An assessment of Pakistan’s Cold War national security state10

As has been shown, Pakistan's national security state was shaped by the experience of working closely with the US and owed a great deal to its existence to the Cold War security environment. Nonetheless, Pakistan had developed distinctive features of its own national security state. Having considered the evolution and development of Pakistan’s national security between 1947 and 1988, it is possible to identify some of its key features:

The first characteristic of Pakistan’s national security state was its obsession with antagonism towards India since independence in 1947. The Pakistani military leadership considered India to be a permanent enemy for the foreseeable future in their neighbourhood. So the country was deemed to require a strong military and permanent military preparedness to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Rivalry with India played a major role in the formulation of the country's foreign and security policy. The Pakistani military used the prospect of an external threat from India to justify its dominant role in the country.

  • • A second defining feature of Pakistan's national security state was that the country required a “hybrid democracy’’ in which the military held the upper hand in the policymaking of the country. The military leadership maintained a facade of democracy but kept out the civilian leadership from key strategic decision making in the country. The military leadership believed that Western democracy does not suit developing countries like Pakistan. They maintained that the civilian political leadership was too weak to deal with external and domestic security threats confronted by the state.
  • • A third characteristic of Pakistan’s national security state was that the state prioritized military interests over nation-building after independence. Pakistani governments continued to allocate a major portion of its fiscal and foreign exchange resources to the military which left limited resources for the socio-economic development of the country.
  • • A fourth feature of Pakistan’s national security state was the repeated claim that the country needed a strong centralized government. The Pakistani national security state opposed decentralizing power in the country by allowing more autonomy to the provinces.
  • • A fifth characteristic of Pakistan's national security state was that Pakistan depended on asymmetric warfare to balance a hegemonic India and protect its strategic interests. The Pakistani military embraced religious groups as a politico-military strategy which would increase its prestige and position in the country. More specifically, the Islamists were used as foreign policy tools to achieve this strategic objective in South Asia. Nonetheless, the culture of secrecy in covert operations empowered the Pakistani military and also justified its dominant role in strategic decision making in the country’s foreign and security policies.
  • • A sixth feature of the Pakistani national security state was that the military establishment restricted public debate over defence spending in the national parliament and actively resisted any unilateral cuts to the defence budget by the civilian leadership. Furthermore, the military did not permit civilian authorities to play a role in the governance of their institutional affairs such as nominating promotions within military ranks.
  • • Finally, Pakistan’s national security state not only facilitated and protected the military’s commercial interests but also ensured a functional dominance over the civilian leadership in the running of state affairs. That led to the emergence of a hyper-military-industrial complex in which the Pakistani military exercised overall economic and political control of the state.

In light of the above characteristics, it can be said Pakistan complied many of the key features of the US national security state but there were also significant points of departure as well. Like the US, Pakistan's national security state was born out of difficult security circumstances where there were perceived external security threats from neighbouring India, which was significantly larger in terms of territory, population, economy, and military power. Pakistan also put itself on a perpetual war against India after 1947 and allocated a massive defence expenditure from the national treasury. Moreover, the Pakistani military elite possess substantial political and economic power in key strategic decision making in the country. Unlike the US national security state, the Pakistani military had the consistent capacity to act in a much more autonomous fashion and did not allow civilian authorities to interfere in its institutional governance. Also, the Pakistani military elite has used the imperative of national security by projecting itself as indispensable for the very survival of the country. Furthermore, the Pakistani military directly ran various business corporations and intervened in the political sphere of state affairs to produce what could be termed a hyper-military-industrial complex. Nonetheless, the Pakistani military elite largely relied on the proxy militant groups to protect its regional strategic interests.

Within the national security state framework, the Pakistani military elite presented a range of obstacles to political parties or leaders that wanted to change the policy imperatives of Pakistan's national security state. First, the military would not tolerate any civilian government that sought to influence the running of foreign and security policies of the country, especially in issues relating to India and Afghanistan. Second, the military would not tolerate civilian control over military affairs, in particular, civilian oversight of spending on the military. Third, the military would only accept a “hybrid democracy” in the country. Finally, the military would not permit any effort to decentralize power in Pakistan by allowing more autonomy to the provinces. In short, any political party or leader during and after the Cold War, which seriously attempted to challenge the direction of Pakistan’s national security state or tried to undermine the military's institutional interests, were effectively countered by a military-led coalition of interests comprising the armed forces, the intelligence agencies, civil bureaucracy, and the judiciary. The Pakistani military effectively used these obstacles to maintain its dominance in state affairs in the post-Cold War era.

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