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The Military and the Nation

P.R. Chari

By Shuja Nawaz
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2008, pp. xiiv 655, Rs. 695.00


A large theme requires a large book to explore its several dimensions. Scholars never tire of making invidious comparisons between the divergent roles played by the military establishments of India and Pakistan in their internal polity. Created and nurtured in the British colonial tradition both militaries were heir to the principle of civilian control over their armed forces. In India, if anyone suggested the possibility of a military takeover, (s)he would be laughed out of court. But, the Pakistan Army seized power in Pakistan a decade after its birth, 1958 to be precise, when General Ayub Khan removed the tottering civilian government of Iskander Mirza from office. Civilian governments have come to power in Pakistan intermittently through the due process of elections, when the Army returned to the barracks, but has always remained the Praetorian Guard. Critical issues like the defence budget, Kashmir and nuclear policy and India-Pakistan relations is arbitrated by the Army, and the civil governments have had little control over decision-making in these areas. Remarkably enough, the people of Pakistan have welcomed the Army’s return to power after the civilian governments have failed them. Such is the unhappy history of Pakistan.   Being the product of an avowed Islamic country the Pakistan Army oscillates between its earlier secular traditions, as reflected by General Musharraf, and its religious roots that were strengthened by General Zia-ul-Huq. The author has compared the Pakistan Army to its counterparts in Burma and Indonesia, since they, too, are deeply involved in governing their countries. The Pakistan Army permeates Pakistan’s body politic, with a presence in the country’s bureaucracy and public sector undertakings, while engaging directly in commercial enterprises (realty sector and transport services). The Pakistan Army is thus the country’s most important institution, its centre of gravity, and the most powerful pillar of the Pakistani state, as noted in the blurb by various commentators. One must also agree with them for noting that the author, Shuja Nawaz, has based his analysis on ‘a wealth of documentary sources and privileged access to key players’ (Farzana Shaikh), and the generous comment made by Owen Bennett-Jones that, ‘To understand Pakistan you need to understand the army and to understand the army you need to read this book.’   Any discussion of the Pakistan Army’s role in Pakistan is inextricably linked to its Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), and the Military Intelligence department. Why ...

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