Soldiering on but not in battle
General Asif Nawaz Janjua, whose sudden and tragic death in the middle of his term as Chief of Army Staff still baffles many, including his family, was once asked if he would be Nawaz Sharif’s ‘man,’ since it was he who had appointed him. He replied, “When half a million troops move with the direction of your finger, you are nobody’s man but that of the Pakistan army and of your own conscience.”
Since the army staged its first coup in 1958 – not to count the abandoned one by General Akbar Khan and others – followed by similar takeovers in 1969, 1977 and 1999, the Chief of Army Staff (as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto renamed the Commander in Chief, little expecting that one holder of that office would remove and hang him) has been a formidable figure whose long shadow hangs over everything in the country. Benazir Bhutto was once asked why she had accomplished little of what was expected of her. She replied, “Because the army was always breathing down my neck.” Everyone learns from experience, and so has she. Today, she is a living example of the wise saying: if you can’t beat’em, join’em.
Mark Twain said of the weather that while everyone keeps complaining about it, nobody does a darned thing about it. More or less the same thing can be said about the Pakistan army. Very little has been done about it, but more than that, very little has been written about it. Barring Ayub, Musa and Asghar Khan, no service chief has left us a book. That being so, we have to rely on others.
In recent months, much has been made of Ayesha Siddiqa’s book, Military Inc, both at home and abroad. While many have praised it, some have said that her data is old and that she has ‘stretched’ what she had. The argument runs that the Pakistan army is not the all-guzzling, hydra-headed commercial ogre that Ayesha Siddiqa has made it out to be. A great deal of the wealth that the army generates through business and commerce, its defenders maintain, is spent on welfare; the beneficiaries being not only officers, but other ranks as well.
Any new book written by a Pakistani is welcome, and especially welcome is Shuja Nawaz’s long awaited one on the Pakistan army. I first heard of it nearly 15 years ago, but I suppose being in the employ of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he was perhaps not in a position to publish on a subject that might have ignited a controversy. What he did during those years was collect data and deepen his knowledge and understanding of the subject. The army always has a soft corner for its former chiefs – General Aslam Beg could be the exception proving the rule – and the fact that Shuja is the first cousin of General Asif Nawaz opened many doors and several archives to him.
His book, which sees the black light of print in December in Karachi, is called Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army And The Wars Within (Oxford University Press) . Not only does he write about the “wars within” but also about the “wars without.” He has been fortunate in gaining access to some of the in-house assessments of those wars. I also recall his once telling me that he had been able to read the unpublished manuscript of one of the true, though largely unsung, heroes of the 1965 war: the man who saved Sialkot, the late Lt General Abdul Ali Malik, General Akhtar Hussain Malik’s younger brother.
I remember General Abdul Ali Malik telling me a couple of years before his death that he had all but completed the book, but was only waiting to get some maps and data from the General Headquarters (GHQ). I wonder if he ever got that. If there ever was a gentleman and a soldier in deed and spirit, anyone who knew General Malik would place that crown without hesitation on his head.
According to Shuja Nawaz, Pakistan’s history is one of conflict between an underdeveloped political system and a well-organised army that grew in strength as a counter weight to a hostile India next door and a weak political system. He quotes General Jehangir Karamat as saying, “Whenever there is a breakdown in stability, as has happened frequently in Pakistan, the military translates its potential into the will to dominate, and we have military intervention followed by military rule. He concedes, however, that as far as the track record of the military as rulers is concerned, it is not much better than that of civilians.
Nawaz writes that during Zia ul Haq’s time, “there was a major shift in the public expenditure priorities from development to defence. Real defence spending increased on average by nine per cent per annum during 1977-88, while development spending rose three per cent per annum; by 1987-8 defence spending had overtaken development spending.” In 2005, according to World Bank data, defence spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Pakistan was around 3.4 per cent, compared with India’s 2.3 per cent, placing it among the highest burdens of military spending in the world. As Pakistan develops and its economy grows, the opportunity cost of its defence spending will rise dramatically. This is a huge challenge for the Musharraf regime as it ponders its political future on the one hand and the nature of the army that Pakistan needs to ensure its security on the other.
During his research for the book, when Shuja Nawaz asked Nawaz Sharif if he was familiar with the Warrant of Precedence, the former prime minister shook his head and wanted to know what it was. He was told that, inherited from the British, the list establishes the relative ranking of civil and military officials in terms of protocol. Beyond that, the list symbolises the relative roles of officials from the civil and the military in the nation’s polity and provides a map of their relationships. The Warrant of Precedence issued in Karachi in February 1950 ranked the top officials as the Governor General, followed by the Prime Minister, with the Commander in Chief coming in at number 15, below judges of the federal court, chief justices of high courts and deputy ministers. Lt Generals came in at number 21. Today the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) chairman and the chiefs of army, air, and naval staff are ranked at number 6, while Lt Generals remain at par with federal secretaries at number 16. That alone gives us some idea of where the army was in the early years of independence and where it is in 2007. In effect, it means that the Lt Generals of today talk only to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the COAS talks only to God.
Nawaz writes, “As the latest recruitment statistics indicate, Pakistan’s army today is no longer the same homogenous force of the past with its limited recruitment base. It now reflects a broader range of the country’s rapidly urbanising population. The emergence of new media and public discourse also has challenged the military’s ability to control life in the country with an iron hand. Military rule is inherently authoritarian and thus antithetical to democracy and pluralism, which are the bedrock of strong nation states.”
And that seems as good a note as any to end this column on.