Domestic politics and the extension of Pakistan’s national security state
“Quasi-democracy”1 returned to Pakistan after the death of General Zia in an airplane crash in August 1988. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then senate chairman and the most powerfill bureaucrat, succeeded as an interim president in August 1988 as stipulated in the 1973 constitution. Interim President G. I. Khan called for a parliamentary general election to be held in November 1988 (Wynbrandt 2008). The PPP led by Benazir Bhutto won the election and became the largest political party in the parliament. It appeared at the time that this second democratic transition had opened a window of opportunity for democratic progress in the country after 11 years of authoritarian rule by General Zia. Nonetheless, the military only agreed to accept Bhutto as a prime minister on condition that she did not interfere in the foreign and security affairs of the state. According to Bidanda M. Chengappa (2000),
Bhutto was compelled to adhere to certain conditions of the military leadership in order to assume office. These conditions included: (a) to continue the late General Zia’s Afghan policy (b) allow General Mirza Aslam Beg and Lt General Hamid Gul to continue in their appointments as Chief of Army Staff and Director General ISI respectively (c) not to depress the defence budget (d) not to initiate any accountability proceedings against army personnel.
Thus, the government would be transferred to Bhutto on the condition that she maintains Pakistan’s national security state policies. In November 1988, General Aslam Beg, the then COAS, informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee that “Bhutto agreed with him that there would be no change in the Afghan policy, defence policy or nuclear programme, as well as no meddling in the administrative set-up of the civil sendee and no harassment of General Zia’s family” (Nawaz 2009). This meant that Bhutto was “in office but out of power” as she agreed to continue General Zia’s Cold War foreign and security policies under the national security state. The military had already set out that they would take all the key strategic decisions related to foreign and security policies. Moreover, Bhutto retained Sahabzada Yaqub Ali Khan as foreign minister. Sahabzada Yaqub had served as foreign minister under General Zia's regime. So Bhutto agreed to continue with the military-centric national security state policies before taking office.
Against this context, Bhutto pledged to continue General Zia's foreign policy so that the military transfer the government to her. Bhutto was convinced that she could be able to change the policy directions once the power transferred to her. After taking her office, Bhutto wanted to make strategic changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India and Afghanistan. In her first address to the nation, Bhutto criticized General Zia's regime and emphasized the reassessment of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies, especially towards Afghanistan and India. She said (in Jain 1988):
Zia’s narrow-based foreign policy had created an unnecessary environment of security threat for the country. I hoped for stronger links with the United States, better relations with Soviet Union once its pull out from Afghanistan was completed, maintenance of traditional ties with China, consolidation of friendship with the Muslim countries, and understanding with India.
For this purpose, Bhutto wanted to visit India to normalize the two countries’ relationships, but the military strongly opposed her visit (Aziz 2008; Jones 2002). Moreover, Bhutto thought that the Kashmir conflict could be resolved through a diplomatic and political process. She was convinced that it had become almost impossible for Pakistan to defeat India militarily in Kashmir. She also rejected the idea of using Afghan mujahedeen in the Kashmir insurgency. Benazir Bhutto (2008, 406-407) explained in her autobiography: “the security establishment needed to understand that the Soviet forces were defeated by US stinger missiles, international finances, diplomacy and politics, not just by proxy war by the jihadists.” Any such strategy would bring embarrassment to the country, she further explained. Therefore made it clear to the military elite that her government did not support a war with India (Bhutto 2008).
On the Afghanistan front, there was a serious difference between Bhutto and the military establishment. The ISI wanted to form an Afghan Interim Government (AIG) comprising the major warring factions. It was General Zia’s idea to install an AIG in Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, Zia was reluctant to sign the “1988 Geneva Accord” unless it included a proper withdrawal plan for Afghanistan by installing an AIG comprising all the mujahedeen groups. The Pakistani military was convinced that Kabul under the mujahedeen would be largely anti-India due to India being a non-Muslim state. Therefore, in February 1989, the ISI formed the AIG in Peshawar, comprising seven major mujahedeen factions who had resisted the Soviet forces. Actually, the ISI’s view was that Islamabad would recognize the AIG that would replace the communist government of the PDPA in Kabul. After Pakistani recognition, other countries would follow suit. However, Bhutto insisted that Islamabad needed to explore a peaceful and orderly transfer of power in Afghanistan. Therefore, she was against recognizing the AIG, arguing that the resistance parties did not have a foothold within Afghanistan. Subsequently, the AIG was not recognized internationally either (Duranni 2013).
Despite government opposition, the ISI continued to support the AIG, who were convinced they could take control of Afghanistan in months as they had already defeated the mighty Soviet forces. Bhutto mentioned in her autobiography (2008, 400-401) that the intelligence chief persuaded her by saying: “Prime Minister, will you deny your men and the Afghan mujahedeen the right to march victoriously into Kabul and pray in the Masjid together after all the sacrifices they have made?” Bhutto was assured by intelligence officials that Kabul would be under mujahedeen rule within a few days. Ironically, the ISI also requested the prime minister to give permission to send Pakistani soldiers to fight alongside the AIG to capture Kabul. Bhutto explained further in her book (2008):
The ISI General told me, Prime Minister, the Afghans are ready to sign an agreement for confederation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They will call on us as part of the confederation treaty to overthrow the communist order. There will be no borders between us. I rejected the idea of a confederation with Afghanistan. This will give the Indians an excuse to intervene in Afghanistan. And without American, Saudi and Iranian support it will land us in bigger trouble. But the AIG wants a confederation and it can be signed tomorrow, my generals said. “I cannot do it,” I replied. I pointed out that the repercussions for Pakistan would be enormous. Expansionist designs on our part would frighten the rest of the world into destabilising us.
However, Kabul did not fall in weeks or even months into the hands of the mujahedeen. In fact, the mujahedeen (AIG) failed to occupy Kabul with support of the 1ST
Installing an AIG in Afghanistan by the Pakistani military elite illustrates a major flaw in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan within the national security state. For example, the ISI was making a mistake by favouring different warring groups and attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan by establishing the AIG. According to former Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao (interview by author, Islamabad, 27 November 2017):
There is fault in Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistan^] why we should be saying we want a friendly government in Afghanistan which is an independent country. The Afghan people have the right to choose their own leaders and we cannot impose a leadership on them. We must strive for a good neighbourly relationship with Afghanistan but not friendly government which is intruding in their internal domain.
Moreover, Pakistan needed to reach out to all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, since relying only on ethnic Pashtuns would not serve its interests. Shuja Nawaz (Skype interview by author, 14 February 2018), a prominent political analyst, pointed out that:
Pakistan needs to stop looking [at] Afghanistan as [a] purely Pashtun issue. Afghanistan is the country of many nations including Turkman, Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik and so on. So you cannot see it purely [as] a Pashtun issue. On this point, Pakistan must need to think and change its policy towards Afghanistan.
In this situation, Bhutto’s view was that political leadership should control foreign and security policy. In order to bring the powerful ISI under civilian control, Bhutto nominated the ISI chief without prior consultation with the COAS (Aziz 2008). Bhutto removed the ISI chief, General Hamid Gul, from his post in June 1989 and appointed General Shamsur Rahman Kallu, a retired military general (Yousaf and Adkin 1992). However, General Beg transferred the key records and files relating to political intelligence from the ISI headquarters to the General Headquarters (GHQ) in order to counter the civilian move to install General Kallu. Earlier in 1989, Bhutto also sacked retired Brigadier Imtiaz from the ISI and closed its political division. She also appointed retired Major Masood Sharif, a close friend of her husband, Asif Zardari, as the director of IB (Chengappa 2000). This led to serious differences between the government and the military establishment as she had agreed to continue Zia’s Cold War policy but was clearly not doing so.
As a result, the civil-military tension created political instability in the country. The military elite were not ready to accept civilian involvement in foreign policy and civilian interference in their institutional affairs. In November 1989, the Pakistani military tried to remove the PPP from the government through a no-confidence vote in parliament. For this, the ISI gave the task to a retired ISI officer under the code name “Midnight Jackal” of persuading parliamentarians to initiate a vote of no-confidence in the national assembly (Fruman 2011). However, this plot to remove Bhutto from office failed as she received a tape recording revealing how her government would be toppled. Despite this failure, the military continued to oppose the Bhutto government (Yasmeen 1994). On 21 July 1990, the COAS decided in the “corps commander meeting” that Bhutto’s government was no longer acceptable (Nawaz 2009). It was also decided to use the eighth amendment of the constitution and the president would dissolve the provincial and national assemblies. The military conveyed this message to the president, who was already gathering a list of issues with the prime minister. Ultimately, President G. I. Khan dismissed Bhutto’s government through a presidential order, invoking the eighth amendment and Article 58 (2) (b) of the constitution, alleging corruption, nepotism, and incompetence (Yasmeen 1994). Nevertheless, the major reason for the dismissal of the PPP government was differences between the military establishment and the PPP leadership over issues related to foreign and security policy, as well as the military’s institutional autonomy. This confirmed that the military would not tolerate a civilian government that interfered in foreign and security policy adopted under the national security state during the Cold War era.
In addition to this, the military manipulated the general election in order to prevent the PPP from winning. The ISI allegedly distributed around PKR 140 million among anti-PPP groups for their election campaign via the Habib and Mehran banks in Pakistan (The News, Pakistan, 25 January 2012). Moreover, the ISI allegedly formed Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (HI) in September 1988. The IJI was an alliance of right-wing conservative parties including the Pakistan Muslim League, National People’s Party, Jamaat-e-Islam, and six other small religiouspolitical parties. Their primaiy task was to oppose the PPP and other secular political parties.
With the support of the ISI, the IJI won the parliamentary elections in October 1990. Since then, the ISI has manipulated the election process to produce a more “hybrid democracy” which suits their military-centric national security state approach in which the military has the upper hand in the running of state affairs. Nawaz Sharif, who was considered a pro-military leader, became the new prime minister of Pakistan. After taking office, Sharif recognized that the military wanted to keep Afghan, Kashmir, and nuclear policy under their exclusive control within the national security state. So he did not interfere in these matters (Nawaz 2009). Thus, Pakistan continued with its military-first national security state in the post-Cold War era.
However, the problem emerged when Sharif tried to assert himself as the chief executive of the country. For example, Sharif wanted to have a role in the promotion and appointment of the new COAS and other key positions within the military. But President G. I. Khan thought that it was his job to appoint the COAS and make other related appointments. More importantly, Sharif knew that the eighth amendment was the main obstacle to civilian supremacy. Therefore, he tried to convince opposition political parties to remove this amendment from the 1973 constitution. Bhutto acknowledged it as a major problem in civilian supremacy but did not come to his support, due to their mutually hostile politics. It is important to note that a political divide has helped the military elite to establish control over state affairs. In 1993, the prime minister and president were trying to remove each other from their respective offices. Consequently, the Sharif government was dismissed by the president on charges of corruption, mismanagement, and maladministration (Bray 1997). Nonetheless, the major reason was the government’s promotion of military generals and constitutional reforms.
Sharif challenged the dismissal of his government in the Supreme Court, which was restored after it declared the dismissal illegal. President G. I. Khan was criticized for overusing his presidential powers. During the case hearing, the Supreme Court questioned the president’s interventions in the workings of government and the appointment of the COAS. Despite the court's judgement, the struggle for power continued between the two offices. Ultimately, General Waheed Kakar. the then CO AS, intervened and reached a settlement whereby both resigned from their offices and elections were held in 1993 under a caretaker government (Bray 1997). So Sharif was dismissed when he was trying to assert his role as chief executive and revoking the eighth amendment which would have established some form of civilian control in the countiy. Nonetheless, the division between the prime minister and president provided an opportunity to the military elite to intervene in domestic politics and establish its control in state affairs.
In October 1993, the PPP won the parliamentary elections with 89 seats in the national assembly and formed a coalition government at the federal level. Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister for a second time. In November 1993, Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, a young PPP party loyalist and landlord from South Punjab, was elected as a president by the national and provincial assemblies (Wynbrandt 2008). Compared with her first term, Bhutto was more submissive to the military in her second term as prime minister and attempted to maintain a good working relationship with the military. She learned that it was necessary to have a cordial relationship with the military in order to remain in power. For example, Bhutto confided with the military establishment before dealing with the US regarding the nuclear programme. In fact, Bhutto wanted to have a uniform view on Pakistan’s relationship with the US and other related
Pakistan’s post-Cold War national security 77 matters. More importantly, she adopted a pro-military stance over the Kashmir conflict and Afghanistan (Cheema 2015). As a result, Bhutto accepted the ISI’s regional policy to extend its control over Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. Unlike in her first term, it was Bhutto’s government that backed and recognized the Afghan Taliban government in 1996 (Wynbrandt 2008). But despite her pro-military stance, Bhutto’s government did not prevail for a long period. President Farooq Leghari dismissed the government through a presidential order on charges of corruption in November 1996. Nonetheless, this time the president was from the ruling party. Hence, the military elite were relatively successful in limiting the role of secular political parties, especially Bhutto’s PPP, in foreign and security policies in the post-Cold War era.
After the dismissal of Bhutto’s government, the parliamentary general elections were held in February 1997. The PMLN won the elections with a clear two-thirds majority and formed a government at the federal and provincial levels. Like Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the second time as well. Previously, the president had dismissed three elected governments through presidential orders, invoking the eighth amendment, before the completion of their frill five-year term (Aziz 2008). After forming the government, the PMLN passed the 13th amendment which repealed the presidential power under Article 58 (2) (b) to dissolve parliament and dismiss the prime minister. Moreover, the prime minister has the authority to appoint the three chiefs of the armed forces and the provincial governors (Appendix 9). Thus, the 13th amendment restored the original power of the prime minister, and the president’s role became more a ceremonial one, as stipulated in the constitution. The military establishment was against this legislation as it limited their role in the political sphere of the country with the support of the president.
On the external front, India successfully tested its nuclear weapons on 11 May 1998 and became a nuclear power. The major objective was to counter China and Pakistan’s aggressive strategic designs in South Asia. As a result, the balance of power completely shifted in favour of India after it announced it had become a nuclear power. In doing so, India provoked Islamabad to pursue its nuclear weapons development. However, Pakistan would face severe economic consequences if it conducted successful nuclear tests, further weakening an already fragile economy. But after India became a nuclear power, there was huge public pressure on Prime Minister Sharif to conduct nuclear tests at any cost, even if the countiy would then face severe economic sanctions from the US. So Sharif felt it was left with little option but to respond with its own nuclear tests. On 28 May 1998, Pakistan successfully conducted five nuclear tests in the Chaghi district of Balochistan province. It was followed by one more advanced nuclear test in the Kharan district (Kasuri 2016). By responding with six successful nuclear tests compared to India’s five, Pakistan was thus able to deter India by adopting a credible first-use nuclear posture (Saikal 2014). Senator Mushahid Husain Syed (interview by author, Islamabad, 8 December 2017) said that “the nuclear power status was the only positive outcome of Pakistan's national security policies which they adopted during the Cold War era.”
Strategically, it was a great achievement for Pakistan that it was able to secure deterrence against its arch-rival India. More importantly, both civilian and military leadership were optimistic that the bomb would resolve most of the country’s strategic issues. According to Hoodbhoy and Mian (2014):
Overwhelmed by the power of the bomb, they saw it as magical; a panacea for solving Pakistan’s multiple problems. They told themselves and their people that the bomb would bring national security, allow Pakistan to liberate Kashmir from India, bind the nation together, make its people proud of their country and its leaders, free the country from reliance on aid and loans, and lay the base for the long-frustrated goal of economic development.
Nonetheless, the addition of nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s military apparatus has extended further military power in the country. More importantly, the nuclear weapons programme has played a greater role in the survival of the national security state in Pakistan throughout the 1990s. As shown earlier, Pakistan's military wanted to keep key strategic decision making such as nuclear policy under their exclusive control after transferring the government to Benazir Bhutto in August 1988. Subsequently, Bhutto was kept out of the nuclear programme. She mentioned in an interview with Shuja Nawaz that she asked for a briefing on the nuclear programme but did not receive any briefing on it after taking office. In fact, it was the US ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley, who briefed her regarding the Pakistani nuclear programme with what the US knew about it. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was considered a pro-military leader who did not interfere in nuclear matters as he knew that the military wanted to keep it in their control (Nawaz 2009). Actually, the military establishment propagated that the civilian leadership was weak and would not hold firm against any international pressure over the nuclear programme and this reflected a continuation with a military-centred national security approach in the post-Cold War era.
Sharif sought to limit the military's role in foreign policymaking. He started the normalization process with India which would improve Pakistan-India relations. In fact, the military often justified their enhanced role in state affairs by arguing that the civilians were weak in dealing with India. Therefore, Sharif understood that normalization with India would reduce the role of the military in the political sphere of the country and establish civilian supremacy. Sharif also attempted to pursue an economic-driven foreign policy that would not only help to revive a weakened economy but also assist in developing a cordial relationship with neighbouring countries. The military establishment was worried that such changes in foreign policy would undermine Pakistan’s national security interests.
In October 1998, General Jehangir Karamat once again proposed the idea of an NSC in which both civilian and military leaders would make all the major decisions related to domestic and international issues. Sharif s government rejected the NSC idea as it would provide legal cover for and institutionalize the military’s role in the political affairs of the state. Consequently, it would further undermine democratic transition and the role of the civilian leadership in the country. The military tried but failed to achieve its aim. Subsequently, General Karamat resigned as COAS and Sharif appointed General Pervez Musharraf as the new army chief. Musharraf was the most junior in the list of potential heads of the armed forces (Malik 2008). The removal of General Karamat and the selection of General Musharraf reflected Sharif s determination to establish civilian supremacy over the military.
In the late 1990s, there was growing international pressure on Pakistan with respect to its relations with the Afghan Taliban and nuclear programme. The military believed that the government was making strategic changes in foreign and security policy due to international pressure. The US had requested Pakistan to ask the Afghan Taliban to extradite Bin Laden from Afghanistan after the Al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998. However, the military establishment believed that such a demand would worsen its relationship with the Afghan Taliban regime and Islamabad would lose its strategic depth in Afghanistan (Lavoy 2009). Actually, Pakistan had no military depth within Pakistan so they were looking for Afghanistan to provide military depth in case of Indian aggression. The military also feared that Prime Minister Sharif would sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (NTBT) in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on Pakistan, without India pledging to do the same. For instance, Sharif promised before the UN General Assembly to sign the NTBT in September 1999 (Jaffrelot 2015). As a consequence, the military decided to directly intervene in the government before it was too late to protect the interests of national security. General Musharraf carried out a military coup on 12 October 1999 and dismissed the PMLN government (Malik 2008). Thus, the Pakistani military elite used a hybrid model of domestic compulsions and geostrategic global environment as a leading cause of military ascendency in the 1990s.
In addition, the military businesses have continued to show significant growth in education, banking, airline, insurance, real estate, fertilizer, textile, sugar, and so forth during the 1990s. Moreover, the civilian governments have given many infrastructure mega-projects to military-run NLC and FWO (Siddiqa 2007). The primary objective was to appease the military elite and to remain in power. In 1999, the Sharif government awarded the contract for collecting tolls on and maintenance of the Grand Trunk Road (N-5) and Sukkur-Lahore highway to FWO. Despite awarding mega-projects to the military-run corporations, the privatization move by Prime Minister Sharif was opposed by the Pakistan Navy. This meant the military institutional interests have continued to override national economic interests (Chengappa 1999). However, the civilian leadership did not show many concerns over the growing business conglomerate of the military. According to former Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz, “the main challenge for us [the Sharif government] was reducing the military’s political strength. Had we begun to curb their financial interests as well, it would have had an immediate reaction from the armed forces” (in Siddiqa 2007). So, the primary objective of the political leadership was to reduce the political strength of the military in state affairs during the 1990s.
Furthermore, the Pakistani military elite kept on appointing senior military officers in civil administration. It was reported that the senior military officers held around 100 key civilian positions during 1992-1993. The civil officers showed resentment over such appointments and filed petitions against it in the High Courts. For example, a petition was filed in the Sindh High Court against the Pakistan Navy Vice Admiral Mansurul Haq, who was appointed as the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) chairman. Moreover, the armed forces were involved in maintaining law and order situation under “aid to civil power.” Subsequently, the military personnel engaged in policing which brought them in direct contact with people that often create scope for corruption and misuse of power in a country like Pakistan. So, armed forces were dragged into a role for which they were not trained that severely affected their culture of discipline and professionalism (Chengappa 1999). Since then, the military personnel have remained engaged in maintaining law and order situation in major cities in the country.
Overall, the civilian leadership had attempted during the 1990s to assert civilian control over the national security state. But the military was so embedded in the state structures that it was relatively easy for the military elite to manipulate the internal and external security enviromnent in its favour. Consequently, the Pakistani military successfully defied any civilian government attempt to reform the national security state by running state affairs independently. Furthermore, the military resisted civilian interference in their institutional matters, especially those concerning promotions and transfers of senior military personnel. So Pakistan’s national security state prevailed in the country despite a decade of apparent civilian rule during the 1990s.