IPCS Book Discussion

The Warrior-State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World

30 Jun, 2014    ·   4531

A review of Prof TV Paul's latest book

A discussion of Prof TV Paul’s Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World, organised by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), in collaboration with the India International Center (IIC), on 13 June 2014.

Initial Remarks
Prof PR Chari

Visiting Professor, IPCS

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s famous one-liner, “Pakistan is on the wrong side of history,” is a profound statement with several possible meanings. Firstly, although the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) obviously favours egalitarianism in the international system and democratic federalism within states, Pakistan is clearly an exception to the rule. Secondly, the evolution of the process of globalisation has been propitious for the growth of egalitarianism and democratic federalism. Again, Pakistan has been an exception: the Pakistani military has served as guardians of state or as Praetorian Guards for most of its history, outside the purview of civilian governments, whenever in power. Thirdly, Pakistan suffers from major problems impinging on its internals cohesion - terrorism, maintenance of state integrity, religious obscurantism, state failure – for which the Pakistani military has no solution to offer for their amelioration.

Prof TV Paul’s book goes into the mechanics and dynamics of this problem. The choice of title, suggesting that the Pakistani armed forces remain perpetually in a state of conflict, is intriguing and invites the cynical observation made by Prof Stephen Cohen that Pakistan has the finest army in the world, but it has never won any war. The attacks on the Karachi airport, the Mehran naval base and the GHQ Rawalpindi reveals the incapacity of the ISI and the army to prevent attacks on its own facilities and bespeaks insider collusion. The irony is that the LeT and several variants of the Taliban are creations of the Pakistani military.

The implications of Pakistan’s warrior status are worth speculating upon: Will Pakistan Balkanise? Become a nuclear Somalia? What will be the effect of the US ceasing financial subvention post the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and will it lead to a further ascension of the army or the ISI in the Pakistani power structure?
Although India and Pakistan began their postcolonial journey together, their paths soon diverged. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once said, “India and Pakistan are basically similar. What makes India different is the din and noise of democracy.” The best hope for Pakistan’s citizenry is to amplify that “din and noise” in Pakistan in order to unshackle themselves from the Pakistani military. But time and again, the Pakistani citizens have seen the military as the panacea for the frailties of its political parties and civilian governments.

Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
Former Military Secretary, Indian Army

The Warrior State
presents matters regarding Pakistan in a cogent way, and is chapterised in a free-flowing kind of text. The broad themes of this book are “the curse of geography”, how Pakistan has actually wasted its geostrategic location, its obsession with India, the rise of its military especially after the 1971 war, the dysfunctional nature of the state and the lack of vision for peaceful coexistence, and its inability to carry out social engineering in all its history.

Chapters two, six and eight that deal with the causes of Pakistan’s warrior state status, religion, and the state, and sum up the state of the warrior state, are the most interesting and draw the reader’s attention.

The statement, “Islam is not a unifier, it is a destroyer” is very strong, and true when observed under the lens of history. Pakistan’s obsession with the Arab world and its reluctance to be considered a part of South Asia is also examined in the book. Pakistan has failed to realise that though the Arab world is flush with energy and resources, it is not flush with scientific temper, investigation or education. If Pakistan had instead cared to look to the subcontinent with greater attention, it would have found these: the academia, the development of scientific temper, the development of the media. This single aspect of its obsession with the Arab world has left it in a state where the military has been able to come to prominence.
The achievement of nationhood became the end-all; moreover, Pakistan has no conception of the meaning of comprehensive security. Military security, more than comprehensive security, is considered important. Hence, Pakistan’s claim to fame is its possession of nuclear weapons.

The obsession with India is still relevant, and the yearning for revenge for 1971 is very much alive, since many parts of the Pakistani army during the evening roll-call take a vow swearing revenge. It is also perceived that Pakistan is the principal flag-bearer of Islam; it seeks to consolidate the position not by the fact that it has been blessed by geography or by economic, social or political power, but by military power.

Pakistan is a master at irregular warfare, and abhors the Indian-centricity in the South Asian subcontinent. The Pakistan army drives the warrior state and has always been known for “the rationality of the irrational.” The past irrational acts of war and the acquisition of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons are examples of this. They are the finest initiators but the worst finishers in the world. This aspect is a cause for worry where India is concerned, especially following the acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons.

The radicalisation of the state is here to stay. Afghanistan is a cause for concern for Pakistan and this issue drives its actions. Foreign aid has been wasted, with no significant economic development. Although the ordinary people realise the use of economics and social engineering in strengthening the state, it is unlikely since the political leadership seems to lack the gumption to follow through. The coercion of the state will continue, and the ISI seems to be playing the most dubious game in the country. The resolution of the Kashmir issue will not find Pakistan less militarised: since the Pakistani army will want to secure whatever arrangement is reached, militarisation will occur.

Dr D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

The book presents coherent arguments that remain relevant even after the prolonged process of publishing. In it, five fundamental questions are presented in eight precise chapters: Why has Pakistan become a theatre of violence today? Why has its condition remained so problematic for international security for so long? Why has it emerged as a failing state? Why has it remained a garrison state? And, what sets Pakistan apart?

Among all the chapters that deal with the aforementioned questions, the seventh chapter in which Pakistan is compared to other similar states such as Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and South Korea, is very interesting, and an unexpected value addition to the study. Pakistan’s warrior status is explained using two interesting assertions made in chapters two and five regarding Pakistan’s internal and external security perceptions:
“The dominant idea of the Pakistani elite is drawn heavily from a Hobbesian world view, with a religious colouration.” From this perspective, intense conflict is the nature of inter-state politics and the preservation of the state from predatory adversaries is the primary function of the state. “The alliance relationship with China and the US has given the Pakistani elite an exaggerated view of its role and status in the world.” The elite have imbibed the notion of seeking geostrategic parity with India as the cornerstone of its national security strategy. Nuclear possession has given enhanced strength to this conception. Added to this is the perception that Pakistan should be the “bulwark for the protection of Islam.” When such a world view persists, security is viewed narrowly as military and territorial security, giving the Pakistani military its unrelenting influence.

The book makes the argument that the Muslim invasions from the Arab world and Central Asia are critical to understanding the trajectory of the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan’s subsequent strategic orientations. If this is so, should Pakistan not be more concerned about securing its western borders? Also, this argument does not explain why Pakistan would attempt to move closer to the West politically and ideologically. Pakistan’s notion of “strategic depth” in its approach towards Afghanistan is driven partly by its hyper real-politik strategic culture. This again invites the question, should India not be the subject of strategic depth since it remains the primary threat?

The book also talks about the insufficiency of Islam as a factor in glueing together Pakistani society. Instead of political Islam providing national unity, Pakistan’s many internal conflicts have, to a large degree, stemmed from intense competition over how to define the state in Islamic terms. The chances of Pakistan emerging as a moderate Islamic space are low. The only way to achieve this would be to strengthen the liberal space. This is unlikely due to “the powerful hold that the hardcore Sunni-Deobandi-Wahabi coalition has over Pakistani society today.”

Pakistan thus seems to be walking into a trap of its own making, and its people have little choice or say in the matter and are given no means to stop the decay of the state. Pakistan’s geostrategic centrality is both a blessing and a curse; it may have helped the military, but not the people. The policies of its great power patrons have made its own development sluggish and insecure.

The book has failed to answer why Pakistan’s condition has been so problematic for the international community for so long. It has also neglected to give sufficient attention to the major challenges said condition poses to security, especially in the areas of international security and nuclear terrorism.

Prof TV Paul
McGill University, Canada

How does one explain a complex country such as Pakistan? Social Science methodology tries to explain a phenomenon with the least amount of variables. A large part of this country’s predicament can be explained with the theory of the “geostrategic curse.”

The book was begun with the purpose of rectifying a problem related to Pakistan studies. The literature is rich in terms of description, but none offer anything except vague answers that do not explain the complexity of this country.

There is a need for some fundamental radical free thinking on what this state means and its purpose of existence. The point that was raised is that security is not just about border security but is a comprehensive concept. The moment one forgets that the integrity and power of the state lie in using non-coercive means, it is lost. The use of coercion to achieve national integration and unity need not necessarily work.
An argument exists that war made the state and the state made war about the European experience of war-preparation that led to strong states. The question then became whether this concept was applicable to the developing world. On examination of the states that became strong, it was seen that the one thing that they did different from the rest was that they became developmental states.

Education and trade were given importance, ensuring that economic security became national security simultaneously. This was missing in Pakistan.
Tactical steps were taken for tactical victories they assumed would be strategic. This reflects the lack of strategic vision in the country, which is the greatest impediment to its growth. The goal then becomes to overcome the threat of neighbouring states, and this then cements its warrior-state status.

The literature on the “resource curse” available in developmental sociology was used to develop the concept of the geostrategic curse. The Pakistani state has been sustained to a large extent by foreign aid (mostly international agencies controlled by Western states), amounting to billions. At the same time, statistics from Pakistan’s State Bank show that only 0.7 per cent of the population actually pay taxes, making Pakistan’s revenue from taxes among the lowest in the world. Collection of taxes and the distribution of that money reflect the fundamental capacity of the state to sustain itself.

Another factor the book examines is the Pakistani elite. The ideas of this class that largely constitute the strategic thinkers of the state are mostly drawn from Islamic notions of warfare. Islam is a religion that overcame unbelievable challenges that began in a small region of Arabia and spread across the world, defeating a large number of empires. Those who believe in this strategic logic of the incredible odds of asymmetric warfare are of the opinion that India is conquerable, despite its size. The book also takes into account the side-tracking of the Muslims after the 1857 First War of Independence and the notion of geostrategic parity with India that great power politics created during the Cold War as other factors that colour the psyche of Pakistan. British strategic ideas like the Divide-and-Conquer and Divide-and-Rule policies, strategic depth, the concepts of vassal and buffer states and border securities have also been left as an indelible legacy in the strategic culture of the subcontinent.

• Is improving the domestic economy the only solution to reduce internal security threats and other situations involving sectarian violence?
• Why was Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons not dealt with in detail in the book?
• There is a certain strategic logic in India’s reluctance to develop infrastructure along international borders in the Northeast. How has this opinion found its way into the book in terms of India’s western borders?
• How do you estimate the future development of India-Pakistan ties in light of the new Modi government coming into power?

• The answer is not simply normal economic development. Take for example the type of economic transformation that South Korea and Taiwan undertook, which laid emphasis on education, trade and the exploitation of the international economy to further their national interests and internal development, thus reducing dependence on foreign aid.
• Nuclear weapons, so far as Pakistan is concerned, is a weapon of parity; the ‘Great Equaliser’. It is something, the possession of which gives Pakistan a great deal of confidence; that is all.
• The non-development of the infrastructure in the Northeast is a remnant of British strategic thinking that sought to dissuade potential invaders. The 1962 war also seems to have influenced India’s decisions in this regard.
• The future of India-Pakistan relations looks bleak. It may not come easily due to all the factors that the book discussed: the strategic, civilisational, and historical and revenge aspects. Also, the attitudes of the political elite and Pakistan’s capacity to sustain itself for a long period of time on foreign aid will diminish the chances for rapprochement.

Rapporteured by Rheanna Mathews, Research Intern, IPCS