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Key Issues Debated

Stephen P. Cohen

By Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema
Oxford University Press , reprint edition, first published in Australia by Allyn and Unwin, 2002, Karachi, 2003, pp. 220, PKR 325.00


Pakistan is a state that appears to be in rapid movement, but has in fact changed very slowly. In the last few years it has become an overt nuclear weapons state, the army seized power for the fourth time in a coup, there was an ill-fated military adventure across the Line of Control at Kargil, the leadership signed up with the American-led (but ill-named) war on terrorism, and most recently Pakistan’s revered “father of the bomb,” Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan has been exposed as the organizer of a spectacular scheme to spread nuclear (and perhaps missile) technology around the world, arguably with the Pakistan government’s knowledge, if not its explicit approval.      Yet, these coups, the alliances, and the military adventures—to say nothing of Pakistan’s domestic difficulties, notably its sectarian violence, have occurred within the context of a stable social-political order. Since the 1950s, right to the present day, Pakistan has been ruled by an oligarchic elite, colloquially known as the establishment. Some Pakistani commentators, such as Mushahid Hussein, have whimsically estimated the size of this establishment to be five hundred individuals—I would place the figure somewhat higher. They include the key officers, senior civil servants, bureaucrats, most of the higher judiciary, much of the business community, nearly all of the English language press, and the leading members of the mainstream political parties; even some Islamists fall into the group.       The establishment is not a monolith, but it is a group of men (and a few women), who have a shared view of Pakistan’s destiny, its major security threats, and a generally conservative approach to social change. The establishment has been very adaptable, and Pakistani policies have changed  with astonishing speed to meet new external challenges and opportunities. The absence of a truly democratic political order simplifies matters, but in the long run will Pakistan be able to meet the deeper demographic, economic, and cultural challenges that it now faces?      This book provides only a limited answer to such questions, but is welcome because Pakistan’s armed forces are the most important single component of the establishment, and any writing on them, especially by an informed Pakistani, who has held important positions in academia and the think tank world, must be welcomed. Pervaiz Cheema’s book on Pakistan’s armed forces thus becomes required reading for anyone who wishes to understand this complex state, and ...

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