The army in Pakistan has played more of an overt than a covert role as a state institution in ruling the country. And the most organized and powerful institution of a state, like all capitalist states, has the fundamental role of preserving and protecting the assets, social status, privileges and economic exploitation of the local ruling classes and imperialism.
It plays a similar role as in India and other states ‑ albeit more covertly in these countries ‑ in crushing the toiling millions to perpetuate the rule of finance capital and a constantly increasing exploitation of labour. This prominence of the Army in Pakistan, however, has been subject to widespread criticism and several books have been written on the role of the Army.
But even the most left-wing of the intellectuals have only looked at the Army institution as one single bloc and have not bothered to delve into the nature of its structures and the mutual relationships, contradictions and conflicts between the different layers and sections of the army. This way of looking at the issue has been mainly the product of a mindset that is imbued with the theory of the "national democratic stage" of development as the solution to the impending crisis. With their preconceived prejudice of evolution they have limited their approach to a reformist outlook, i.e. to the idea of improving and reforming the army as an institution in order for it to play its "proper" defensive, supportive and assistive role for the "democratic, liberal and progressive bourgeoisie" to fulfil the tasks of the industrial revolution imposed traditionally by history on the capitalist class.
This whole notion and ideological outlook is flawed from beginning to the end. The army could only fulfil its role as an institution of a bourgeois state, as it did in the advanced capitalist countries in the past when the ruling classes, other institutions of the state and the economic system itself could play their progressive role in carrying out the national bourgeois revolutions. This is definitely not the case today in Pakistan.
The Pakistan ruling class, due to its late arrival on the scene of history, had to usurp the available resources and the surplus rather than create them. The nascent Pakistani bourgeoisie proved to be incapable of building up the necessary social and physical infrastructure and carrying out the tasks posed by history. It was this parasitic nature, of plundering the state and society to maintain its rates of profit, that created such a crisis that rocked the country right from its birth. It was to try to control the instability that flowed from all this that the army was forced to step in to halt the rapid deterioration, although it simply ended up by further aggravating this mess. The situation was moving towards such anarchic conditions that it could have fatally endangered the rule of capital itself.
To infer that such arguments are supportive of the military actions and the brutalities of Martial Law in Pakistan is not only absurd but expresses a preconceived idea that is shackled within the cage of the theory of two stages. It was and is the fundamental task of the army to preserve capitalist rule and when this becomes impossible through the "normal" bourgeois legal procedures, it tries to play out the same role with extraordinary methods, however brutal and vicious they may be. That is the function of the state and the army in bourgeois society.
Therefore, the notion of restricting the army to its "constitutional" role within a crisis ridden capitalist system is nothing but sheer utopia. The "rule of Law", "independence of the Judiciary", "Good governance", "Reforming the Institutions" and "smoothly functioning democracy" are all the product of wishful thinking that totally ignores the socio-economic realities and the horrendous crisis which Pakistani society is going through at this moment in time.
Lenin said long ago that, "politics is concentrated economics." In these conditions we have to see the social and economic factors that are the real cause of the military coups. But in Pakistan's history we also see how short the actual periods of direct military rule and repressive Martial Law have been. If we look more closely at the actual periods of direct and open repression through Martial Law, they are short stints within the longer periods of covert military rule in Pakistan. It appears clearly that the weapon of direct military repression gets blunted very rapidly once it is used on society in general. Hence there is a precarious haste of all military dictators to revert to civil administration, civil politicians and civil society representatives within the regime to perpetuate their rule.
The judiciary in normal circumstances is subservient to the army as an institution pertaining to the needs of the vested interests of the ruling classes. Hence these military dictators can easily manipulate the judiciary, constitutional experts, billionaire lawyers and the prevalent intelligentsia to become "civilian" presidents and heads of state themselves. Field Martial Ayub Khan was only able to force the Military to impose its direct despotic rule for less than two years. By 1960 he had fabricated a new constitution and became a civilian president. Even after the coup of 27th October 1958 he continued with the civilian cabinet that had been working under President Sikander Mirza whom he had deposed in a gentlemanly affair. Yahya Khan had a civilian cabinet throughout. Even Zia ul Haq, whose monstrous Martial Law was the most brutal and repressive, used civilian ministers, albeit all of them from the right-wing parties, especially the neo-fascist Jamaat-e-Islami.
These right-wing parties can never be absolved from the heinous crimes committed by the Zia dictatorship against the radical left-wing youth and the toiling masses of Pakistan, especially the genocide carried out in Sind during the 1983 uprising against the despotism of Zia ul Haq. He used "respected" and highly acknowledged legal experts like A.K. Brohi and Sharifud din Peerzada to manipulate the law according to the needs of his dictatorial rule. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was elected on a socialist programme, was assassinated on the gallows by the civilian courts, not through a military tribunal.
The Musharraf the dictator went farther than all his predecessors. He introduced firstly the basic, municipal democracies in 2000 on a non-party basis, as had Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq. This was the first part, and all the political parties joined in in the sham electoral process that gave a certain basic legal justification and certain credibility to the Musharraf Regime.
Then he went ahead and held party elections in 2002. Most parties participated in those elections and that was the first parliament to complete its term in the history of Pakistan. In this period his carrot and stick tactics played a certain role, but the inability of the political parties, mainly the PPP (which is perhaps the only party that came from the masses during the 1968-69 revolution) was more due to ideological betrayal and the adoption of so-called pragmatism.
However, Musharraf's policies also aggravated another process that had been taking place within the institutions over the last five decades. The army's involvement in politics and society is a much-talked about and discussed phenomenon. This, however, was the reflection of a rapidly increasing involvement of the officer caste in the economy and finance capital.
During British rule it was mainly a question of allocation of agricultural land to the army personnel, the size depending upon rank. This sense of superiority even amongst the JCO's (Junior Commissioned Officers) and NCO's (Non Commissioned Officers) was palpable as they had greater tracts of land as compared to their fellow peasants, the class they had come from. Hence there was also a material aspect to the loyalty during military service. And this was not of secondary importance. The officer caste during British rule, almost all came from the families of the landed aristocracy. Hence the larger tracts of land awarded to the officer caste added to the already large estates of the rural gentry.
In fact feudalism on the Indian subcontinent was itself introduced by the British Raj to accentuate its hold and perpetuate its rule. It began in Bengal when Lord Palmerston presented the "Permanent Settlements Act" in the Bengal Assembly in 1793. This was to create a new class of landlords which would be obliged, and hence subservient, to the Raj. Bengal being in the vanguard of the resistance against the Raj, had to be tackled first. This class of new feudal lords was used to exploit, contain and repress the peasantry that rose in several revolts against the British. A religious content was also intermingled in creating this aristocracy and it, to some extent, coincided with the class interests created by this policy.
After the creation of Pakistan, the structures of the armed forces continued to exist and function as before. Even before the 1958 coup, the army elite continued to get these land allocations under each and every civilian government. After the beginning of direct military rule under Ayub Khan, apart from the intervention in the ownership of land in the agrarian rural sector, the Army officers were inducted into state institutions running industry, finance, commerce, construction and other sectors. Military officers started buying stocks and shares and a few became industrial entrepreneurs. But these were the exception rather than the norm. The majority of the retired middle and high-ranking officers were given high salaried jobs in running state enterprises and other civilian institutions. Although the army treaded to some extent into the economy and finance capital, this was quite limited. Still the main discipline and cohesion of the army as a fighting force was there with certain levels of nationalist fervour remaining. The chain of command inherited from the British was still very much functioning.
British imperialism had developed its military tactics during its long experience of colonial and intra-imperialist wars. The British sergeants and drillmasters had terrible reputations. They were abusive, insulting, arrogant and ruthless towards the soldiers and even the newly commissioned officers who were supposed to be commanding them after graduating from the military academies. Those sergeants that had the worst reputation for their ruthlessness were considered as the best. This was essential from the point of view of the British masters to build a strong disciplined army.
In all the old cities of the subcontinent there are two parts and two railway stations. One is the city and the other is the cantonment. The military barracks, exercises and installations were in the cantonment areas, totally cordoned off and secluded from the city populations. Most soldiers and young officers were strictly banned from leaving their quarters and going out of the cantonment perimeter. They needed a special night pass from the sergeants to go out and come in. There was very severe punishment for breaking this code of discipline. The punishment ranged from quarter guards, the lightest, to a court martial which was for acts like murder and treason. The disgrace was such that its scars stayed for life. These practices continued in the Indian and Pakistan Armies as the law and structures remained the same as practiced and devised by the British.
During wartime these acts and punishment were enhanced and magnified. However, with the semi-Americanisation and Islamisation of the Pakistan Army, and the rapidly increasing involvement of the Army in businesses, private enterprise encroached on the cantonments. Real estate business has flourished here because the cantonments were built in the best areas of the cities, with better approaches, better roads and infrastructure, etc. This has been an important factor in the erosion of the discipline of the bourgeois army in Pakistan. But war also had the effect of breaking these codes and disciplines. Especially in defeat, revolts were imminent. After the defeat of the Pakistan army in the 1971 war there was a big revolt against the red tape and the officer estate. Bhutto could easily remove the top 13 generals that would not have been possible in any other period. But that is all that he did. If he had implemented the clause of the 1970 PPP manifesto of dissolving the standing army and building a "people's militia" as an alternative for defence he could have done it. It was the preservation of the structures of the bourgeois state that ultimately led to his own demise.
This was in spite of the fact that from the 1950's advanced military training had started to shift from the British to the institutions in the United States like Fort Brag, Detroit, etc. During the 17-day 1965 war with India, the defeat was not so heavy and the state media was able to portray it as a victory. The other conflicts and the chronic issue of Kashmir left behind by British imperialism were continuously exploited and abused by the establishment and the official media. These conflicts were used to justify the hefty defence budgets and continuous rise in military spending. The main reason for the military spending advocated and propagated by the imperialists, ruling classes, the establishment and the chauvinist intelligentsia and media, was to prepare the armed forces more to curb internal dissent rather than to fight external wars. The performance of the Pakistani Army in the two major wars of 1967 and 1971 speaks volumes about its combat capabilities on the foreign fronts.
But it was under Zia's despotic regime that the character and role of the Pakistan army went through a drastic change. US imperialism, being the biggest sponsor of Islamic fundamentalism and religious terrorism, at that time fully backed the Islamisation of the Pakistan Army by Zia ul Haq. Although it was hypocritical and contradictory, with the help of forces like the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency and other western institutions involved in changing the ideological cause and basis of the Pakistan army, it could not have been otherwise.
The main venture in which the Pakistan Army was involved was the largest ever covert operation unleashed against the left-wing government in Afghanistan. This jihad which carried out some of the most brutal acts of terrorism, also involved huge amounts of dollars in aid. Initially this money came in from the generous coffers of the Saudi monarchy and American right wing, the Jewish lobby and the US Treasury itself. But soon the CIA set up advanced laboratories and techniques for refining high quality heroine from the poppy grown in the wastelands of war in Afghanistan and the areas along the 1500km long Pak-Afghan border that had no or nominal state control over the tribes and the mountainous terrain.
High ranking officers of the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies were involved in this CIA-sponsored operation but were actually carrying out most of its practical execution on the ground. They entered into this fray of squandering huge amounts of money generated from this drug trade set up by the CIA to finance the Afghan Jihad. Zia ul Haq's overtures to the Indians in the east and his bending over backwards to maintain peace with the traditional Hindu "enemy" were designed only to continue the Jihad and plunder in Afghanistan.
In this orgy of destruction and loot he and his coterie of generals amassed huge amounts of black money. But the military generals under Zia, in spite of the army being put on the ideological foundations of radical Islam with US patronage, were not content with the black capital coming from the drugs trade. They had to share this drug money with the different warlords, constantly changing loyalties, and the leaders of different Islamic fundamentalist parties and Islamic mercenary outfits involved in this reactionary insurgency. Hence, they also started smuggling the most advanced US weaponry for the jihad through the Pakistani supply lines under the auspices of the sections of the Pakistan Army involved in this CIA-planned operation.
They stored and smuggled large stockpiles of this ammunition and weaponry to the various jihad groups in other regions. These Islamists smuggled them onwards with even greater profit margins of. The Americans were shocked to discover this corruption when US helicopters were fired upon by US-made advanced sophisticated Stinger missiles by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf in the mid 1980s. When the plane carrying a US investigation team entered Pakistani air space in 1988, the largest ammunition dump in Pakistan, Ojri camp near Rawalpindi, where most of the US weaponry for the Afghan Jehad had been stored, was ignited. Thousands of rockets exploded and went in different directions. Hundreds were killed, thousands injured and hundreds of dwellings, mostly in Rawalpindi but some also in Islamabad, were destroyed. Those who were responsible for this "accident" have never been apprehended, not even by the Americans. How could they have been?
This massive influx of black capital plundered from the Afghan Jihad meteorically raised the stakes of the top military brass in the economy, industry and the services sector. The old officers, who had been allocated land holdings in the past, became financial pygmies in comparison with the officer cast that had filled their coffers with the black money from the Afghan Jihad. They became senior partners with the civilian entrepreneurs in the various business enterprises in Pakistan. Their ownership and stakes in the country's overall economy grew rapidly.
Apart from the Afghan Jihad, the other main military enterprise, through which the officials involved made huge fortunes, was Pakistan's nuclear programme. Although the Americans knew the details all along it is only now, mainly due to their growing conflict with Iran, that they are making a fuss about proliferation. Massive monetary gains were made by Pakistani military and semi military elite officers through the proliferation of this programme. But even before that, successive civilian and military regimes spent astronomical amounts from the treasury of a country with an impoverished and destitute population. It is really a tragedy for these teeming millions forced to live in terrible conditions, while their so-called political leaders and dominant political parties all have been fully protecting and supporting this madness of trying to be a nuclear power.
In the past it was the State and the private media that propagated the idea that the atom bomb would be a source of "formidable defence" of the "nation", and that this would drastically reduce the spending on the army and conventional military hardware. However, after the detonation of the nuclear devices in May 1998 at Chaghai, Baluchistan, the expenditure on conventional weaponry and the Armed forces has risen astronomically. Not just the military regimes but the civilian ‘democratic' governments have also upped even more this wasteful expenditure on these instruments of human destruction. In the last couple of years it seems that instead of the atom bombs defending them the whole nation is being asked to protect the atom bombs! Thousands of troops have been deployed and most advanced anti-war missiles have been installed around the nuclear installations to protect them being attacked from US or Indian or Israeli forces, or their being stolen by the fundamentalist Jihadis or other terrorist outfits.
The initial money laundering of black capital amassed mainly by the military elite, was carried out by the notorious BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International). There was even a shady CIA involvement in setting up this bank. Some of the most notorious swindlers involved in various bank scandals were involved in organising this money-laundering racket. However, it was the criminal charges levelled against most of its high officials that exposed the whole fraudulent process that led to the winding up of this bank. But ever since there have been several other individuals and companies involved in this sinister game, mainly diverting this capital into real estate, construction, manufacturing, stock exchange, services, electronic and print media and several other sectors of the economy. A huge portion of this black economy exists in Pakistan and the Gulf cities, mainly Dubai. This is the financial basis of the Taliban and other fundamentalist organisations.
The most important aspect of this financial involvement of the top military brass, over some decades now, has been the formation and consolidation of an "evil nexus" of Military Generals, Supreme and High Court judges, top lawyers, senior civilian bureaucrats, rich mullahs, senior former diplomats, top businessmen, entrepreneurs, the landed aristocracy and of course the media tycoons.
There are several layers of this nexus which externally can be seen in the form of top players of the so-called "civil society". And this evil nexus rules over Pakistan whatever the political structure of the regime in power. It is this nexus that controls the military, the state and all major political parties of the country. During the Musharraf period this nexus further consolidated itself and expanded its wealth. But all this has also given rise to greater contradictions within this nexus and they are now exploding in different forms and they are at each others' throats in their lust for plunder.
But, as we saw in the last months of 2007, whenever there is a threat from the masses the nexus rapidly reconciles. This nexus is all about loot and money. It is dominated by the Army and America. They need the Army to protect their loot and exploitation and US imperialism to allow them to be their commission agents in the much wider range of capital generation through the exploitation of labour and speculation of finance capital.
However, very frequently the contradictions within this nexus erupt into open conflicts. Sometimes they take the form of conflicts between different institutions of the state itself. In other cases their conflicts take the form of issues related only to their vested interests that clash due to the worsening crisis of Pakistani capitalism.
Hence, without understanding the complexities of this ruling nexus it is very difficult to define real issues, genuine movements with honest motives behind political manoeuvrings. However, this massive influx of finance capital into the upper structures of the armed forces has had the effect of aggravating the contradictions within these institutions.
To understand the real role of the army and to develop its perspectives it is necessary to understand the character of the period in which we are attempting to analyse the phenomenon. Secondly, it is also important to understand the class content within the army itself. The character of the army changes in the different conditions through which society is moving at any particular moment in time.
In normal conditions the army acts as a cohesive institution to carry out the dictates of the ruling class and protects their interests with all forms of brutality inflicted upon the working classes. This cohesion of the army, apart from other factors, is maintained through tradition, routine and involuntary enforced discipline. However, these factors only play a role in normal conditions, which are often prolonged in history.
In the last analysis the army comes from society itself and is the reflection of society. In these conditions it is not just the army but society as a whole that remains dormant, subdued and in a state of relative lull. The burden of tradition, the force of religion, the manipulation of the media, the school system, the syllabus, the dominating philosophies, intelligentsia, politics, etc., all impose the culture, habits, consciousness, and psychology of the ruling class and with it the reluctant acceptance of class oppression and subordination.
It is not just through the state, the army and the police that the ruling classes maintain their domination. Repression is only used by the ruling class when other methods of mass subjugation fail to keep their control over society. History is witness to the fact that these "normal" conditions don't prevail forever. More than often historical events shake mass consciousness so suddenly, that they dramatically change the whole situation. This gives rise to movements and mass uprisings that can often attain revolutionary proportions.
Such pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations in society do infect the armed forces. Although the army is the last institution to join the revolution, when the class contradictions within the army sharpen and explode, the soldiers, lower ranks and young junior officers enter the revolutionary fray of the mass movement. This is a decisive phase in any revolution. From here onwards, in the presence of a Marxist party and a genuine revolutionary leadership, the task of socialist revolution races towards a victory.
In Pakistan we have striking examples of the revolutionary impact of the 1968-69 movement within the army. There was enormous ferment in the barracks. The restive mood amongst the soldiers was beginning to affect the officers. As the main target of the movement was made to be Field Martial Ayub Khan, even his loyal generals were showing open dissent. In early 1969 the British and American diplomats sent messages to Washington and London that young officers could carry out a military coup with a socialist doctrine if the situation were not retrieved. The Army had refused to impose Martial Law if Ayub retained the presidency. General Yahya Khan, the commander in chief, Ayub's close buddy, explained this reality to him in so many words.
Since 1958 the social background of the younger officers had changed. Industrial growth under Ayub had had a big social impact. Not only a large virgin proletariat had developed, but young people from a lower middle class background had joined the officer ranks of the army. The soldiers and these young officers were radicalised by the revolutionary mood of the workers and students in the cities. In the 1970 elections, which the PPP was contesting on a socialist programme, the vast majority of the electoral ballots from the barracks were cast for the PPP candidates. Such was the intensity of the threat of revolt from within the army and its breaking up along class lines that it became an important factor in the decision to wage the 1971 war with India. Thus, they opened up the western front to stave off this revolutionary wave that was threatening to overthrow capitalism through a socialist revolution.
However, due to the ebbing of the revolution, the failure of reformism under Bhutto again strengthened the control of the generals over the army. In the 1980s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the betrayal of the Chinese Stalinists and the disastrous decline of the Pakistani left, reaction started to dominate society. Religion and fundamentalism filled the vacuum of the left in decline. Zia ul Haq prolonged his treachery and tyranny.
However, once the movement erupts in the coming period it is bound to affect the consciousness within the army once more. There are reports that there is a burning hatred amongst the ranks of the army against the top brass amassing this mammoth wealth. Their perks, their privileges and their plunder have rekindled class hatred amongst the soldiers towards the officer caste.
The lower ranking officers are also in a desperate psychological state. The war being fought for US imperialism has led to a rapid rise in the number of desertions within the army. Morale is very low and it is not an accident that the Pakistani military outfits are losing their battles in the tribal areas. It is for these reasons that general Kayani has given wage rises and other privileges to the lower ranks and soldiers. They are rapidly withdrawing army officers from civilian posts where a lot of them had been deployed during the Musharraf regime.
According to Stratfor, the CIA's Texas based news intelligence and analysis service, the present set up is unravelling at a rapid pace. The "Musharraf regime has been replaced by a civil-military hybrid which lacks the willingness and/or the ability to take on the threat posed by extremism and militancy. The fact is that the civilian government and the country's military establishment appear to be losing control of the situation", the analysis maintains.
Stratfor writes that by opting to negotiate with the "jihadis" from a position of weakness, the Pakistani authorities are inadvertently sending a message to every armed non-state actor of any worth in the country that all the "jihadis" have to do to make the government more pliable is use their weapons. This signal has led to the spread of the Taliban in Pakistan. Any pause in militancy is not because the state has succeeded in containing the insurgency; rather, it is because the jihadis have made a tactical decision to pause in keeping with their strategy. While the jihadis are brimming with confidence, judging from the way Islamabad is randomly oscillating between negotiations and military operations, the government does not appear to have a discernable policy for dealing with this situation, according to the analysis.
The problem, Stratfor argues, is actually far larger than an intelligence failure. There are different bases of contradictions within the Pakistan army. They are between the nationalist and religious sections, fundamentalist and liberal elements and pro-China and pro-American officers. But the fundamental and the most decisive contradiction is the class contradiction. The poor soldiers and ranks have a seething hatred towards the top brass who have become billionaires as their women flaunt and exhibit this wealth with a repugnant vulgarity.
There always is a revolutionary side to the army. In the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, led by Lenin and Trotsky, the soldiers' soviets in the regiments and barracks played a decisive role in the revolutionary insurrection that led to its victory. There has never been a revolution in which the soldiers and ranks did not play an important role. Even in the subcontinent the first introduction to Bolshevism and communism was brought by the soldiers of the British Indian Army who were sent to annihilate the October revolution. Paradoxically they were the ones who brought the message of revolutionary Marxism to a mass level on their return home to the Indian subcontinent. This was an important factor that laid the foundations of the communist movement in the South Asian subcontinent.
In the coming revolutionary epoch, a mass movement will surpass the scale and intensity of that of 1968-69 in Pakistan, and so will be the response from within the army itself. In the last 40 years the class contradictions have been sharpened rather than diminished, and they will explode with a greater resonance and force. However, this time there should be and there shall be a Marxist organisation and leadership to organise the workers, youth, poor peasants, other oppressed sections of society, and of course the soldiers and young officers, into a revolutionary movement and party to carry out the tasks of the socialist transformation of society. In such a situation no force on the planet will be able to hinder or stop the overthrow of this rotten capitalist system through the victory of a revolutionary insurrection.
- Pakistan: Summer School of the Sindh Region: “When all else faded into the background, but Revolution” by Zafar Imam (July 18, 2008)
- Pakistan: Largest ever congress of Marxists in Kashmir by Yasir Irshad (July 8, 2008)
- Pakistan: “When worlds have to be won” by The Struggle (July 2, 2008)
- Pakistan: Strike of the PTCL NCPG workers enters fourth week by Kabir Khan (May 29, 2008)
- Pakistan: Shahdadkot Textile Mills workers militant protest against privatisation by Zafar Imam (May 28, 2008)
- Pakistan: NCPG workers of PTCL in Rawalpindi - 12 days of strike by Kabir Khan (May 19, 2008)
- Pakistan - unravelling of the democratic farce by Lal Khan (May 15, 2008)