|Strategy Advocacy for
|Research Fellow, IDSA|
A saying that is as accurate as well known is, ‘While states have armies, the Pakistan Army has a state.’ This owes to the Army being on top of the power hierarchy there and in control of Pakistan’s security, India, Kashmir and Afghanistan policies. Taking advantage of its control of the state, the Pakistan Army has consistently advanced its own institutional interests under the garb of national interest.
Samuel Huntington, in his seminal thesis on military professionalism, The Soldier and the State, observed, “The military ethic is thus pessimistic, nationalistic, militaristic, pacifist, and instrumentalist…It is, in brief, realistic and conservative.” The Pakistan Army has had a long association with the US military that believes in realism. Therefore, it is axiomatic that the Pakistan Army subscribes to the realist school that privileges power, power balancing and realpolitik in strategic matters.
Realist thinking is known to be sensitive to power asymmetry and the requirement to compensate for imbalance through internal and external balancing. This explains in some measure Pakistan’s attitude to and behaviour towards India.
External balancing involves relying on China and the US for weapons and economic aid in an attempt to offset India’s forces equipage. Internal balancing by Pakistan includes reliance on religious extremism to generate national cohesion and to create cannon fodder in terms of irregular forces as force multipliers. These constitute Pakistan’s ‘strategic assets’ deployed for proxy war.
Pakistan is at a critical strategic juncture in which its utility to the international effort in taming the Taliban is peaking. Nevertheless, Pakistan remains in the category of potential ‘failed’ states as also ‘rogue’ states. What are the implications of the current juncture on appraisal through the lens of institutional interest and the realist perspective of the Pakistan Army?
Pakistan is now in the cross hairs of a terror backlash. Its Army’s corporate cohesion is under threat from both the ethnic divide and religious extremism. Its perceived adversary, India, has taken significant measures to defuse the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir and terrorism elsewhere in India. It intends to continue to refrain from discussing Pakistani concerns till the latter indicates its sincerity in rolling back the terror infrastructure. More dangerously for Pakistan, the visiting US Defence Secretary observed that India is poised at the limit of its tolerance. Pakistan’s complaint on Baluchistan to the Indian prime minister indicates its sensitivities.
Further, the US has added democratic strictures in monitoring its largesse as evidenced in the passage of the Kerry-Lugar bill. China, while an acknowledged ‘all weather friend’, would not like to become embroiled in any India-Pakistan conflict. It would instead use Pakistan for its own strategic ends of encircling India, but not at a cost to its growing economy. India in any case is preparing to face down a ‘two front’ challenge. India pursuing a multi-vector policy of partnerships may prove more useful for both the US and China. Therefore, external balancing has its limits.
For institutional interest, internal politics matters. The lawyers’ movement and media awakening, portends an expanding middle class. The institutional regeneration of the judiciary has potential for demonstration effect on other institutions. These would with time demand the democratic dividend of civilian control over the military. The backlash of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has been contained temporarily by public support for military action against it. Also the growing backlash that includes targeting of the Army indicates that the groups are becoming autonomous. They could subvert sections of the Army inclined to reactionary ideology and disrupt its internal cohesion. Externally, in case of further provocation of India, a post-conflict call to accountability, as was evidenced after the 1965 and 1971 Wars, may witness the permanent eclipse of the military.
From the twin lenses what would be the recommended strategy?
Over the middle term, India, through higher defence budgets based on a thriving economy would be able to tide over gaps in its current military inventory. By then changes in the higher defence organisation may also be in place. Thereafter, the asymmetry would be irreversible. The pulls of India’s rise on Pakistani commercial and middle classes would deepen; particularly the need to benefit from trade, cultural exchange and access to educational and medical resources. In contrast growing population, dwindling economic prospects and increase in the underclass attraction for fundamentalism imply that sustainable alternatives to external largesse need to be found. Accessing India’s growth miracle may be an answer.
Realism indicates that where balancing is not possible, ‘bandwagoning’ be considered instead.
For Pakistan, the material advantages are obvious. In case its identity is not threatened, then it could consider opening up. Actions of India’s right wing politicians, namely visit of former prime minister, AB Vajpayee, to the Minar-e- Pakistan, the sentiment of LK Advani on the Quaid-e-Azam and Jaswant Singh’s appreciation of Jinnah, are potent signals.
Even as Pakistan gains, so would, counter intuitively, it’s Army. The commercial foundations of the military would gain a wider market. A growing economy lifted by the Indian economic tide, would enable a larger resources cake for the Army. External largesse would likely continue in any case since the US is unlikely to switch off once again from the region in a hurry. Declining Indian threat would enable military modernisation. The nuclear assets would be preserved in perpetuity. Politically, since the Army would control the opening up, thus benefiting many sectors, societal respect for it would grow.
Would India oblige? India has been following a dual-pronged ‘carrot and stick’ policy. Its major gain would be in ending of its ‘Two Front’ challenge. Its relations with China also stands to improve since Chinese support to Pakistan would cease to matter. SAARC would become relevant to regional problems and gain India credibility as a regional leader, enhancing its Great Power credentials.
The strategy recommendation through the institutional and realist lens for Pakistan is ‘bandwagoning’. The implication for India is that its strategic thrust should be to create conditions for Pakistan to ‘bandwagon’.
Towards this end a strategic dialogue with Pakistan outside of the composite dialogue may be a beginning.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).
writings of ali ahmed, with thanks to publications where these have appeared. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. https://aliahd66.substack.com; www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in. Author India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). Asokan strategic perspective proponent. All views are personal.