Explaining the Authority Structure in Pakistan: The Military Matters


Ejaz Hussain*

Abstract: This article has attempted to explain why the military has remained a powerful political force in Pakistan. Its purpose was to test a hypothesis that posited that the colonial authority structure and the 1947 partition-oriented structural dynamics provided an important structural construct in explaining politics and the military in post-colonial state of Pakistan. To explain and analyse the problem, the study used books, journals, newspapers and government documents for explanatory analysis. The analysis has focused on the military in the colonial authority structure in which the former, along with the civil bureaucracy and the landed-feudal class, formed an alliance to pursue political and economic interests in British India. The article has also explained and analysed the partition-oriented structural dynamics in terms of territory (Kashmir) and population (Indian refugees).The findings proved that these ‘structural dynamics’ have affected politics and the military in Pakistan.

The theoretical framework in terms of ‘praetorian oligarchy’ has been applied to structurally explain colonial politics as well as politics and the military in Pakistan. The study treated Pakistan as a praetorian state which structurally inherited the pre-partition ‘praetorian oligarchy’. This praetorian oligarchy constructed ‘Hindu India’ as the enemy to pursue political and economic interests. The military, a part of praetorian oligarchy, emerged from this as a powerful political socio-economic due to its coercive power. It has sought political power to pursue economic objectives independently.

Keywords: Civil-Military Relations, Politics of Pakistan, Praetorian Oligarchy, Civil Bureaucracy, Colonialism, Authority Structure.

Background to the Problem

The partition of British India gave birth to two independent states of India and Pakistan in August 1947. Contrary to India which got established democratic institutions, Pakistan set for the opposite. The bureaucrats ruled the country with the military as an ally until the late 1950s (Alavi 1990). In 1958, the military overtly intervened into politics and governed the country until 1971.

A civilian, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, served as prime minister for almost five years until the late 1970s. In July 1977 martial law was again declared in Pakistan by the military, led by General Zia. The military regime ruled the country for next eleven-and-a-half years. However, the post-Cold War period permitted civilian politicians to perform on the political platform of Pakistan. After a decade or so, the civilian leadership was once again sent home by another military coup, this time led by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.[1] Since then, soldiers have run the country.

One wonders why the military is still a powerful political institution/force in Pakistan in the 21st century when most of other the former military-ruled countries, such as Turkey, have witnessed, at least, procedural democracy.

This article considers the military rule in Pakistan as an important structural development which has extremely influenced the state and society. An attempt to explain the nature of military rule would help us analyse the nature of politics, state, and the civil society in Pakistan.

Even contemporaneously, the US-led war on terrorism, the unresolved issues between nuclear India and Pakistan, and Washington’s geo-strategic concerns in South Asia in terms of China’s containment, a military role of Pakistan is demanded by such geostrategic developments. Thus, a Pakistan governed by soldiers offers little for the admirer of parliamentary democracy and peace. In this complex national and regional geopolitical scenario, it becomes necessary to explain politics and the military in Pakistan.


This article is about the military and politics in Pakistan. The research problem posed in this study is to explain why the military is still a powerful political institution/force in Pakistan. The purpose of the study is to test a hypothesis that the colonial authority structure and the experience of Partition (1947) have oriented structural dynamics in providing an important structural construct which explains politics and the military in post-colonial Pakistan.

In this respect, the study will deal with following questions:

  • Whether the military played any political role under the British;
  • What factors helped the military become politically a powerful institution in Pakistan;

As will be explained, the country has witnessed a power game among various political and non-political forces – i.e., the civil-military bureaucracy and political community. It is, however, the structure of the state which determines the power dynamics in the country. Therefore, I tend to explain the research problem from a historical-structural perspective.

Literature Reviewed

There is huge literature on military, civil-military relations, and general politics in Pakistan. I have used the following typology in order to categorise different literature:

  • Propagandists: those who look at the military as an instrument of nation building and a modernising force.
  • Conspiracy theorists: those who view the military as conspiring with foreign powers, especially the US, to gain and consolidate its power at the expense of political forces.
  • Instrumentalists: those who see the military from the prism of external forces.
  • Elite bargain theorists: who tend to view political developments from the elite perspective.
  • Structuralists: those who explain the military in a larger context of the Pakistani state.

This is informed by the work of Siddiqa (2007), who used this typology. However, I have included my own sources, language, and analysis to the present the typology. Moreover, I have included elite bargain theorists, below.

To begin with, authors such as General Fazle Muqeem Khan (1960:67-199), Huntington (1968:250-255), Burki (1991:1-16) and Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema (2002:135-158) have viewed the military as a nation builder. Being the most modern institution, the military has inserted itself into politics. Incompetent political leadership has compelled an otherwise reluctant military to govern. This propagandist literature has virtually regarded military as a neutral political umpire with a natural desire to serve as protector of the state. It simply has not explained the causes which force the military to intervene in politics.

The work of Ayesha Jalal (1991:27-135), Saeed Shafqat (1997:7-15, 35-57), Tariq Ali (1970:74-144) and Husain Haqqani (2005:41-250) has constituted the second type which has painted the military as highly exploitative in fulfilling its institutional and organisational interests. Jalal even argued that the Pakistan army aligned with Britain and then with the US in an attempt to underscore national political forces.

Her narrative, however, was based on a linear-historical description of events that explained the inactivity of the civilian leadership. The civil bureaucracy was viewed as a rent-seeking institution, materially and politically benefiting through its alliance with Washington. The relative strength of political institutions was next to nothing as there was an underlying conspiracy to strengthen bureaucracy at the expense of social and political forces in Pakistan.

Jalal (1995:16-38) has further elaborated her previous work with no significant analytical modifications. In both of her accounts, the author has treated bureaucracy, particularly the military, as a post-independence phenomenon. Similarly, Shafqat, while viewing the military as a post-independence phenomenon, has developed the concept of the ‘military-dominant party hegemonic system’ to discuss politics from Zulifiqar Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto.

He has treated the pre-1971 period as partially hegemonic –which could be considered arguable. In addition, the writer has only emphasised the political hegemony of the military, thus ignoring socio-economic dimensions of the concept.

The instrumentalist view has been comprised largely of the work by Stephen Cohen (2004: 87-130 see also 1984). In his two books on Pakistan and its army, he has shed light on the regimental and organisational aspects of Pakistan Army from the prism of the US interests. The author, however, has not touched the domestic factors in analysing the civil-military relations in the country.

The elite bargain approach, as applied by Maya Chadda (2000:13-97, 226-232), has narrated the politics in Pakistan from the elitist mind set. This has been essentially marked as a supreme force capable of using even coercive measures to democratise, integrate and consolidate the state in Pakistan. One simply wonders whether the elite — civil-military bureaucracy, and politicians — ‘consolidated’ the country in 1971.  But this approach is defective, as it creates the myth of an elitist leadership riding over a monolithic nationalism. Moreover, it reduces or better ignores the role of the masses in shaping the political developments in the country. In addition, it implicitly encourages the armed forces to apply unnecessary violence in the name of national consolidation to fulfil its own institutional and organisational interests.

The military’s power has been studied as a structural problem by Hamza Alavi (1988, 1990), Hassan Askari Rizvi (2000: 51-240), Mohammad Waseem (1994: 42-59, 85-101) and Ayesha Siddiqa (forthcoming). Alavi’s theoretical work, with respect to state and its dominant classes, has doubtlessly been monumental.

According to him, the state in his Marxian context was an ‘overdeveloped’ structure having strong capitalist links with the ‘metropolitan bourgeoisie’. The ‘landed-feudal’ class, along with the ‘indigenous bourgeoisie’, were striving to collaborate with the civil bureaucracy to further their interests politically, economically, and socially.

The thrust of Alavian thought is that the bureaucracy is central to the state structure in Pakistan, whereby the state functions autonomously of the dominant ‘classes’. In their bid for political power, when engulfed by political crisis the three classes — landed-feudal class, indigenous bourgeois, and metropolitan bourgeois — resort to the bureaucracy and the charismatic military for arbitration.

Despite the significance of Alavi’s work, room for improvement remains. For instance, the author has not been clear about the concept of ‘overdeveloped’ state. How and why has he assumed so? Would the state be considered overdeveloped vis-à-vis civil society? If yes, then the dominant landed feudal and indigenous bourgeoisie would be part of the society and they would be developed at least functionally in enhancing their politico-economic interests.

Another way to understand Alavi’s thesis is by looking at state institutions. If we look at the elected institutions such as parliament, then sadly we find that they have not established themselves even after 58 years. The only developed state institution is, as we see later, the civil-military bureaucracy which, it seems, Alavi in his Marxian ‘peripheral capitalism’ paradigm has equated with an ‘overdeveloped’ state.

Similarly, Rizvi’s work is mainly about the corporate interests of the officer cadre. Their personal interests are dubbed national interests. Unfortunately, this work has been more descriptive than analytical, and has taken the military as a post- independence phenomenon.

On the other hand, Waseem has very convincingly established the transformative links from the colonial civil bureaucracy to the new state of Pakistan. The civil bureaucracy was well trained and disciplined in the art of administration and politics under the British. Pakistan inherited a good share of this ‘colonial legacy’ which underscored the existence of political and social forces due to the structural nature of the colonial state.

Waseem, however, has paid little attention to the non-civil bureaucracy — the military — which has been part and parcel of the colonial state structure, as shall be explained later. Besides, the author has believed in the continuum of the rule of law since partition. I would challenge this argument by emphasising the superficiality of the rule of law.

Finally, Ayesha Siddiqa has explained for the first time the internal economy of the military. The military economically emerges as a ‘class’ in Pakistan due to its economic ventures. The originality of this work aside, the author, like others, has taken the military as a post-independence phenomenon. In addition, she, like Alavi, seemed to have equated the state with the military class. Besides this, the military has been explained as an instrument of the civil bureaucracy and political leadership.

Conceptual Considerations

Having reviewed the literature I found that none of the work has touched on the military as a pre-partition phenomenon. None has attempted to explore and explain the colonial authority structure in terms of identifying the colonial military, its politics and its economy. In addition, there has been a lack of analysis in terms of explaining the structural links of colonial military and its economy with that of Pakistan.

To explain the politics in Pakistan where the civil-military bureaucracy has played an important role in terms of influencing state institutions and the civil society, I tend to apply the concept of ‘praetorian oligarchy’ or praetorianism. This pertains to a society and/or state where religious, feudal, and armed forces form an alliance to rule the roost.

Praetoriansim has theoretically been defined and developed by many authors such as Perlmutter (1974: 5), who has argued that “praetorianism has existed in all historical periods”. Military intervention in politics in the democratising societies has been analysed as a common phenomenon by such authors.

The level of political culture of a given society to a large extent determines the course of its political development. In this respect, Huntington (1968: 80) has introduced the concept of ‘praetorian polities’. Among the praetorian polities he identified ‘oligarchical praetorianism’ where the influential social forces were “the great landowners, the leading clergy, and the wielders of the sword” (Huntington 1968: 199). He further argued that: “…the most important causes of military intervention in politics are not military but political and reflect not the social and organisational characteristics of the military establishment but the political and institutional structure of the society” (1968: 194).

Similarly, Amos Perlmutter (1974:4-20) has also developed the praetorian perspective in terms of military praetorianism, whereby the military played “a highly significant role in key political structures and institutions”. In addition, he has identified two types of praetorian armies: the arbitrator army and the ruler army. The arbitrator military, having established its writ, preferred to return to barracks due to time limits, acceptable social order, lack of independent political organisation, and fear of civilian retribution, etc. The ruler type of military has a propensity to stay in power. In this approach, the military remained the dominant political power and was bent on maximising its power and perks.

In Modern Authoritarianism, Perlmutter (1981:1-13) has categorised praetorianism as one type of a modern authoritarian system. The types of modern authoritarianism are dominated by oligarchic political elites. The military as a ‘parallel and auxiliary’ institution is used as instrument by the political elite in praetorian-authoritarianism.

Thus, the thrust of the above-mentioned theoretical framework is on oligarchy/alliance of the landed feudal, armed forces, and clergy. This oligarchy theoretically becomes praetorian the when military is included. Overall, the existence of a praetorian oligarchy marks a low level of political culture in a given society, as argued by Huntington.

To explain my research problem, I have tended to apply ‘praetorian oligarchy’ as a theoretical framework on the colonial state and society. I have argued that the Alavian landed-feudal class and civil-military bureaucracy form a ‘praetorian oligarchy’ to pursue its political and economic interest in British India.

Similarly, I have applied the same framework on the post-colonial state of Pakistan where the state, to be explained later, has inherited the ‘praetorian oligarchy’ consisting of landed-feudal class and the civil-military bureaucracy.

I have, however, excluded clergy from this Huntingtonian ‘oligarchical praetorianism’. Instead, I have argued that clergy was auxiliary to the landed feudals and the civil-military bureaucracy. Besides, unlike Perlmutter and Siddiqa, I have not taken the military as auxiliary or as an instrument of the civil bureaucracy and the landed-feudal class.

Rather, I have argued that the military was a colonial phenomenon and, structurally, was a part of colonial praetorian oligarchy which existed in British India as shall be explained. In post-partition Pakistan the military intervened in politics due to its structural (and strategic) understanding with the pre-partition praetorian oligarchy to perpetuate its political and economic interests.

I have also argued that the military in Pakistan’s politics did not function independently but, rather, was part of the praetorian oligarchy. However, within this praetorian oligarchy it has become Perlmuter’s ‘ruler’ military post-third martial law- that was imposed on 5th July 1977.

Besides, adhering to the new version of structuralism, I have used the state as ‘autonomous’ from dominant classes. In addition, I have tended to emphasise the centrality of the state. The dominant classes and even institutions — civil-military bureaucracy — function within the state and not as the state (Steans and Pettiford 2005: 55-58, 86-88).

Last but not the least, the above-mentioned assumptions are summarized, grounded and reflected in the following mode:

      Model: Oligarchic Model of Pakistan’s Politics

Oligarchic Model

Source: The model is developed by the author

Data Sources and Methodology

The existing material on military and politics in Pakistan is mostly descriptive, theoretically ambiguous, and highly pro-military. More importantly, it does not take the military’s politics as a pre-partition phenomenon as mentioned earlier. Therefore, there are many missing links needing to be explained.

Thus, in order to explain the research problem I have tended to test a hypothesis which was also the purpose of this study. Hence, it is hypothesised that (H): the colonial authority structure and partition-orientated structural dynamics provide an important structural construct in explaining politics and the military in Pakistan.

This hypothesis is expected to help us explain the military and politics in the post-colonial state of Pakistan. In order to test the hypothesis, primary and secondary data sources are used. To begin with, I have used primary source in terms of the Pakistan Planning Commission’s Report, along with data gathered from books etc. The latter source has been used quantitatively. Besides, other secondary sources — i.e. journals— are used to explain and analyse politics and the military in Pakistan, quantitatively. In addition, primary sources, such as reports, have been mostly used for quantitative analysis. Both the data types are used in light of the theoretical considerations as grounded in the model.

Finally, I am aware that I have mainly focused on Pakistan’s military and general politics. Also, I have excluded a very useful narration of political developments, such as a detailed description of Pakistan’s partition in 1971 or nuclear tests in 1998, due to space constraints. Since the ambition was to explain the problem which has not been dealt with, unnecessary details have been avoided so to fully concentrate on the stated problem.

Last but not the least, I had planned to conduct interviews with military personnel in order to gain insights into the military’s politics and economic ventures to explain my research problem. Unfortunately, the accessibility to the concerned persons was made difficult due to their strategic engagement — i.e. war on terror. Nevertheless, in order to solve this problem, I gained accessed to one Pakistani security analyst with expertise on the country’s military and its economic activities. I have used this source quantitatively to explain military’s’ economic role. The source, however, was treated as secondary.

Dispositional Scheme

I have divided this article into three parts. The first part explains and analyses the colonial authority structure. It argues that the praetorian oligarchy existed in British India. The 1947 partition is also explained from a colonial perspective. In addition, this chapter highlights partition-oriented structural dynamics.

The second part deals with politics in post-partition Pakistan. An attempt is made to explain whether the colonial authority structure and the partition-oriented structural dynamics have any bearing on politics and the military in the post-colonial state of Pakistan. Besides, this part argues that the pre-partition praetorian oligarchy was structurally inherited by the Pakistani state. The military being a component of this oligarchy emerges powerful politico-economically due to the structure of the state and society.

The last part explains the partition and disintegration of Pakistan in 1971. The new state inherited the Punjab-based ‘praetorian oligarchy’ from the old state of Pakistan. This part generally explains politics and the military’s politico-economic activities from partition until present. The findings of the three parts are surmised in the conclusion.

Colonial Politics

This part explains the colonial authority structure. It explains how the civil-military bureaucracy and the landed-feudal class formed a praetorian oligarchy/alliance to pursue their politico-economic interests in British India. The chapter also explains the partition of British India in 1947. The partition-oriented structural dynamics are also highlighted in this chapter.

Colonial Authority Structure

The authority structure of the British Empire comprised the governor-general, the viceroy and the state bureaucracy. This power system was answerable via the sectary of state to the British parliament in London. The state bureaucracy was an integral part of this authority structure.

The state acted as an interventionist force to pursue its capitalist interests. In this respect, it was the bureaucracy which enjoyed an arbitrary position in terms of bureaucratic paternalism. The role of the landed feudal was effectively reduced by the state-led economic mechanism, affected and regulated in turn by the market. The state penetrated and influenced civil society through the bureaucracy (Waseem 1994: 27-28).

The forces of colonialism gradually replaced the Moghul state (empire) structure. Bengal and the Punjab succumbed to the British East India Company in the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries respectively. The British developed an operative ‘institutional’ setup for the administration of the colonial society. The political economy of colonialism made the state act as promoter, guarantor, and protector of British capitalist interests in India. On the other hand, the state functioned as an organisation ‘relatively autonomous’ of these interests as well as from local politico-economic forces (Waseem 1994: 21-27).

Waseem, however, has not differentiated between the types of colonial state bureaucracy. His sole emphasis on the civil bureaucracy has not given a complete picture of the colonial authority structure. Tan Tai Yong, has, however, convincingly established the linkage between the landed-feudal class and the British military, forming the praetorian oligarchy in pursuit of politico-economic interests.

Yong has emphasised the ‘culture of militarism’ of the pre-colonial Punjab. India throughout its history witnessed invasions from its northern parts called the Punjab. In the wake of the Moghul decline, the Punjab was conquered and governed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He raised his own army mainly comprising Punjabi Sikhs. The East India Company regime annexed the Punjab in 1849. The next decade saw demilitarisation of the defeated Ranjit’s army. The 1857 mutiny, however, made the British re-evaluate the strategic importance of the Punjab as well as the Punjabis who had earlier supported the ‘military-fiscal state’ of the company’s rule (Yong 2005: 19-51).

In the 1880s soon after the Second Afghan War, the colonial masters perceived the so-called ‘great game’ that was the Russian threat. The ‘martial races’ concept was developed by the British authorities to ‘divide and rule’ not only the armed forces but also India. The ‘Punjabicisation’ of the colonial military initiated the recruitment of Punjabi Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and Pathans of north India — the military districts  —  into the restructured Bengal Army (Yong 2005: 57-89).

In the 1890s the opening of ‘canal colonies’ initiated a process of land allocation by the colonial masters to win the loyalty of the soldiering classes. In 1900 the Land Alienation Act was passed by the state to stop land slipping out of hands of the landed-feudal class. Coincidentally, this landed-feudal class consisted of ex-soldiers, pensioners, and relatives of in-service army personnel. From 1914-1919, the Punjab provided a majority of recruits to safeguard the colonial interests in Asia, Africa, and Europe (Yong 2005: 90-108).

The war years brought close collaboration between the civil and military authorities, giving birth to the concept of ‘militarised bureaucracy’. The chaotic economic situation after the war years, along with the political uprisings of, for example, the Khilafat movement, threatened the socio-economic balance in the rural-military districts. As a result, civil-military cooperation in terms of Punjab Soldiers’ Boards was further consolidated (Yong 2005: 141-182).

This civil-military integration was a planned mechanism to prevent the recruiting districts being influenced by nationalist politics of the post-war period. In other words, the British authorities were instrumental in the creation of praetorian oligarchy. Thus, during the inter-war period (1919-1939), the Punjab Soldiers Board functioned as an institutional part of the district administration (see Alavi 1988).

However, the nationalist movement gained momentum during the inter-war period. The raj was political, too. In revising the 1909 Morley-Mitno reforms, it blessed the Indians with limited representation by introducing Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in 1919. However, in post-reformist India, both the Congress and the League failed to make political in-roads into the praetorian Punjab which provided 60 per cent of the Indian army by 1927. Instead, the Punjab-based Unionist Party, an alliance of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh landed feudal, held on to power until the last days of the raj. The Unionist Party clearly represented the praetorian oligarchy, especially in the military districts of northen Punjab (Yong 2005: 241-280).

Thus, it is argued that the colonial authority structure comprised both the civil and military bureaucracy, along with the governor-general and viceroy. The British recruited Punjabis in large numbers from late 19th century onward to the British Indian Army to secure the imperial boundaries from the Russian threat. The British won the loyalty of the military districts in northern Punjab through a systemic allocation of land. In the inter-war period, the civil-military bureaucracy and landed feudal collaborated with one another politically and economically. Their collaboration gave birth to a praetorian oligarchy in British India.

The Strategic Partition

There are numerous theories with respect to the partition of British India. Hamza Alavi (1988, 1990) has advanced the ‘salariat’ thesis, arguing that the salaried classes, such as lawyers of United and Central provinces, as well as Bengal and the Punjab, strove constitutionally to safeguard their economic interests. However, Khalid bin Sayeed has emphasised Muslim separatism. His thesis was based on civilisational differences between the Muslims and the non-Muslims of India. Sayeed, undoubtedly, represented the two-nation theorists (Sayeed 1967:4).

Waseem, on the other hand, has based his findings on multiplicity of variables. Structurally, the Pakistan Movement started in the Muslim-minority provinces. Ideologically, it was the two-nation theory that served as an ideology. Organisationally, it was the Muslim League which provided the platform to the Indian Muslims. Personally, it was Jinnah’s Weberian charisma that was the driving force. Nonetheless, Waseem, if studied deeply, also belongs to the two-nation strand (Waseem 1994:59-83).

Similarly, Jalal (1991:16) also laid emphasis on the personality factor. She, however, differed from others in the sense that Jinnah was not necessarily struggling to win independence. His acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1946 marked his political resilience. Jinnah used the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip to maximise the Muslims’ interests, argued Jalal.

The academic value of the above-mentioned theories appreciated, I instead tend to explain the partition phenomenon from the colonial perspective. After all, it was the British, not the Congress or the Muslim League, which partitioned the sub-continent.

In this respect, in his recently published work In the Shadow of the Great Game, Narendra Singh Sarila has convincingly unfolded the story of India’s partition. His thesis was based on declassified archival facts about the way the British made policies to preserve its geostrategic concerns during the Second World War.

The Congress, due to its own nationalist politics, resigned from the office in eight out of 11 provinces in 1939 just after the war broke out in Europe. On the other hand, the British wanted to have a strife-free Punjab (where it recruited 50 per cent of the British Indian Army). In this respect, the Muslim League and its leadership especially Jinnah was appeased by Lord Linlithgow, who in announcing the British declaration on 8 August 1940, acceded the ‘veto’ to Jinnah on India’s future constitutional developments. Even the Unionist leadership, which was part of the praetorian oligarchy, was urged by Lord Linlinthgow to enter into electoral alliance with the League. Jinnah, who thought on communal lines much earlier in 1939, conversed with Lord Linlinghtgow that the “Muslim areas should be separated from ‘Hindu India’ and run by Muslims in collaboration with Great Britain” (Sarila 2005: 34-64).

In the wake of poor British performance in the war, the division in the Imperial army, the Congress’s demand for a free-India and the League’s ‘autonomous’ rhetoric, it was Lord Wavell, not Mountbatten, who first blueprinted the future of Pakistan on 6/7 February 1946. Responding to a telegram to the secretary of state for India, Wavell, while forwarding his scheme, gave great importance to the communists’ interventionist designs towards the Middle East (the wells of power), and rest of Asia (Sarila 2005: 194-196).

To contain and combat this menace, the support of the Muslims was crucial. In this respect, an independent Pakistan was perceived to serve as a military base in fulfilling the British strategic aims. Hence, British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Bengal and the Punjab were also partitioned into East Bengal (in Pakistan) and East Punjab (in India) in August 1947. The princely states, including Kashmir, were denied independence by London. Soon after the transfer of authority to India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947, the two countries started integrating the princely states under the partition formula (Sarila 2005:330-336).

Therefore, it is in this context of partition that the issue of Kashmir’s integration and the cross-border migration needs explanation. Moreover, I have termed such developments as ‘partition-oriented structural dynamics’ because they were part of the colonial state in terms of territory and population. I would explain later how these ‘structural dynamics’ affected the military and politics in post-partition Pakistan.

Thus, it has been argued that the British authority structure was decisive in terms of policy making and implementation. Moreover, the Punjab proved crucial as a recruiting ground for the Imperial army. The soldiering classes were granted land in order to win their loyalty and depoliticise them. The British strategically partitioned India on communal lines in August 1947. Moreover, the partition left a legacy of ‘structural dynamics’ that have affected the state of Pakistan as we see in the next chapter.

Praetorian Pakistan

This part argues that Pakistan is a praetorian state which inherited the pre-partition praetorian oligarchy. Also, it explains if the colonial authority structure and the partition oriented structural dynamics affect politics and the military in Pakistan.

Punjab-based Praetorian Oligarchy

Territorially, Pakistan inherited North West Frontier Province, West Punjab (onward Punjab), East Bengal, Sind, and a few princely states including Bahawalpur, whose rulers under the partition formula acceded to Pakistan. The British Balochistan, comprising princely states of Kharan, Lasbela, and Kalat, was raided by the Pakistan army in March 1948, annexing it with the latter (Tariq Ali 1983:123; Jalal 1991:93). In addition, the country had to struggle to get its material — i.e. bank balance, and arsenal — and non-material — i.e. military personnel, and bureaucrats — shares (Rizvi 2000: 35-61; Haqqani 2005: 11-12).

Besides, Pakistan received in total more than seven million Indian refugees (mohajirs) of which more than five million settled in Punjab alone – two per cent of which came from United provinces and mostly settled in urban Sind, i.e. Karachi (Census of Pakistan 1951: 11-25). The Muslim League and its leadership, including Jinnah, were migratory as well. Punjab and Bengal emerged as the two largest provinces in area and population.

Scholars and analysts have so far focused on those mohajirs who spoke Urdu and settled in urban Sind (Waseem 1994: 102-111). I instead argue that the politics of Punjabi mohajirs in particular and (local) Punjabis in general is crucial to explaining their influence on politics and the military in Pakistan.

The colonial authority structure, in terms of civil-military bureaucracy, was structurally transformed into the Pakistani state. As mentioned earlier, up until partition the Punjabis had made up 50 per cent of the British Indian Army. Therefore, Punjabis, both local and mohajirs, outnumbered even majority Bengalis in the armed forces of Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan inherited a good share of colonial civil bureaucracy. The local-mohajir Punjabis outgrew all other ethnic groups in the Pakistan’s civil services (Waseem 1994:108). Besides, the landed feudal class of Punjab was institutionally well organised to assert itself politically (Alavi 1990). So, this overwhelming position of Punjabis was one of the dynamics of partition which affected the structure of state and military in Pakistan.

Thus, it is argued that the over-representation of Punjabis in the civil-military bureaucracy, along with the Punjabi landed feudal class, confirms the structural significance of pre-partition praetorian oligarchy which institutionally remained unaffected by the partition. Pakistan inherited this praetorian oligarchy, it is argued. In addition, I have termed this ‘Punjabicisation’ as a ‘Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy’ which exploited the country politically and economically.

Overdeveloped Civil-Military Bureaucracy

The Punjabis outnumbered all other ethnic communities in the civil-military bureaucracy, as explained earlier. The civil-military bureaucracy consolidated its numerical strength in the absence of indigenous leadership and any political organisation. In other words, the migratory political leadership proved ineffective in putting the civil-military bureaucracy under permanent civilian control.

In post-partition Pakistan, Jinnah, the governor-general, was all powerful under the amended 1935 India Act (Alavi 1990). However, Jinnah and the Muslim League had little to say in areas now constituting the state of Pakistan. The praetorian oligarchy remained unaffected by the partition process. It provided little space to the ailing Jinnah and disenchanted Liaquat Ali Khan, the country’s first prime minister (Alavi 1990).

Instead, owing to the peculiar nature of the state which inherited an ‘overdeveloped civil-military bureaucracy’ and an ill-representative Muslim League, the civil bureaucracy emerged from within the praetorian oligarchy as a powerful political actor due to its expertise in the art of administration. In the name of the governor-general, the Punjabi bureaucrats established a hitherto unknown post of ‘secretary general’ and a ‘planning committee’ directly responsible to Jinnah who by that time was bed-ridden. Choduary Mohammad Ali, the secretary general and later prime minister of Pakistan, by-passed Liaquat Ali Khan and his cabinet in terms of policy making and its implementation (see Alavi 1990).

It was this Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy which feared the majority Bengalis who demanded a constitution and general election. To do injustice to the Bengalis, it was Jinnah himself who declared Urdu a national language in East Bengal in March 1948. It was not to suggest that Jinnah represented this oligarchy.

It has, however, been argued that the civil bureaucracy was the real power holder and a think-tank responsible for policy input for the administrative state of Pakistan. Thus, the praetorian oligarchy had no objection to Urdu in the name of so-called nation building (Rahman 1998: 200-209).

On the other hand, the military as part of the praetorian oligarchy did not lag behind in terms of power projection. I have explained it by again looking at partition. As mentioned before, the ‘strategic partition’ was done in order to use Pakistan as a military base. Therefore, the British had opted for a joint defense council for India and Pakistan. Claude Auchinleck was joint commander-in-chief of Indian and Pakistani armed forces. All three services of Pakistan were headed by British officers in the initial years (Rizvi 2000: 41).

Jalal (1991: 118), in this respect, has argued that the British deliberately did so as they wanted to make Pakistan dependent on London for its defense needs. Her argument was in line with Sarila, as we have seen before. However, this type of argumentation underscores the value and the purpose of partition. Instead, it has been argued that the British did want to see Pakistan as an ally in its global power calculations – in particular, as an anti-communist force. The assumption of the officer cadre of Pakistan’s armed forces by the British was primarily due to the ineffective political leadership of Pakistan which had failed badly to take defense into its own hands.

Instead, the civil bureaucracy as a policy-making body decided things for itself, as well as for other organisations including the military with who it shared strategic understanding. Thus, the civil bureaucracy-led praetorian oligarchy perceived and projected ‘socialist India’ as an enemy (Cohen 1984: 37; Haqqani 2005: 26). This enemy construction, as we shall see, was done to pursue economic benefits at the expense of democracy and peace. Therefore, it was necessary to externally defend Pakistan against the perceived Indian threat. Those who opposed this view were called anti-Pakistan forces, such as Bengalis and the Baloch.

To turn the perceived Indian threat into reality, the Pakistan Army planned an operation in Kashmir in 1947-48 in order to institutionalise India as an enemy (Tariq Ali 2002: 235; Haqqani 2005: 28). The subsequent war over Kashmir marked the significance of partition-oriented structural dynamics. Thus, the legal debates between India and Pakistan on Kashmir aside, its geostrategic location strengthened the (Punjab-based) praetorian oligarchy in Pakistan.

In addition, it has been argued that the military intervened in Pakistan’s politics in 1947-48 and not in 1958 as assumed by many analysts including Cheema (2002: 135-158). This intervention turned Pakistan’s military into Perlmutter’s ‘arbitrator’ (Perlmutter 1974: 8-14). Besides, it has been argued that this military intervention in politics tilted the institutional balance in the military’s favour though within the praetorian oligarchy. Earlier, Jalal (1991:135) had assumed so at Liaquat Ali’s assassination in 1951. Moreover, at this juncture, the military as an institution disengaged from politics on account of organisational weaknesses. Finally, it has been argued that it was not the state which was ‘overdeveloped’ but the civil-military bureaucracy in Pakistan.

The Praetorian Oligarchic Rule

Pakistan was ruled not by one organisation but by the civil bureaucracy-led praetorian oligarchy from 1947-58. The non-Punjabi of the landed-feudal class also allied with this oligarchy to further their politico-economic interests.

The country witnessed seven prime ministers from 1947-58 of which one was of the Punjabi landed-feudal class; two of them — one of which was Punjabi — were staunch bureaucrats. Of four governor-generals, two were (both Punjabis) bureaucrats. The only president in this period was a unique bureaucrat who had served in both the bureaucracies- civil and military. Ayub Khan, who became the first Pakistani commander-in-chief in 1951, also joined this oligarchic rule in 1954 as defense minister in Prime Minister Bogra’s cabinet.

This praetorian oligarchy ruled the country at the expense of democratic and legal norms. Ghulam Mohammad, Governor-General from 1951-55, extended this oligarchic power by arbitrary amendments in the 1935 India Act. He was assisted by the Punjabi chief justice who introduced the legal norm in terms of ‘doctrine of necessity’ to secure the oligarchy politically in 1954. This doctrine empowered the governor-general to dismiss assemblies sans raison. Therefore, the following year West Pakistan was arbitrarily turned into One-Unit to underscore the majority Bengalis. In 1956, a Punjabi bureaucrat blessed Pakistan with a constitution which rendered the Bengalis into a minority (Waseem 1994: 137-141).

The military during this period strengthened itself organisationally, politically, and economically. Organisationally, the three services gradually nationalised their command structure. Military personnel received training from the US rather than Sandhurst. Giving confidence to the military as an institution were political, domestic, and global developments, such as the rehabilitation of the Indian refugees, self-launched war in Kashmir, the partial martial law in Lahore in 1953, Ayub Khan coming as Defense Minister in 1954 and the Cold War alliance with the US through, for instance, CENTO and SEATO, (Chadda 2000: 29; Sayeed 1967: 76-86).

Economically, a huge defense budget and massive military aid from the US in the 1950s boosted the organisation’s national standing (see Table 1 below).

        Table 1: Defense expenditure: 1949-1958


Defense expenditure

(Rs. million)

Percentage of the total government expenditure





































* 15 August 1947 to 31 March 1948

** 1 April 1958 to 30 June 1959

Source: Rizvi 2000

The most significant development was the establishment in 1953 of Fauji Foundation (Soldier Foundation), which ventured into textile, sugar, and cereals in the name of meeting army personnel’s welfare (Siddiqa 2003). Also, military personnel largely benefited due to its political position in the praetorian oligarchy with respect to the redistribution of evacuee land –land left behind by non-Muslims who migrated to India in 1947. This land was leased for 99 years to the military for operational purposes which appropriated it for personal gains (Siddiqa 2007).

This aspect of the military’s economic activism makes one remember the pre-partition land allocation to the military classes by the British. Thus, in independent Pakistan, the military as an important component of the praetorian oligarchy strove on its own to secure its economic interest in the security state of Pakistan.

Political Military

On 7th October 1958, President Iskander Mirza declared martial law in the country. The 1956 constitution and the national-provincial assemblies were abrogated and dismissed respectively (Rizvi 2000: 86). This episode has been analysed by many scholars.

Alavi has viewed it as a ‘(civil) bureaucratic coup’ because it was Iskandar Mirza, a bureaucrat, who declared martial law. In addition, the new set-up included a secretary general and his planning committee which gave more power to the civil bureaucracy than military. Alavi and Jalal, among others, have argue that the fear of a general election that was supposed to be held in 1959 was the main reason behind martial law (Alavi 1990; Jalal 1995: 54).

Alavi, unfortunately, has focused at the means and not the end. How strange it would seem that a ‘bureaucratic coup’ resulted in a military intervention that sent Iskandar Mirza into exile. In addition, why did the election — which had been postponed many times since 1947 — become the cause for the coup?

It has been argued that it was a ‘military coup’ initiated by the military, bringing all power into its hands. The main cause was not the election but the projection of the military as ‘ruler’ in the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy. The military achieved this seniority due to its overwhelming politico-economic position in the security state of Pakistan. In addition, it sought political power to expand and consolidate itself as an independent economic actor. This shall be explained later.

Besides, the abrogation of the constitution may be seen in the light of ‘necessity doctrine’. It meant, it has been argued, that the legal and constitutional norms were irrelevant to the state of Pakistan and the so-called constitution was superficial in nature and character. The superficiality of legal-constitutional norms also showed the weakness of parliamentary institutions and civil society in Pakistan.

From 1958-69 the country was arbitrarily ruled by soldier-president general Ayub Khan, who got himself elected president through arbitrary referendum. He introduced the system of ‘Basic Democracies’, supposedly to democratise the country. The Muslim League was factionalised. Resultantly, the Muslim League Convention was the king’s party.

Ayub also blessed the nation with a constitution in 1962. A war with India in September 1965 was, too, planned via Kashmir to humiliate the chronic foe. A year before, the soldier-president got re-elected as president through the self-created Electoral College – the basic democrats (Hashami 2005: 147; Tariq Ali 1970: 132; Haqqani 2005: 43-50; see also Ziring 1971: 12-85).

The Ayub-led military rule further benefited the praetorian oligarchy. For instance, his economic polices were carried out by the civil bureaucracy which was a medium to penetrate the state and into civil society. The regime’s cronies — be they of the landed-feudal class or bureaucrats — were favoured in terms of ‘superficial’ land reform and industrial licenses (Ziring 1971: 88). In addition, the regime amended Colonisation of Land Act, 1912, in 1965 to allot land (about 100,000 acres annually) to the military (Siddiqa 2007). Besides, the Fauji Foundation gathered assets worth Rs152 million by the end of his rule (Siddiqa 2003).

Ayub’s era was anti urban and rural poor. His policies were discriminatory and the more depressed and discriminated were the majority Bengalis – politically, economically, and culturally. This mega-discrimination led to the six-point politics of the Awami League and its leader Mujibur Rehman in the mid 1960s. Poor communities of West Pakistan were also discriminated to such an extent that they took to the streets in late 1960s (Ziring 1971: 174-191; Tariq Ali 1970: 23). The public uprising against Ayub mark the flaws in the work of propagandists, such as Huntington (1968: 250-255), who echoed military-led modernisation.

A newly created Pakistan People’s Party led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was instrumental in articulating the concerns of poor communities. Awami League did the same in the Eastern Wing. A defamed Ayub Khan proved a liability for the military which removed him from office in March 1969 (Tariq Ali 1970: 210). The deposed soldier abrogated his own constitution and dismissed pro-regime assemblies. Martial Law once again engulfed Pakistan in March 1969. Constitutional norms once again proved irrelevant and ‘superficial’.

Thus, it has been argued that the civil bureaucracy-led praetorian oligarchy ruled the country from independence until 1958. The 1958 military coup registered the military as a senior partner within the praetorian oligarchy. The military regime of Ayub Khan further consolidated the military both politically and economically. Legal and constitutional norms remained superficial and irrelevant. The urban-rural poor were extremely discriminated in both wings. This led to heightened agitation in politics, which was capitalised on by the People’s Party and Awami League. Resultantly, Ayub Khan unleashed further martial law.

The Birth of a New State

This part of the article explains the partition and resultant disintegration of the state of Pakistan in 1971. This chapter also explains the new state, its politics, and the military. Finally, the chapter attempts to explain how the military consolidated its politico-economic position within the praetorian oligarchy from 1971 until present.

Partition of Pakistan State

General Yahya Khan assumed office of the chief martial law administration in March 1969. The military regime under Yahya was seen as continuation of the earlier military rule. I, however, would put the Yahya-led military rule in the praetorian oligarchy which remained undisturbed in the post-Ayub period. Having assessed the public mood, Yahya, under his Legal Framework Order, undid the One-Unit[i] and promised a general election in the country in February-March 1970. The People’s Party, Awami League, and other smaller parties started canvassing without pronounced agendas. Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto played upon the poor community’s emotionality in terms of promising them roti, kapra and makan (bread, cloth and a house). Mujibur Rehman sold the ‘autonomy’ maxim. The smaller parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, aspired for pan-Islamism. And the Muslim League was lost with the fall of Ayub Khan (Waseem 1994: 243-254).

The election was staged with at least some reports of rigging. Though the military intelligence agencies predicted a mix-mandate, the People’s Party and Awami League made a clean sweep in West Pakistan and East Pakistan respectively. From a simple parliamentary democracy principle, the majority party was entitled to form government in the centre as well as East Pakistan.

But the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy could not accept the Bengalis ruling them. Therefore, Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (a Sindi-landed feudal), in representing the oligarchy, dismissed the public verdict. When the Bengalis resorted to agitational politics, Yahya Khan allowed military means to solve a political issue. In the wake of the civil war, the Bengali refugees proved a burden to India socially and economically. No wonder then that India exploited the situation through war against Pakistan. As a resul, on 16 December 1971, Pakistan was partitioned through the formation of the sovereign state of Bangladesh (Waseem 1994: 255-277).

Scholars so far have bypassed this partition and its ramifications. However, it has been argued that this partition marked the importance of non-religious identities. The creation of Bangladesh showed the victory of the two-culture theory whereby the dual-nation theory was not able to bind the two wings together. In addition, the partition of Pakistan confirmed the significance of ‘structural supremacy’ of the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy which, for its own political and economic interests, underestimated and degraded the majority Bengalis.

More importantly, the state of Pakistan virtually disintegrated. It was run by a non-elected apparatus at the time of partition, meaning that the legality and rule of law was absent. Moreover, it lost more than half of its population and territory in a sign of the state’s physical collapse.

Thus, the partition of old Pakistan gave birth to a new state which inherited the overdeveloped civil-military bureaucracy and influential landed-feudal class. In other words, the new state structurally inherited the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy from the old Pakistan. In addition, Punjab once again emerged as a powerful province in terms of population and resources.

Politics of Appeasement

The post-1971 Pakistani state structurally forced the military to retreat because the latter had been discredited by the masses due to its failure to guarantee even the territorial defense of the state. Therefore, the military handed over power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with whom the civil-military bureaucracy had developed institutional understanding during the former’s association with the Ayub-Yahya regimes. For instance, Bhutto was sent to China by the Yahya regime at a time when the military operation in East Pakistan was at its peak.

In addition, he retrospectively represented the old West Pakistan. Therefore, he was the only leader of national standing who could be transferred authority. Therefore, Bhutto acted as the country’s first civilian chief martial law administrator as well as its president from late 1971 to 1973.

Bhutto and his politics (1971-77) have been discussed by many scholars. For instance, Burki (1980: 81-89), K.B. Sayeed (1980:  91) and Jalal (1995: 77-84) have analysed ‘Bhuttoism’ from a personalistic perspective, in that he was a feudal and once in power he wanted to maximise it at all costs. Shafqat (1997: 115-159) and Waseem (1994: 285-348) have, however, analysed the Bhutto phenomenon from a party politics perspective. These scholars have argued that Bhutto came to power due to the vote. To fulfil campaign promises, he turned to the politics of reformism. It was in the structure of reforms that resent grew among some groups or classes, and they brought him down.

The ‘politics of reformism’ thesis of Shafqat and Waseem was partially true. Shafqat (1997:10-16), while formulating his ‘dominant party political system’ for the 1971-77 period, has ignored the organisational weakness of the People’s Party. Thus, it has been argued that the period of the People’s Party was not what Shafqat formulated.

Waseem has, however, highlighted the organisational weakness of the People’s Party which caused Bhutto’s downfall. However, he has not touched the military’s politics which appeased Bhutto by returning to barracks in the wake of 1971 defeat. Therefore, I would tend to argue that it was the politics of appeasement — political and economic concessions — both on the part of Bhutto and the military during this period.

Bhutto was transferred power by the discredited military. In other words, he was appeased by an organisation which was a senior partner of the praetorian oligarchy which also represented the landed feudal. Bhutto, being of the landed feudal, sought about becoming authoritarian. Through that, he was to curtail the powers of a military which had previously ruled the country. Therefore, he restructured the military command and control structure. In addition, he abolished the civil service of Pakistan and unified all services though with military’s consent (Haqqani 2005:95; Shafqat 1977:167). Besides that, he appeased the socialists within his party by giving them important portfolios, such as the finance ministry (Burki 1980: 140-143).

However, very soon he deployed the military in Balochistan in the name of national consolidation (Cohen 2004: 220). The Balochistan operation continued from 1973 until Bhutto’s downfall (Waseem 1994: 323-327). The intelligences agencies of the military, however, exploited the situation in the former’s favour (Haqqani 2005: 172) The underlying assumption was to rejuvenate the morale of the armed forces so as to regain its previous political position.

Bhutto, in his rhetoric of appeasement, projected India as the enemy when the latter tested a nuclear device in 1974. The dynamics of the security state urged Bhutto to initiate the country’s first nuclear programme in the mid 1970s. In addition, during 1972-77 the defense budget stood at about six per cent of GNP (Shafqat 1997:167). Thus, Bhutto appeased the military to prolong his stay in power.


By the mid 1970s, Bhutto had restructured his cabinet and replaced staunch socialists with members of the landed feudal, the majority of whom came from Punjab. The entry of the landed-feudal class into the corridors of power marked their importance in the praetorian oligarchy. In addition, he also appeased the religious forces by introducing Islamic measures, such as the banning of alcohol (Burki 1980: 193). The religious forces, however, along with the discriminated urban-rural poor, took to agitational politics and demanded an Islamic system. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) assisted and aided the religious forces in this respect (Haqqani 2005:105-116). Thus, it has been argued that the clergy was an auxiliary to the military.

Bhutto, having sensed the situation, decided to hold general election in March 1977. His People’s Party emerged as a majority party. However, opposition in the form of the Pakistan National alliance (PNA), refused to accept the results. They alleged Bhutto of massive rigging (Rizvi 2000: 232-235). Thus, the agitational politics of the PNA requested the military to take over.

The Military Matters

The new state witnessed martial law imposed by general Ziaul Haq military regime on 5 July, 1977, on charges of corruption and mismanagement of the economy by Bhutto. The latter was arrested and his polices reversed; the 1973 constitution was abrogated. Two years later, Bhutto was hanged by the military (Rizvi 2000:239).

Politically, Zia, like Ayub, held a referendum and became a soldier-president. The other partners in the praetorian oligarchy, especially those affected by Bhutto’s policies, applauded the military rule. The Afghan jihad of the 1980s against communist Soviet Union made Islamabad a frontline state in Washington. Subsequently, massive military aid (US$ 3.2 billion) and increased defense allocation strengthened the military at home. It became belligerent: it banned political parties, arrested anti-regime politicians and journalists, delayed oft-promised election, criminalised the civil society through a weapons-drug culture, Islamised the legal system and spilled ethnic-sectarian violence throughout Pakistan (Waseem 1994: 367-388; Burki 1991: 16).

Despite this political colouring, the July coup was economic in nature. The prime factor was the armed forces’ own economic interests. To pursue its economic interest independently, the military established the Army Welfare Trust in 1977 – the intervention year. The Trust would go on to run 26 independent projects in agriculture, real estate, housing, and manufacturing. It was valued at Rs17 billion in 2003. Similarly, the Pakistan Air Force established the Shaheen Foundation (Air Foundation), with an annual turnover of Rs600 million. In addition, the Pakistan Navy established its Bahria Foundation (Sea Foundation) in 1981. Besides this, the National Logistic Cell, established in 1978, profited in trucking and transformation (Siddiqa 2003). Thus, it has been argued that the military (overtly) intervened into politics for its own economic interests. It also wanted to re-establish itself among the masses as a powerful political force as it was once under Ayub in the old state of Pakistan.

Institutionalised Military Rule

Zia amended the constitution and inserted article 58 (B) 2 as the 8th amendment to the 1973 Constitution in 1985. This empowered the president to dissolve the parliament and dismiss national-provincial assemblies sans raison. In other words, the military rule was institutionalised. Very soon, 58 (B) 2 was operationalised. The first victim of this article was Zia’s own selected prime minister Junejo (a member of the landed feudal) who was sent home when the latter differed with Zia, especially concerning the Geneva Accords. However, before Zia could appoint another pliant person, he died in a mysterious air crash in August 1988 (Burki 1991:16).

The post-Zia period did not affect the military institutionally. It remained a strong component in the praetorian oligarchy. The military rule being institutionalised, the landed-feudal class — a part of praetorian oligarchy — ran the country in the 1990s (Rizvi 2000: 327). The military continued with its economic activities in this period, as shall be explained later.


In a changed geostrategic environment, in which Washington no longer required Pakistan’s defense establishment, the new Army chief, Mirza Aslam Beg, allowed the political forces to compete for the 1988 general election. However, the election was rigged with the help of ISI (Haqqani 2005: 201). Despite this, with a slim majority, Benazir Bhutto (of the landed-feudal class and the People’s Party) became prime minister. Nonetheless, after two years her government was dismissed on the basis of corruption – charges brought by another component of praetorian oligarchy-civil bureaucracy (Rizvi 2000: 327). This process of arbitrary dismissal through 58 (B) 2 by bureaucrat-feudal presidents under the military’s auspices continued until 1997-98, when the then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif (an industrialist) repealed this clause (Shafqat 1997:225-233). It took authority away from overdeveloped civil-military bureaucracy.

In order to maximise his political power, Nawaz Sharif additionally attacked the supreme court of Pakistan. He, too, played with the rhetoric of Islamisation which Vali Nasr (2005) has termed ‘Muslim democracy’. Sharif attempted to reduce the military-led foundations’ economic roles (Cohen 2004: 251). In other words, Sharif had become authoritarian like Bhutto.

The Praetorian Oligarchy Prevails

Sharif attempted to normalise Pakistan’s relations with India in order maximise his personal powers. In this respect, he invited Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee to Pakistan in February 1999. The mastermind of the military saw through Sharif’s intentions. The entire peace process was jeopardised when Pakistan‘s military planned and fought another war against India in Kargil (Kashmir) just a few months after Vajpayee’s historic visit (Chadda 2000: 211).

After having bore heavy losses, the military asked Sharif to arrange a face-saving solution. Washington arranged one due to the US’s fear of nuclear escalation. But the onus of defeat was laid on Sharif’s shoulders. The military, it has been argued, had achieved its non-military target – to discredit Sharif nationally. Thus, it was in this context that the military, led by General Pervez Musharraf, took control of the country after having deposed and later exiled Sharif and his family in October 1999 (The News, 13 October, 1999). The lack of agitational politics marked the weakness of political organisations, in particular, and civil society, in general. The coup’s cause was due to the military’s economic interests.

History repeated itself in the post-coup period in terms of the military’s politics: Musharraf declared himself as president through a referendum; the Clinton administration criticised military rule; the Supreme Court once again activated the ‘necessity doctrine’ and provided relief to the soldier-president; once again, the US-led war in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks strengthened the men in uniform; another king’s party, the Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam), was created by the intelligence agencies ( Haqqani 2005: 259).

In addition, ‘armoured democracy’ was imposed on the country in an election held in October 2002 in which the king’s party formed government in alliance with MMA — an alliance of six religious parties — under military’s auspices (Shah 2003). This electoral exercise brought the landed feudal and ex-military men (praetorian oligarchy) into parliament. Two-thirds in the parliament were members of the landed-feudal class. Among the 33 per cent reserved seats for women, one-third were occupied by blood-relatives of the landed feudal (PILDAT 2003).

The MMA, as auxiliary to the praetorian oligarchy, supported the military-led 18th amendment to the 1973 constitution in the hung parliament. Thus, the military-hated 58 (B) 2 clause was reincorporated into the 1973 constitution. This re-institutionalised military rule in the country. Regionally, the Musharraf regime tried to normalise ties with India. Ironically, the soldier-president himself visited India in 2002. It exposed the military’s claim that India was a chronic enemy.

Socially, the rural-urban poor suffered much – overall, 32.1 per cent of people lived below the poverty line in 2001. In addition, poverty increased from 30.6 per cent in 1998-99 to 32.1 in 2001 (Planning Commission 2005: 55). Politically, there was no organisation which could articulate its interests. The mainstream political parties did not form the military-led government. In addition, the mainstream exiled leadership, Sharif and Benazir, were not allowed to visit Pakistan. Political dissidents were harassed and arrested. For instance, former parliamentarian Javed Hashami was a political prisoner who the military thought had attempted to defame the armed forces. Hashami denied the charges in his book written while behind bars (Hashami 2005: 150-250). Not only this, but the military intelligences agencies were even busy harassing and factionalists even within the ruling party (The Friday Times, 18 November, 2005).

Economically, the defense expenditure was almost 75 per cent of the total budget. In this respect, Musharraf’s regime finalised with Sweden the purchase of six Saab 2000 surveillance aircraft, fitted with Erickson Erieye radar. The deal was worth SEK8.3 billion. It was negotiated a few days after the October 8 earthquake – which could explain how serious the regime was about the poor (The Nation 1 November, 2005). Above all, the systemic allocation of land to military personnel could be viewed from Table 2 on the following page. This land may be sold/bought in the market at higher prices. For instance, General Pervez Musharraf bought farmland worth Rs 40 million in Islamabad. The total estimated worth of Musharraf’s disclosed land assets was about Rs500 million.

Table 2: Land Entitlement for Military Personnel



Maj General and above

Brigadiers and Colonels

Lt. Colonels

Lieutenants to Majors




240 acres

150 acres

124 acres

100 acres

64 acres

32 acres


Source: Military Inc  Siddiqa (2007)

The regime was more belligerent in terms of coercion to achieve economic targets. The mode of association with the civil society was through (physical) violence. The military literally raided and beat poor peasants in Okara, where the military forcibly grabbed 17,000 acres of land in 2003 (Dawn, 25 May, 2003; Cohen 2004: 262; Siddiqa 2007).

During 1965-2004, military personnel amassed more than 2.7 million acres of agriculture land worth Rs 675.92 billion (see Table 3).

Table-3: Land allotment to military personnel, 1965-2004






DI Khan






DG Khan




































Source: Ayesha Military Inc 2007.

Likewise, the military operation against the nationalist Baloch in Balochistan could be explained in this context. The military-led government started Development Projects in Gwadar which favoured Punjabis, including military (70 per cent Punjabis). The Baloch resented the militarily and the conflict has continued.

Thus, it has been argued that the apparent goal of the October coup — and also that of November (2007) — was to re-insitutionalise military rule and make politicians and civil society know that the military remained a powerful political force in Pakistan. However, the underlying objective of the coup was to gain political power to pursue economic interests authoritatively.


This article has attempted to explain why the military has remained a powerful political institution/force in Pakistan from a structural perspective. In this respect, I have explored the hypothesis with respect to the colonial authority structure and partition-oriented structural dynamics. My analysis included the military in the colonial authority structure. The colonial military, along with the civil bureaucracy and the landed-feudal class, formed a praetorian oligarchy which has pursued its own political and economical interests in British India. In addition, I have analysed that the partition-oriented structural dynamics in terms of territory (Kashmir) and population (Indian refugees) have affected politics and the military in Pakistan. Thus, it has been argued that the hypothesis holds and I have theoretically operationalised the hypothesis in terms of pre-partition ‘praetorian oligarchy’ to explain my research problem.

The post-colonial state of Pakistan inherited the pre-partition praetorian oligarchy based on Punjab. The civil-military bureaucracy has structurally emerged as an ‘overdeveloped’ institution which has an alliance with the landed-feudal class and has projected and institutionalised ‘Hindu India’ to pursue political and economic interests (see Table 4 below).

Table 4   Evolution and Consolidation of Praetorian Oligarchy in Pakistan

14 Aug. 1947-18 Oct. 1951                     Politicians, oligarchically, ran the affairs of the state.

19 Oct.1951- 7 Oct. 1958                        Civil bureaucracy dominated the political structure, in alliance with a section of politicians and the military.

7 Oct. 1958- 20 Dec. 1971                      The military-led praetorian oligarchy dominated politics and the state.

20 Dec. 1971- 5 July 1977                      Bhutto-led politicians ran the affairs in an oligarchic alliance with civil bureaucracy and the military.

5 July 1977- present                                The military-led praetorian oligarchy has ruled the roost.

Source:  Data gathered from the existing accounts on Pakistan’s civil-military relations.

The military, being part of the praetorian oligarchy, planned and fought a war against India over Kashmir in 1947-48. This exercise helped the oligarchy to rule authoritatively in the 1950s. The civil bureaucracy led the praetorian oligarchy in this period.

However from 1958 onward, the military has, from within the praetorian oligarchy, emerged as a powerful political actor due to its coercive power. It has become leader of the oligarchy. Though in the 1970s it disengaged from politics due to its defeat in the 1971 war and the country’s disintegration, yet it regained its prestigious position in 1977. It ruled belligerently in the1980s. However, it again disengaged from politics in the 1990s due to a changed geostrategic environment. But the real power remained with the men in uniform in terms of 58 (B) 2 during this period.

The bureaucrat-feudal presidents, a part of the praetorian oligarchy, dismissed the so-called democratic governments formed by the landed—feudal class. In other words, the praetorian oligarchy politically remained dominant. In October 1999 —  and also, in November 2007 — the military overtly intervened to exile an authoritative civilian who attempted to curtail military’s politico-economic activities. Since then, the military-led praetorian oligarchy ruled the country. The clergy was auxiliary to this praetorian oligarchic rule.

As the study explained, all the coups were primarily economic in nature. The military sought political power to act as an independent economic actor. It allocated land among its personnel to expand the institution socio-economically. The other components of the praetorian oligarchy would ally with the military to pursue their politico-economic interests. Thus, the political power has laid with the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy from 1947 partition until present. This power was exercised on none other but the urban-rural poor. In the absence of any (lower) middle-class leadership and political organisation, they have suffered and died in despair. Their state of affairs could be gauged from the State Bank of Pakistan’s Inflation Monitor of August 2008. It stated:

Inflationary pressures strengthened in the economy with CPI inflation (YoY) soaring to reach 25.3 per cent during August 2008 compared to 6.5 per cent in the same month last year. Both food and non-food groups of CPI contributed in this upsurge in headline inflation. Food inflation (YoY) remained persistently high and was recorded at 34.1 per cent compared to 8.6 per cent in August 2007. This rising trend was mainly led by increase in the prices of some key food commodities such as coriander seed powder (130 per cent), pulse masoor (130 per cent), rice irri (121 per cent), wheat (76 per cent), and maida (68 per cent). Similarly, non-food inflation (YoY) also increased significantly reaching 18.7 per cent in August 2008 compared to 4.9 per cent during the same month last year. Amongst the various components of CPI non-food group, transport and communication, house rent index (HRI), and fuel and lighting sub-group witnessed significant increase in inflation (YoY) during August 2008 compared to the same month last year. Other measures of inflation i.e. wholesale price index (WPI) and sensitive price indicator (SPI) also showed strong growth during the month under review. (Stat Bank of Pakistan 2010)

Finally, it has been argued that the theoretical framework in terms of the praetorian oligarchy was useful to civil-military relations in Pakistan. In addition, this article has developed theoretical concepts such as the Punjab-based praetorian oligarchy, overdeveloped civil-military bureaucracy, politics of appeasement, and military as pre-partition phenomenon. These insights are considered to be valuable to conduct further research in this otherwise broader and complicated area.


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*   Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Forman Christian College (A Chartered University), 54600 Lahore, Pakistan.

[1]   General Pervez Musharraf declared martial law on 3rd November 2007, too.


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