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Pakistan - Introduction

The Indus Valley, home to ancient civilizations, has been settled for over 5,000 years. Subjected to frequent invaders, includingAlexander the Great, the region flourished under the Mughal Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. British rule began to dominate in the 18th century, ending when the Muslim state of Pakistan was established in 1947 with the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Pakistan has a population of about 165 million people in an area slightly less than twice the size of California. It is bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and the Indian Ocean. Pakistan is subject to frequent earthquakes, flooding during the summer monsoons, and a severe lack of potable water.

Pakistan is a pact between Punjabis and Pashtuns, a partnership in the Pakistani army and officer corps. The Pakistani state is controlled mainly by Punjabi elites, leading to ethnic tension with the Sindhi and Baluchi regions. The Pashtuns, Baluchis and Sindhis have long resisted domination by the Punjabis, who control Pakistan's armed forces.

Pakistan is one of the least secure countries on the planet. There has been a history of political and terrorist violence in Pakistan in general over the past three decades, as well as on-going sectarian violence in the Northwest Frontier Province areas. These acts of violence have resulted in large number of deaths and injuries. Peshawar's surrounding areas of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) continue to witness these acts of violence on a regular basis.

The country's intense feelings of insecurity are rooted deeply in the past. For many in Pakistan, there is deep-seated fear of India swamping Pakistan economically and culturally. Pakistan has no strategic depth; Indian tanks can drive from one side of the country to the other on one tank of gas. In military thought the concept referrs to a hard-to-reach place where a defeated army might safely cocoon. Pakistan's search for strategic depth against India had been a continuous one since its military rulers took power. The attainment of 'strategic depth' has been a prime objective of Pakistan's Afghanistan policy since the days of General Ziaul Haq. The asymmetries of strategic depth and offensive military capability give India an operational advantage, and create a situation in which India's conventional ground forces could be defeated only by Pakistan's tactical nuclear forces.

The Pakistani establishment had a long and consistent history of misreading India's will and world opinion. Pakistanis were disappointed by the limitation of the alliance with the United States. In particulary, there has been a consistent pattern of Pakistani disapointment with the witdrawal of American aid. The US has proven to be a very unreliable partner.

  • In 1947, Pakistan did not anticipate the swift Indian military intervention in Kashmir when it planned its raid with a mix of army personnel, ex-servicemen and tribals under the command of Major General Akbar Khan.
  • After 1962 Islamabad expressed her reservations and concern over the large scale United States military assistance to India's after the war with China in 1962. Similarly, United States provided economic assistance to India.
  • In 1965, Pakistan acted on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's advice that India would not cross the international border to deal with Pakistan's offensive in the Akhnur sector. During the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war Pakistan was outraged when the US embargoed both sides, which hurt Pakistan more than India. The United States had been Pakistan's preeminent source of arms. Lack of support from its ally the USA, with whom had been signed an Agreement of Cooperation, took Pakistan by surprise. The 1965 embargo led Pakistani to question the value of ties with the United States. Islamabad closed US military bases in Pakistan and drew closer to China.
  • In 1971, Pakistan had high but totally unwarranted expectations about the likelihood of US-Chinese intervention on its behalf. In December 1971, the outbreak of the third Indo-Pakistani War triggered the "tilt toward Pakistan" that led the United States to dispatch a carrier task force to the Bay of Bengal in order to deter Indian attacks on West Pakistan. In the 1971 war, US did not interfere at all, which compelled Pakistan to withdraw from SEATO.
  • In April 1979 the United States, concerned that Pakistan was continuing its quest for nuclear weapons, suspended all aid to Pakistan except for food supplies. These actions were required under the Symington Amendment to the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act which prohibited aid to countries that were developing nuclear weapons.
  • After 1980 relations improved as Pakistan became strategically important during the war with Soviet Uunion in Afghanistan. But when the Soviets were defeated, the military and economic aid was withdrwan as Pakistan was once again sanctioned under the Pressler amendment for continued nuclear weapons activities. Until the May 1998 nuclear tests the United States nuclear sanctions hit only Pakistan and did not affect India. And Pakistan was left to deal alone with the aftermath of the Afghanistan war. The military coup of 1999 triggered an additional layer of sanctions.

Nation building remains a difficult process in Pakistan. Although the country has undergone a succession of traumatic sociopolitical experiences since achieving independence in 1947, it continues to demonstrate its resilience and its capacity to survive and adapt to changing circumstances. Joining the community of nations as a bifurcated state, with its two wings separated by 1,600 kilometers of foreign soil, Pakistan was faced with the immediate task of absorbing large numbers of refugees from India in the months immediately following partition. The new nation struggled with severe economic disadvantages made acutely painful by a shortage of both administrative personnel and the material assets necessary to establish and sustain its fledgling government. With the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah -- the revered Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) -- only thirteen months after independence, the nation was dealt another severe blow.

Created to provide a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan was heir to a government structure and a political tradition that were essentially Western and secular. From its inception, Pakistan has worked to synthesize Islamic principles with the needs of a modern state. The young nation was immediately challenged by a host of other factors affecting national development, including ethnic and provincial tensions, political rivalries, and security considerations. The country subsequently survived civil war and the resultant loss of its East Wing, or East Pakistan, which became the independent nation of Bangladesh in December 1971, and has accommodated an influx of refugees resulting from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (December 1979-February 1989), which over the course of the conflict exceeded 3.2 million people.

India's relations with Pakistan are influenced by the centuries-old rivalry between Hindus and Muslims which led to partition of British India in 1947. The principal source of contention has been Kashmir, whose Hindu Maharaja chose in 1947 to join India, although a majority of his subjects were Muslim. India maintains that his decision and the subsequent elections in Kashmir have made it an integral part of India. Pakistan asserts Kashmiris' rights to self-determination through a plebiscite in accordance with an earlier Indian pledge and a UN resolution. This dispute triggered wars between the two countries in 1947 and 1965.

In December 1971, following a political crisis in what was then East Pakistan and the flight of millions of Bengali refugees to India, Pakistan and India again went to war. The brief conflict left the situation largely unchanged in the west, where the two armies reached an impasse, but a decisive Indian victory in the east resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

Since the 1971 war, Pakistan and India have made only slow progress toward normalization of relations. In July 1972, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met in the Indian hill station of Simla. They signed an agreement by which India would return all personnel and captured territory in the west and the two countries would "settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations." Diplomatic and trade relations were re-established in 1976.

After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, new strains appeared in India-Pakistan relations; Pakistan supported the Afghan resistance, while India implicitly supported Soviet occupation. In the following eight years, India voiced increasing concern over Pakistani arms purchases, U.S. military aid to Pakistan, and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. In an effort to curtail tensions, the two countries formed a joint commission. In December 1988, Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto concluded a pact not to attack each other's nuclear facilities. Agreements on cultural exchanges and civil aviation also were initiated.

Pakistan has had difficulty in establishing stable, effective political institutions. The country has experimented with a variety of political systems, has endured periods of martial law, and has had five constitutions, one inherited from the British and four indigenous creations since independence. Its political parties have suffered from regionalism, factionalism, and lack of vision. Power has shifted between the politicians and the civilmilitary establishment, and regional and ethnic forces have threatened national unity. However, the impulse toward cohesion has been stronger than the impetus toward division, and the process of nation building has continued. The return to democracy in 1988, and the peaceful, constitutional transfer of power to new governments in 1990 and 1993 testify to Pakistan's progress in the quest for political stability.

Pakistan's central government historically had difficult relations with the country's periphery, the areas least modernized and integrated by the the British. Bureaucrats in the new Pakistani government, largely of Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Muhajir background [ie, migrants from India], largely continued the patterns established by their British predecessors. They interacted with locals via traditional elites.

The government locked business wealth in the hands of a tiny number of families whose access to resources was tied to political loyalty. And to avoid alienating its support from big landowners, the government shunned effective land redistribution. Robert Looney, an economist at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, estimated that just 22 families owned 66 percent of industry, 97 percent of the insurance sector, and 80 percent of banking. Only one landlord in a thousand owned more than 500 acres, yet these large holders possessed fully 15 percent of the country's land.

The form of government - democratic, nominated, directly or indirectly elected, dictatorial - did not matter. The professed ideology of the government in power - liberal, conservative, Islamic, left, right - made no significant difference. Politicians, military and civil bureaucrats, co-opted members of the religious oligarchy and professional and intellectual elites dominated every government. The capture of the institutions of the state and the market by this small elite is complete.

The military remains the country's most cohesive national institution. Since independence it has oscillated between indirect and direct political control, remaining a major power. The military's sense of mission in defending and preserving the Islamic state of Pakistan has always been strong. For Muslim members of the British Indian Army, the transfer of loyalties from the colonial to the ideological state was not difficult. Successors to the historical legacy of the Muslim armies of the once powerful Mughal Empire, Muslim soldiers could relate to a new role of protecting the faith and the state embodied in Pakistan. The military also provided alternative political leadership in times of crisis.

Politicians play one family enterprise against the other, diminishing the business community's potential to push for systemic reform. Dominant families concentrate on maintaining relationships with individual politicians who can ensure access to credit, foreign exchange and licenses. Populist pressures are rooted in the well-founded perception that industrial and commercial wealth has its origins in insider deals with government.

The armed forces of Pakistan have traditionally played a distinctive role in the life of the nation. As in many other developing countries, they are an important modernizing force in society and a key tool of national integration. As defenders of the nation's interests in Pakistan's troubled and volatile geopolitical neighborhood, the armed forces are accorded a particularly high status in public opinion. Less welcome, however, has been the repeated interference of the armed forces in the internal affairs and politics of the country. The military has frequently been called in to gain control of unrest that has gone beyond the ability of the police to cope; some of these intrusions have had a major impact and have been of fairly long duration. The military has assumed political as well as security control of the entire country three times under proclamations of martial law. Indeed, since it became an independent state in 1947, Pakistan has been under military control for much of its existence.

At the same time, however, democracy has always been seen as the "natural" state of the Pakistani polity, and the military has ultimately returned power to civilian hands. Thus, although the armed forces dominated the country to a certain extent, they have not perpetuated a military dictatorship. The military has been a permanent factor in the life of the country, but in a role that has ranged from complete control to vigilant observer. As political scientist Leonard Binder has observed, "Even [Pakistan's] dependence upon the military does not necessarily make of it a praetorian state, because there is little evidence that the state works in the sole interest of the military. Rather, it was the military which intervened in order to prevent the breakdown of the patrimonial system." Much of the political history of Pakistan has been set in this drama of contending influences, and the military in early 1994 was still searching for a role that would reconcile its interests and the broader needs of a country whose politicians were struggling to establish a credible authority of their own.

In 2007 "Talibanization" was spreading outward from the FATA across northern Pakistan. Lal Masjid [Red Mosque] clerics had been waging a campaign to impose a Taliban-style way of life in Pakistan and the radical students kidnapped several policemen, Chinese health workers and an alleged brothel owner. In July 2007 a shootout erupted after six months of tension over the activities of the hardline Red Mosque, which had kidnapped several Chinese and Pakistani civilians as part of a freelance anti-vice campaign. The military operation was launched after female students from Jamia Hafsa, a seminary attached to Red Mosque, occupied a children's library, snatched rifles from paramilitary rangers and shot dead one member of the force. The Red Mosque incident in the early part of July 2007 was followed by the restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan and confusion about imposition of emergency rule in the country.

Sectarian and extremist violence has resulted in fatal bomb attacks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, and other Pakistani cities since 2006. From 2007 through late 2008, over 1,000 bombings had killed more than 1,000 people throughout Pakistan and injured many more. Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur from time to time throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have often taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character.



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