The militarization of Pakistan: the evolution of Pakistan’s national security state5

Pakistan inherited its institutional structure in the field of security from the British colonial authorities at the time of the partition of India in 1947. A large number of British-trained civil and military officers continued to hold key positions in the Pakistani setup. More importantly, Pakistan’s military largely retained the institutional structure bequeathed by Britain at the time of independence. However, the British structure was designed for imperial rule in India and to fight in Britain’s wars overseas. Until 1973, Pakistan largely continued with the same military structure (Hafeez 2012). In many ways, the internal and external security environment of Pakistan helped to facilitate the military’s dominance of state affairs.

Internally, the institutions that existed before Pakistan was created were the army and civil bureaucracy. Pakistan had to build other state institutions from

Pakistan ’s national security state 37 scratch in order to maintain its independence (Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, interview by author, Islamabad, 8 December 2017). The Pakistan Muslim League was unable to transform itself into a strong political party and its central leadership had no political constituency of their own in the newly formed country, as they migrated from India. Moreover, the local politicians were not interested in federal politics at the national level. Following the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1948, and Liaqat Ali Khan in 1951, the political leadership of the country was further weakened, and since then. Pakistan experienced a prolonged spell of political instability after 1947 (Blom 2011). The country saw seven prime ministers and four governor generals during the first decade of independence, a critical time for state building in any new countiy. The Pakistani leadership failed to formulate a constitution or hold elections during the first nine years of independence. Interestingly, however, there was stability in the military sphere, with no change in the command of armed forces after General Ayub Khan became the first native C-in-C of the newly born country in January 1951 (Rizvi 2000).

The national security state doctrine began in the 1950s under the leadership of General Ayub Khan. The military leadership exploited the political instability in the first decade of Pakistan’s independence by forging a strong military establishment that dominated policymaking in the country (Malik 2008). General Ayub established himself as the prominent statesman within the Pakistani political system, filling the political vacuum following the death of the prominent political leaders. Taking on the mantle of the politician, he addressed a gathering of ex-military sendeemen and announced the establishment of a cloth factory for them in Punjab province. He also tried to resolve issues relating to military servicemen’s salaries and allowances. As General Ayub came from the KP province, which was one of the smaller provinces in the country, he was careful to cultivate links with the Punjab province, a key political constituency and also a prime location for military recruitment (Jalal 1990). Thus, Ayub assumed the mantle of a prominent political actor, with the support of the military, in the key Punjab province.

It is important to note that the military obtained first-hand experience of civil administration in March 1953 when the Pakistani government imposed martial law in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, after anti-Ahmadiyya6 riots in the city. The protesters demanded the removal of Foreign Minister Zafarullah Khan, who belonged to the minority Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. On 6 March 1953, Major-General Muhammad Azam Khan was appointed martial law administrator to extend the writ of the central state and improve law and order. The army successfully managed the situation in a relatively short period of time and handed back control of Lahore to the civil administration in mid-May 1953. As a result of martial law, Lahore appeared to be much calmer and safer (Rizvi 2000). Professor Hasan Askari Rizvi (2000, 78-79) identified three major implications of the Lahore martial law experience for Pakistan’s civil-military relations:

First, the weaknesses and deficiencies of the political institutions and leaders were exposed that they could not satisfactorily perform their primary duty of political and administrative management. Second, it gave the military first-hand experience of civilian affairs and the machinations of the political leaders that some political leaders were involved with smugglers, hoarders and other criminal elements. Third, it created a strong impression in the public mind that the military could cope with a difficult situation even when the political leaders failed, thereby giving a boost to the Army’s reputation as a task-oriented and efficient entity with a helpful disposition towards the people.

Thus, the success of the martial law administration in Lahore provided the military with a certain degree of legitimacy to interfere in politics. Since then, the military has consistently become involved in Pakistani politics, blurring the boundary between civilian and military spheres of interest.

The civilian bureaucracy increasingly aligned itself with the military establishment after witnessing the military’s growing role in the state’s affairs. Also, the bureaucracy often assumed some of the roles of politicians, but they lacked political legitimacy and popular appeal to run the country (Paul 2014). In April 1953, the civil bureaucracy, with the support of the Pakistani military, removed Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin from his office. The major reason for the removal was the deteriorating economic situation (Sayeed 1954). Governor-General Malik Ghulam Muhammad summoned Nazimuddin and ordered him to resign. Nazimuddin refused to do so and challenged the decision. However, the governor general dismissed Nazimuddin from his office using his discretionary power under section 10 of the 1935 Government of India Act (Sayeed 1955). The removal of the prime minister marked the beginning of a soft form of martial law administration in Pakistan. According to Iskandar Mirza, the cabinet member and later governor general, the military took key government positions and confined the former prime minister to house arrest after his removal. This demonstrated that the military in Pakistani was ready to assume the task of governing the country. It was left to the governor general to approve the military establishment’s coup plan and formally implement the removal of the sitting prime minister (Jalal 1990; Saddiqa 2007). After the soft coup, Muhammad Ali Bogra, a career civil bureaucrat with no political base, was appointed prime minister in April 1953. Bogra formed a new cabinet known as the “ministry of talents.” General Ayub was appointed as the defence minister and was allowed to continue as a C-in-C as well (Ahmed 2004). As such, the military had assumed power under the leadership of General Ayub without formal acknowledgement of this.

On 7 October 1958, Governor General Iskandar Mirza, in coordination with General Ayub Khan, removed the constitutional government and imposed martial law. Mirza accused the politicians of being too incompetent to deal with the challenges of political instability and economic crisis in the country. Mirza continued as president with absolute power and banned all political activity in the country. He established military courts under General Ayub to put corrupt politicians on trial. However, Mirza was unable to effectively run state affairs without the presence of the powerful military chief, General Ayub Khan. Ultimately, General

Ayub took over the martial law administration on 28 October 1958, and exiled Mirza to London (Malik 2008; Rizvi 2000). Since then, the military became the dominant actor in the political sphere of state affairs.

Interestingly, the military coup was widely accepted in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis believed that General Ayub would bring stability and order to a much-troubled country. General Ayub removed the civil bureaucrats who opposed his regime. For example, about 1,300 civilian officers were removed or side-lined by General Ayub after martial law administration was imposed. The judiciary extended the martial law administration in 1958 and this further served to legitimize the role of the military in state affairs (Aziz 2008). Thereafter, the judiciary provided a legal cover for the military’s unconstitutional acts during the Cold War and beyond. In this process, the military established itself as the saviour of the country and there has been no opposition to the military’s interference in state politics.

In a bid to legitimize his rule, General Ayub initiated so-called political reforms and lifted martial law in 1962. Nonetheless, he believed that “parliamentary democracy does not suit the genius of the people of Pakistan’’ (Salim 2014). He was in favour of the presidential form of government in which it was easy for the military to take control of the state’s affairs. General Ayub framed his own constitution and introduced a “controlled democracy” in which the president held most of the power (Siddiqa 2007). On the face of it, General Ayub distanced the military from political power, but key positions in the government were given to his hand-picked politicians. Essentially, the policies of martial administration were largely continued, with the military and civilian bureaucracy remaining as significant partners in the country’s policymaking. General Ayub remained the C-in-C of the military with absolute power to take decisions about war and peace without consulting parliament (Cohen 2004). In short, General Ayub introduced a presidential form of leadership that concentrated power in his own hands and heralded a guided or controlled democracy in which the military played a central role. Since then, a “controlled form of democracy” has become the main characteristic of Pakistan's national security state in which the political leadership are blamed for their wrongdoings but are used to present a democratic face to the outside world.

Externally, Pakistan was struggling to compete with India, which dominated the region due to its large population, economy, and military power. Moreover, India was trying to acquire further military power through domestic weapons production and external purchasing of arms from the Soviet Union (Chari 1979). The main objective was to present India as the predominant military power in the South Asia region, and that the region should be treated purely as an Indian sphere of influence (Rais 1991). However, Pakistan opposed Indian hegemony in the South Asian region from the very beginning after its independence. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in his public speech in October 1948 declared that “the defence of the state is our foremost consideration. We will not grudge any amount on the defence of our country” (Singh and Baily 2013). However, the Pakistani economy was too weak to build such a large military power. In 1947, the country had no significant industrial base and almost no known natural resources, though it was relatively well endowed with agricultural resources (Bose 1983). Therefore, Pakistan looked to external security balancing to help its weak military and provide economic support in order to protect itself from external thr eats. The options for external sources were limited as the European states were already affected by the Second World War and were looking towards the US for the reconstruction of their war-torn economies. Like other countries, Pakistan requested USS2 billion financial assistance from the US for its defence procurement and economic progress. However, the US refused to give financial support and even to sell arms to Pakistan, as they were unsure of its long-term survival (Jalal 1990).

However, the Pakistani leadership did not lose its hope of making an alliance with the US to get military aid and financial assistance. This was because the Pakistani leadership was convinced that the country could become a key ally of the US due to its geostrategic position in the region. Actually, a “power vacuum” existed in the Indian subcontinent after the end of the British colonial regime. Pakistan was confident that they could fill this vacuum by aligning with the US to contain Soviet expansion in the region (R. Khan, 1985). Hence, Pakistan was looking to gain a bigger role by making an alliance with the Western bloc at the commencement of the Cold War.

Two significant events took place in 1949-1950 that led the US to change its foreign policy towards Asia: China fell into the hands of the Communist regime in 1949 and North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. The US leadership was worried that it might lose the Cold War in Asia. Subsequently, the US was looking for a regional alliance with "free nations” in order to contain Soviet expansion. For this, the US needed military bases and support around the world. Therefore, the US announced the extension of the Marshal Plan to Asia because of its success in Western Europe. Under the Marshal Plan, the US provided economic assistance, military aid, and a security umbrella to its allies in Europe (R. Khan, 1985). Thus, the US was looking for new allies in Asia to contain the expansion of Soviet and Chinese communism.

In this situation, the Cold War provided a welcome opportunity for Pakistan to form an alliance with the US, as Washington was looking for an ally in South Asia to help contain perceived Soviet expansion. The US was very interested in making an alliance with India, due to its bigger regional power, with which the extension of communism could be contained. Therefore, the US officially invited Indian Prime Minister Nehru to visit the US, whereas they did not invite the prime minister of Pakistan. Nehru visited the US in October 1949. However, he refused to make an alliance with the US and preferred to remain neutral (Alavi 1998). Nehru clearly outlined India’s foreign policy in his statement that “We have no intentions to commit ourselves to anybody at any time. India wants no part of that war” (Soherwordi 2010). Subsequently, the US entered formal negotiations with the Pakistani leadership in 1953 to establish military bases in the country in exchange for financial and military aid. The US secretary of state, John FosterDulles, visited Pakistan to explore ways of developing bilateral relations. It was followed by a visit of the vice-president, Richard Nixon, to accelerate an alliance with Pakistan to contain the Soviet Union and China. In February 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower announced that the US would provide military assistance to Pakistan in order to strengthen the defensive capabilities of its allies in the Middle East (Spain 1954). Initially, the US provided a modest package of military aid that quickly rose to a figure of around US$500 million annually by 1955 (see Table 2.1). Pakistan, therefore, managed to establish a military alliance with the US that helped boost and restructure its military capabilities following its independence.

After aligning with the US, Pakistan signed the “Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement” with the US in May 1954. Additionally, Pakistan signed Western-sponsored military pacts, including the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact in 1955, renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in 1958. Pakistan was the only Asian country to be part of both the Baghdad Pact and the SEATO alliance (A. Khan 1967). In March 1956, the SEATO member countries recognized that “the sovereignty of Pakistan extends up to the Durand Line, the international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan” (Lerski 1974). Like Turkey and Iran, Pakistan signed a bilateral agreement of cooperation with the US in 1959 that endorsed the defensive purposes of the CENTO agreement. As a result. Pakistan became the closest associate of the US in Asia and was called the “most-allied ally” of the US in Asia (A. Khan 1967). Thus, Pakistan jumped on the bandwagon with the US to protect its national security interests.

General Ayub played a major role in formulating the alliance with the US and used his personal contacts in Washington to get military aid rather than simply working through formal channels to the US Military Advisory Group (Farooq 2016). In a candid explanation of these arrangements, General Ayub (1967, 117) said "the membership of the pacts were dictated solely by the requirement of

Table 2.1 US aid to Pakistan, 1951-1959 (USD in million)


Economic Aid

Military Aid































Total US Aid:


Source: US overseas Loans and Grants (Green book) available at https://'. In Asif, M. and Muhammad, A. (2017). “Image of USA in Urban Pakistan: An Empirical Assessment”.! Research Journal of South Asian Studies 32 (2): 539-555.

our security.” Following the military aid in the mid-1950s from the US which strengthened the Pakistan military as well as aided first to General Ayub Khan’s importance as the defence minister and then as the military head of state. Thus, General Ayub enhanced his credentials as a statesman after forming military alliances with the US and other Western powers that helped Pakistan to significantly enhance its military capabilities. In this process, the Pakistani military became the dominant actor in foreign and security policymaking that became another key characteristic of Pakistan's national security state. Nonetheless, this created structural problems for future civilian governments during and after the Cold War era.

Additionally, Pakistan often tried to include the question of Indian aggression in the bilateral treaties with the US. However, the US was only concerned with Soviet expansion and avoided including the Indian threat in their bilateral agreements. Therefore, the Pakistan-US relationship passed through different phases throughout the Cold War. However, the geopolitical realities and strategic compulsion always joined them together despite the limited natural alliance between the two countries (Mazhar and Goraya 2012). In other words, the relationship was short term, and Pakistan allied with the US because of the Cold War. Simply put, the Pakistan-US relationship developed first in the context of the commencement of the Cold War and then, later, under the imperatives of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 (see below section: The advent of ISI as a key player: the Afghan War in the 1980s).

In this context, the US agenda in relation to Pakistan was global in scope and was part of the effort to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union, whereas the Pakistani agenda in relations with Washington was essentially local and designed to help counter Indian dominance in its region. Even though, reluctantly, Pakistan provided military bases to the US in KP and Balochistan provinces in exchange for military aid and economic assistance. This helped the US to observe and monitor Soviet activities. On 5 May 1960, the famous U-2 spy plane, which was shot down by the Soviets, flew from Badaber air base in Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP province. Subsequently, the Soviet Union warned Pakistan and other regional allies of the US, including Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, to stop using their territory against them or be ready for its consequences (Iqbal and Khalid 2011).

US military and economic aid assisted Pakistan to restructure and organize its military in order to meet the new security challenges. The US aid was the principal instrument of their strategy in South Asia. Pakistan received US$8.7 billion aid up to 1959 (Asif 2017):

Furthermore, the US provided a substantial number of modern aircraft and military equipment to Pakistan, which modernized the armed forces. Besides this, the US assisted in the construction of airfields and other military installations in the country. Many military officers were trained in the US, which helped Pakistan establish training centres and programmes in Pakistan. Consequently, the country was able to enhance its defence capabilities and to prepare a deterrent force that was capable of neutralizing Indian military power with adequate defensive and offensive power. This led to Indian protests against the US military aid to

Pakistan. In a Commonwealth conference, Indian Premier Nehru said that the Pakistan-US pacts brought the Cold War to South Asia and disturbed its peace, as well as the balance between India and Pakistan (Jabeen and Mazhar 2011). Nevertheless, the alliance between the US and Pakistan continued.

According to Professor Hans J. Morgenthau (1965):

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is one of many contemporary instances of an alliance serving complementary interests. For the US it serves the primary purpose of expanding the scope of the policy of containment; for Pakistan it serves primarily the purpose of increasing her political, military, and economic potential vis-a-vis her neighbours.

Thus, the alliance was satisfactory for both countries, as Pakistan provided military bases to the US to contain the spread of communism while Pakistan received defence and financial support from the US, which was necessary for its confrontation with India. However, this meant that Pakistan became largely dependent upon external financing for meeting its military requirements - a situation that has persisted to this day.

Besides the alliance with the US, Pakistan also established very friendly relations with Communist China and supported liberation movements in different Asian and African countries such as Algeria and Palestine. According to Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed (interview by author, Islamabad, 8 December 2017),

Pakistan’s foreign policy had two dimensions that need to be understood: despite aligning with America, we [Pakistan] were considered an adversary of the Soviet Union but not China; and we continued to support liberation movements of Muslim countries in different parts of the world, particularly Algeria, Tunisia, Eritrea and Palestine. In fact, Pakistan was the one country to offer its passports to liberation leader of Algeria and Tunisia who used to travel on its passport.

After the 1962 Indo-China War, Pakistan and China formed an official bilateral relationship and exchanged high-level official visits. According to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the foreign minister and future prime minister of Pakistan, "We will not barter or bargain Chinese friendship away for anything” (Soherwordi 2010, 30). Due to Pakistan’s hostility towards India, China became a more natural and longterm strategic partner of Pakistan against India in South Asia. In March 1963, both countries successfully resolved all their territorial issues and reached mutual agreements on the border line, and even swapped some territory in the northern areas of Pakistan, despite Indian resentment (Rizvi 1993). China gave around 750 square miles of territory to Pakistan which had been under Chinese control, and this ended territorial disputes between the two countries. Pakistan reversed its policy on Chinese admission to the UN, and in return, China supported Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir. China also agreed to provide economic assistance with a USS60 million long-term, interest-free loan to Pakistan (Lerski 1974). Since then, Islamabad has continued to have good relations with China.

It is important to note that the Pakistani military exploited both the internal and external security environments to get the lion’s share from the national treasury. For instance, Pakistan has often spent enormous amounts of its fiscal and foreign exchange resources on national defence. During 1947-1988, Pakistan’s defence expenditure ranged from about 34 percent to 73 percent of total federal government expenditure, averaging 50.5 percent (Rizvi 1983). The details are given in Table 2.2.

Interestingly, the military justified their defence expenditure on the grounds of Pakistan's strategic vulnerability and by presenting itself as the sole guarantor of the country. The country’s parliament backed high defence spending, and there was little questioning of it in cabinet meetings prior to the imposition of the martial law administration in 1958. Since Pakistan's inception, successive governments have discouraged debate on security matters, and the media, to a large degree, has passively supported the government’s emphasis on a strong defence force (Rizvi 2000). In this process, the political leadership set the precedent that the defence budget would not be discussed in parliament, which became another feature of Pakistan’s national security state. Thereafter, the civilian leadership has failed to exercise oversight over military expenditure since independence. As a result, the military’s control over the political system has enabled it to create the means and resources to establish financial autonomy.

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