IPCS Book Review

Pakistan: Civil-Military Relations and the Instrumentalisation of Political Power

23 Jul, 2013    ·   4048

Rana Banerji reviews “Military Agency, Politics and the State in Pakistan” authored by Ejaz Hussain

Rana Banerji
Rana Banerji
Distinguished Fellow

Military Agency, Politics and the State in Pakistan
Ejaz Hussain
Heidelberg Series in South Asian and Comparative Studies- Vol VI: 472 pages
Publishers: Samskriti, New Delhi, 2013

This book examines the causes and modes of repeated military interventions in Pakistan and the instrumentalisation of political power by the military through an analytical model of civil-military relations (CMR). Authored by a young Pakistani scholar, Dr Ejaz Hussain, currently an Assistant Professor on Political Science in the Department of Humanities at the COMSATS (Commission on Scientific & Technology for Sustainable Development in South Asia) Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad, the study concludes that the military intervened every time by rational choice to protect its own economic interests.

Dr Hussain did his PhD in Political Science from the Heidelberg University and an MA in Asian Studies from Lund University, Sweden. He also taught at the Forman Christian College, Lahore. Using the Analytic Narratives methodology of American political scientist Peter D. Feaver to define CMR (published in ‘Armed Forces & Society’), Dr Ejaz selects five units or dates of military coups - 1958, 1969, 1977, 1999, and 2007. To explain each case, a ‘Dependent Variable’ of the coup d’état itself and two ‘Independent Variables’ - ‘Working or shirking (agency A)’ and ‘Own versus larger interests (agency B)’ are conceived. Dr Ejaz depicts civilian politicians, civil bureaucracy, and the military as `principal agents’ and the judiciary as plain ‘agent’. He then poses a ‘primary hypothesis’: that ‘the military intervenes in politics because of its inherent agency, not culture, identity’ or even its ‘structure, or external or internal threats’.

Several ‘secondary hypothesis’ are postulated: military intervention - both direct and indirect - is primarily caused by its political interests, having intervened the military utilises its political space to maximise its economic interests, the interventions occur whenever its political space is perceived to be constrained by non-military actors such as politicians, civil bureaucracy, and the judiciary; every time a coup is staged, the military re-negotiates rules of the game with other stakeholders, and ultimately, the coup is a marker of the military’s political weakness rather than strength.

While these postulates can be empirically justified, this conceptual framework is rather complicated and does not make for lucid understanding or easy reading. Dr Ejaz also tends to rather summarily disparage shortcomings of other standard works on the subject like those of K.K. Aziz (Party Politics in Pakistan: 1947-1958) and Ayesha Siddiqa’s ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’ (OUP, Karachi, 2007).

‘Agency’ is defined as the capacity to make things happen. Actors, i.e. military, civil bureaucracy, politicians, and the judiciary are seen as inherently rational, each having their own institutional values and interests and tending to act so as to maximise their interests. While the military could make things happen, politicians or civil bureaucracy were shirking agents every time a coup happened.

While Iskandar Mirza was the principal actor in the October 1958 coup, and his aim was to ‘secure and prolong his bureaucracy’s principal ship vis-à-vis shirking politicians’, he made Gen Ayub Khan the Prime Minister. Ayub could pack off Iskandar Mirza soon enough as he calculated his institution’s political strength and compared it with the weakness of politicians and civil bureaucrats. The military was successful in obtaining judicial legitimacy as well - this was an example of shirking by other actors in the CMR equation.

In March 1969, Gen Yahya ‘cited the worsening law and order situation and the military’s lack of preference to re-negotiate rules of the game with shirking politicians’ as primary reasons for the second coup d’état. The security of the State was stated as ‘a complimentary factor to self-legitimise’ the action.

During the first democratic inter-regnum of 1973-77, though Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto meant to seriously prevent the military from growing politically and did install ‘oversight mechanisms’ to not allow the military to flourish economically, he made several compromises on his own radical reform measures, used Army Act provisions to discipline an increasingly irascible political opposition, allowing political space again to the Army instead of distancing himself from it, to show the Opposition that its power was withering.

In July 1977, ‘the military was able to obtain legitimacy for the coup’, once again ‘because political leaders (of both PPP and PNA) failed to steer the country out of crisis;’ before the politicians could put their own house in order, the principal agent (Military) under the most ruthless Martial Law dictator so far, Zia, ‘left no stone unturned to de-politicize, factionalise and physically crush them.’

In the immediate post-Zia period, the military had a few choices - it could have imposed martial law, it could have sincerely gone back to the barracks, or it could hold elections and then make a show of returning to the barracks. The author holds that the Military chose the ‘rational third option’ but ultimately never went back to the barracks, preferring ‘to face the non-military actors’ after the election, ‘in its capacity of principal, with coercive means at its disposal to deal with the shirking elements’, if and when necessary.

Benazir Bhutto’s first tenure and the bringing in of Nawaz Sharif through the military machinated Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), was a phenomena of ‘civilian circularity’, where the Military did not find it necessary to intervene, as their primary economic interests were not being threatened. The interests of the other actors - politicians and bureaucrats - remained subservient. Benazir tried to create a political space for herself but she had to cope with ‘an empowered President in Ghulam Ishaq Khan’ and ‘the principal military, which had a penchant to keep Foreign Policy and Defence Policy in its exclusive domain’.

After Nawaz Sharif came to power, differences surfaced every time there was a change of the Army Chief. This caused worsening of relations between the Prime Minister and the President. The dismissal of the first Sharif government in 1992, though not a coup, is described as marking ‘the military’s agency, which chose to punish shirking Sharif through the medium of presidency.’

During Benazir’s second tenure as PM (1993-96), she is seen by Dr Ejaz as ‘having taken a carrot-approach vis-à-vis the military,’ while resorting ‘to the stick-approach towards the judiciary and the opposition’, appeasing ‘the principal by not questioning its economic enterprises.’ However, Farooq Leghari as President chose to oppose Bhutto ‘due to diverging preferences in terms of maximising own interests’. He ‘acted in strategic understanding with the principal’, as he had neither the ‘army nor political force to confront Bhutto on his own’.

When Benazir challenged her dismissal, ‘the judiciary acted on partisan lines for rational reasons.’ It wanted to ‘settle the score with the sacked PM’ because of ‘sour relations’ earlier. Here (pg 279) surprisingly, the author claims, ‘she in strategic alliance with the principal did not want the political institutions to develop to such an extent where they could pose any challenge’ to their common interests (her own and the Army’s) - this seems an erroneous premise, to say the least!

Sharif’s passing of the Thirteenth Amendment after getting re-elected as Prime Minister with a massive popular mandate is seen as a major development, which tilted the constitutional balance of power, marking ‘agency and rationality of politicians who, despite being agents of the military, had chosen to shirk and thus affect rules of the game jealously guarded by the latter.’ The Military at this stage could have ‘a) staged a coup to punish the shirking agent; b) caused defections through its intelligence agents; c) it had the choice to strategically compromise with the status quo and adopt a wait and watch policy;’ it chose the third option.

However, Nawaz was in a hurry and CMR reached a critical point over the selection of the next Army Chief (Musharraf superseding two others - Ali Quli Khan Khattak and Khalid Nawaz). The Army accepted Karamat’s unceremonious ouster and Musharraf’s appointment because it was bound by institutional rationality, albeit only tactical. Later, Nawaz continued with his incremental policy of trying to control the principal military, but the Military was not fully on board when the Lahore bus visit of the Indian PM took place, nor while planning the Kargil intrusion. Nawaz’s ouster by Musharraf demonstrated ‘the phenomenon of civilian circularity’, which was ‘rational rather than structural in nature.’ While the ‘military’s agency and rationality was reinforced, the politicians gave more preference to their private rather than national interests’.

The Military’s confrontation with the Judiciary (March-November, 2007) is examined towards the end, though Dr Ejaz Hussain sees Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry opting to ‘shirk by according more preference to larger than purely institutional interests’. In terms of the study’s causal model, this is explained as ‘a result of the military’s agency - its inherent capability to get things done.’ In what seems an analytically inaccurate prognosis, the author suggests the Judiciary’s one-sided persecution of the PPP may ‘further consolidate the military’s principal ship’. Though the May 2013 elections did not see the PPP getting any benefit from its effort to play ‘martyr’ against this persecution, the military will now have to cope with a re-invigorated Nawaz Sharif’s ‘incremental efforts’ to send it back to the barracks.

Dr Ejaz Hussain’s work is a useful enough addition to the academic literature on this topical subject but not one that could be recommended as initial reading for every interested student of Pakistan’s history.