Pakistan's Military Involvement in Politics

Is Pakistan military discombobulated this time?

Pakistan’s history of 76 years has been full of twists and turns, some predicted and some appearing out of nowhere. To understand military involvement in politics and the present situation of any country, taking a look at its past is the single most necessary thing to do.

A look back at the past

Pakistan soon after its inception, found itself in the midst of all the problems that it inherited from the British colonial rule, a weak infrastructure, low economic share, and the burden of refugees that exceeded the total population that this part of the Indian subcontinent had prior to the partition, to name some. The catastrophic conditions reached their heights on the eve of the first coup by President Iskander Mirza, promulgating martial law and declaring Ayub Khan as the chief martial law administrator. It was the start of military intervention in Pakistan’s politics and since then, it has been a recurrent pattern in the unfolding of Pakistan’s political history.

In the past, there had been two kinds of military takeovers in Pakistan. In one kind,  the military takes over first which is then followed by a hybrid regime or a technocratic system, as happened after Zia’s and Musharraf’s martial laws, and in the other form it’s the other way around, that is to say, that the Hybrid regime or technocratic system is followed by a military coup, as it happened in 1956.

Iskanders martial law

It’s been quite surprising to find out that The first instance of a coup in Pakistan was civilian in nature rather than military. It compels one to think of how and why Pakistan’s military involvement in politics became the recurrent pattern in Pakistan’s political history if the start was that of a civilian and not the military. Its roots lie in the colonial apparatus that Pakistan inherited from its colonial masters, British India.

The British colonial apparatus, being repressive in nature for the Indian subjects, had three strong institutions, the Judicial system, The Indian Civil Service, and the British Indian Army. Out of the three, Pakistan inherited two of them in a fairly stronger position which was a strong bureaucracy and a strong army.

The first coup in Pakistan by President Iskander Mirza had so many causes but in a nutshell, Pakistan lacked its own proper constitution, the lack of strong leadership after the demise of Mr. Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, economic and political conditions were not stable as well and due to all bunch of reasons, the President abrogated the newly made constitution and promulgated the first martial law. Apparently, Muhammad Ali Bogra was called from abroad and thus Pakistan saw the first instance where Khawaja Nazimuddin, the then Prime Minister and a loyal and most respected Muslim league’s leader was removed by a bureaucratic intervention.

Soon Pakistan saw Ayub Khan removing the President and sending him into exile to London, which is a story in itself but what it did was create a legacy of Pakistan being ruled and dominated by its bureaucracy and military. It was the first type of intervention where at the start we had a hybrid regime which then was followed by a proper military takeover.

When the military intervened for the second and third time in the history of Pakistan, I.e. Zia ul Haq in 1977 and Musharraf in 1999, we saw a proper military takeover that was then followed by a quasi-democratic/ hybrid regime at the end. But the common situation, in any military takeover, that paved a pathway for army to intervene in state politics was the highly unstable and chaotic political as well as the economic situation at the time.

Army being a strong and always prepared institution, always has been ready to take over and tackle such situations at will. The first instance of indulging themselves in such a situation and coming out of it with success was in 1953, a martial law at a smaller level in Lahore to deal with the sectarian riots over there. This episode gave them the confidence to deal with any chaotic situation with ease and the rest was the history that unfolded the way it did.

What’s on the cards!?

In recent times, Pakistan’s military has once again become actively involved in the politics of the country, especially amidst a backdrop of heightened political and economic instability. The military has not only covertly engaged in political manoeuvrings but has also made its intentions regarding Pakistan’s military involvement in politics increasingly clear.

The matter of fact is that right now we are having a technocratic caretaker government which depicts the exact picture of what we had back then in 1950, before the first martial law. But the problem that Pakistan faces now is that things have been so complex and complicated that the military also seems to be discombobulated and things are going in a direction in which nobody knows exactly about where we are heading in actual fact, whether a military takeover is waiting for Pakistan in the future or we are going to see a prolong quasi-democratic system to work for a longer period of time. It’s high time for Pakistan to think of a way out of this mess in a fairly long-term policy implementation rather than continuing the legacy of policy reversal every time any new government comes to power!

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The Author is an undergraduate student at the department of History, Quaid i Azam University, Islamabad.