it is perceived as a Punjabi colonising army. And, unfortunately, this has always magnified under a direct military rule. I mean, under whatever combination. The fact of the matter is that it is seen as a military prerogative. You have a full-fledged insurgency going on in Balochistan. There is resentment in Sindh. But I do think that the counter to that has been the PPP and Benazir Bhutto's stance and now Zardari's. So, the federation, unfortunately from the perception of the non-Punjabi provinces, is inherently inequitable, as it stands. It is very necessary to re-constitute it. And, if we cannot re-constitute it democratically, the threat will be there. And, that, in itself will ricochet on the nuclear assets. There, too, the army has to balance its own institutional interests with broader interests of the state. Pakistan has become a military barrack and it's meant to be a state.

TNS: Why we don't find parallels in the post-partition India?

AJ: First of all, India inherited British India's military state apparatus, whereas we were cast in the role of the seceding state despite protests by the Quaid. He had protested the retention of the name 'India' by the Congress, saying that this was an unfair advantage. Moreover, Congress in India was a better organised party than Muslim League was in Pakistan. Like Pakistan, Congress also adopted the 1935 Act. Three quarters of the Indian Constitution is still the 1935 Act. So, basically, India was unitary in substance and federal in form. Then, we find that our prime minister was assassinated, whereas Jawahar Lal Nehru took India to elections. By the time we broke up in '71, India had gone to elections four times -- in '51, '57, '62 and '67.

Most interestingly, if you look at it geographically, India's science has been its saviour. I don't want to underestimate the steps taken by Nehru to keep the army in place. If you look at protocol, tell me what the protocol of an army chief is. It comes down to 7 or 8 -- very low, compared to what it actually is.

In Pakistan, it was the bureaucracy and the army that forged the alliance against the politicians. Some politicians did help them, but to keep the Bengalis in place. Another factor was the international dimension. India and Nehru kept the foreign powers at bay while Pakistan invited America. Finally, every normal Pakistani knows how a coup is carried out. It's not possible in India because it's a very large country and the army would break. All these reasons have meant that India has definitely kept army in its place.

So, what we need is a continuous political process. Otherwise the military will come and go, and everytime it comes into power, it will make martyrs and saints out of politicians.


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