Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Stephen Cohens Idea of Pakistan

Stephen Cohens Idea of Pakistan
Cohen presents three conflicting visions for the future of Pakistan: a state for Muslims of South Asia, an Islamic state, and a democratic state
NOVEMBER 19, 2017
Cohen is America’s leading expert on South Asia. What he says in this book, which came out in 2004, is still relevant to the quandary facing Pakistan today.
Stating that early on Pakistan fell into the grip of an oligarchy comprising the army, the civil service, and the feudal lords, Cohen reminds us that Aristotle regarded oligarchy as the evil twin of aristocracy.
While Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was that of a secular state, Iqbal’s vision was suffused with religious overtones. Over time, the tension between these two visions was exploited by various groups to push their own agenda.
Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad, a former civil servant, deposed the democratically-elected prime minister in 1953, striking the first of many mortal blows on democracy. He acted in connivance with the army chief General Ayub Khan. The US looked the other way, anxious to enlist Pakistan into the Cold War.
In 1954, the US provided Pakistan hardware and munitions to raise five-and-a-half army divisions and ten air force squadrons. This strengthened the position of the army-dominated military in the political establishment, and led to Ayub’s coup in 1958. Three more coups would occur as history unfolded.
Cohen presents three conflicting visions for the future of Pakistan: a state for the Muslims of South Asia, an Islamic state, and a democratic state.
The first vision fell apart in 1971 with the secession of East Pakistan. At partition in 1947, Pakistan accounted for two-thirds of the Muslims in South Asia. Now it accounts for only one-thirds, negating the main tenet of the two-nation theory.
Of course, this has not bothered the ideologues from calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. Cohen rightfully says that the relentless pursuit of Kashmir has done more damage to Pakistan than any other single issue. Elsewhere, he has argued that Kashmir is just a symptom of a bigger problem between the two siblings.
Over time, “Pakistan has adapted to changing strategic circumstances,” Cohen observes, “by ‘renting’ itself out to powerful states,” such as the US, Saudi Arabia and now China. This strategy has not yielded any clear benefits to Pakistan
Recognising the disparity in conventional forces, Pakistan has adopted the strategy of waging a covert war in Kashmir, in addition to building nuclear weapons. It has armed, trained and funded guerillas that operate in Kashmir as ‘freedom fighters.’
Since the Afghan-Soviet war ended in 1989, these groups have embraced the use of terror for political gains and have even attacked targets in India. Cohen traces their terrorist ideology to Maudoodi’s writings, but this appears to be a weak inference since the latter never supported terrorism.
The second vision is that of an Islamic state. There is no unique interpretation of an Islamic state, since there are numerous sects and sub-sects within the Islamic faith. The pursuit of this vision is fraught with danger since any brand of Islam that comes into power would seek to impose itself over the others.
The third vision is that of a democratic state.  Such a state would provide civil and human rights to the citizens. A democratically-elected government would determine national security strategy and defense policy. The army would not determine who would be elected to public office. That would appear to be the ideal end-state. But it is doubtful whether the Pakistani military with its oversized political agenda will ever let this vision come to pass.
Cohen rightfully critiques militarism and describes how it has harmed national security. The army, at 600,000, is 50 percent greater in size than it was during the 1971 war, when half of the country was lost. By diverting resources from social, political and economic development, it has compromised national security, a fact acknowledged by the Abbottabad Commission.
Ironically, the West has often supported militarism in Pakistan. Samuel Huntington of Harvard called Field Marshal Ayub Khan a Solon after the great Athenian lawgiver. Nixon praised General Yahya for giving him the opening to China. Reagan and Thatcher praised General Zia for being a bulwark of freedom against the USSR. Bush praised General Musharraf for his role in the war on terror.
Over time, “Pakistan has adapted to changing strategic circumstances,” Cohen observes, “by ‘renting’ itself out to powerful states,” such as the US, Saudi Arabia and now China. This strategy has not yielded any clear benefits to Pakistan.
Cohen presents six scenarios of the future: (1) continuation of the status quo, which involves rule by the oligarchy, now known as the Establishment, (2) liberal, secular democracy, (3) soft authoritarianism, (4) an Islamist state, (5) divided Pakistan and (6) postwar Pakistan.
These scenarios, while intuitively plausible, represent Cohen’s personal opinions. They lack the rigor that would have come from using cross-impact matrices of driving factors or a Delphi process involving multiple experts. He also seems to assign probabilities to the scenarios but the methodology is unclear.
He notes that American policy toward Pakistan has always given short-term gains priority over long-term concerns. This is no longer feasible, since ignoring the long term could have grave consequences.
While discussing the ebb and flow of the tide in American-Pakistani ties, Cohen does not explore the reasons why the tide has always been at a flood when a Republican administration has been in power in the White House and a military dictatorship in Islamabad and at ebb otherwise.
Currently, terrorism has zoomed to the top of the American agenda but it needs to be given a long- term preventive quality, not just a short-term military quality. He says the US should incent the government of Pakistan to increase the share of its expenditures that go for education, especially primary education, by reducing military aid if a minimum amount is not spent on education.
In Cohen’s view, the army remains the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan, not corrupt politicians. Elsewhere, he has called it the largest political party. Even when it is not in power, it has unlimited access to the government’s budgetary and foreign exchange resources and dominates the nation’s foreign policy. These points are amplified in Aqil Shah’s book, Army and Democracy, which is also a great read.
The Idea of Pakistan covers a lot of ground. However, by the time one gets to the end, many questions remain unanswered. For example, Cohen says the Pakistani army is long on memory and short on foresight, but he does not discuss why that is the case or whether it will ever change. In addition, by presenting a scenario where the oligarchy continues to rule as the most probable scenario, he seems to be endorsing Pakistan’s recidivist militarism. He says it is improbable that liberal democracy will take hold in Pakistan. Just a couple of decades ago, the same had been said of Latin American and Eastern Europe where democracy is now widespread.
The book’s implicit hypothesis is that Pakistan’s insecurities have led to military rule. But why is that not true of India, since it has security problems with Pakistan and China, and has to contend with numerous separatist movements?
Cohen does not rely on surveys or polls to enrich his analysis, nor does he provide a cross-country comparison. Despite all these limitations, the book is a classic and a must-read.
The writer has written “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.” He can be reached at
Published in Daily Times, November 19th 2017.

Inside Pakistan’s biggest business conglomerate the Pakistani military, Lt. General Davar

Inside Pakistan’s biggest business conglomerate the Pakistani military, Lt. General Davar 

In July 2016, the Pakistani senate was informed that the armed forces run over 50 commercial entities worth over $20 billion. Ranging from petrol pumps to huge industrial plants, banks, bakeries, schools and universities, hosiery factories, milk dairies, stud farms, and cement plants, the military has a finger in each pie and stands today as the biggest conglomerate of all business in Pakistan. However, the jewels in their crown are the eight housing societies in eight major towns where prime lands in well-manicured cantonments and plush civil localities in the possession of these societies are allotted to military personnel at highly subsidised rates. Even military awards are linked with the grant of farm lands and housing plots to military personnel.

Shuja Nawaz in his book, Crossed Swords, expounds the land grabbing propensities of Pakistani generals. He goes on to say that in the “late 1980s, as dictator fatigue set in during the Zia period, many army officers refrained from going out into the public in their uniforms as there was much resentment against the military for their over-indulgence in economic activities.” Later in 2007, “the country saw the jarring banners carried by lawyers who were protesting the removal of a chief justice by the military ruler: Ae watan ke sajeele Genrailo; saaray ruqbey tumhare liye hain (O’ handsome generals of the homeland, all the plots are just for you).”

Genesis in the General

The “Culture of Entitlement” in the military started during General Ayub’s time when he commenced the tradition of awarding land to army officers (the size of allotment depending upon the rank of the officer) in the border regions of Punjab and in the newly irrigated colonies of Sindh. General Zia also created a novel way of involving serving officers in commercial ventures by placing military lands and cantonments and the provisioning of logistics to the regional corps commanders. Thus, many senior army officers availed opportunities to acquire multiple plots in various cantonments for themselves at highly subsidised rates. These prime properties soon sparked nepotism in allotment and corruption among both the military and civil bureaucracies.

After being allotted plots in prime areas, it became common practice for army officers to sell their preferential allotments at exorbitant prices to well-heeled civilians. The military soon got involved in establishing several foundations ostensibly to help retired service personnel. These institutions virtually penetrated into all sectors of the economy and gradually propelled the military into a major business stakeholder in Pakistan’s economy. The military operates its economic endeavours at three levels with the ministry of defence (MoD) being at the top of the economic military network.

The MoD controls four major areas—the service headquarters, the department of military land and cantonments (MLC), the Fauji Foundation (also known as Fauji Group) and the Rangers (a paramilitary force). The department of military land and cantonments acquires land for allocation to the service headquarters, which distributes it among individual members. The three services have independent welfare foundations, which are directly controlled by the senior officers of the respective services. 

The military is also involved in public sector organisations like the National Logistics Cell (NLC), the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and the Special Communications Organisation (SCO), which are all controlled by the army. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) was placed under military control in 1998 with over 35,000 personnel now involved in its operations.

You name it and the military has it

The MOD does not directly manage the economic activities of the organisations under its control, but it is an instrument to mobilise resources, accord legitimacy to the varying commercial and other economic activities of its organisations and even field formations and units which run many subsidiary commercial ventures independently. In addition, there are four subsidiary organisations that are involved in the economic activities of the military. These include the Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, Shaheen Foundation (for retired Pakistan Air Force personnel) and the Bahria Foundation (for retired Navy personnel). These foundations, though controlled by their respective service headquarters, are run by retired military personnel. The profits accruing from the commercial ventures of these organizations are distributed to all shareholders who are retired military personnel. These are engaged in ventures like fertiliser and cement manufacture, cereal production, insurance and banking enterprises, education, and information technology institutes, besides airport services, travel agencies, shipping, harbour services and deep sea fisheries.

The influence of the MOD plays a vital role in securing public sector business contracts and financial and industrial inputs at highly subsidised rates. In recent years, profit making by retired military personnel has acquired even newer dimensions with them providing privatised security services to foreign contractors in security-sensitive regions like the FATA and KPK (Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). This follows the pattern as established by foreign security contractors in adjoining Afghanistan.

The Culture of Entitlement is getting stronger by the day. Several senior service officers have also been parked as ambassadors, governors, and nominated on other high-ranking bureaucratic posts in Pakistan. Successive army chiefs have continued with the practice of strengthening the special perks and privileges of their serving and retired personnel with respective civilian governments reluctantly acquiescing to all the fair and unfair demands of the armed forces.

It is an indisputable fact that Milbus contributes towards professionalism taking its toll when the military participates in nonmilitary commercial activities. The case of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China is a classic example where some senior Chinese generals fell prey to the temptations of corruption and lucre. True to their style, the Chinese government stepped in and severely punished some of the offenders and thus discouraged the Chinese military from commercial activities.

Milbus in Pakistan is the never-fading and ever-growing clout of its military in its nation’s policies far beyond strategic and security matters. A major reason for this state of affairs is the independent, unaccountable financial muscle of the military. Since the Ayub era, no civilian government has ever bothered to tame in the military except, to some extent, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for a short period. Most civilian governments have looked the other way at the financial handlings of the military’s commercial enterprises, primarily to buy peace with the powerful generals. Most members of Pakistan’s civil society and even its parliamentarians have wilfully ignored the military’s economic empire-building except for some senators like Sherry Rehman and Farhatullah Babar.

Among the many constants in Pakistan, Milbus too, in the foreseeable future, is likely to more than thrive as it is coterminous with the power wielded by the military in its national affairs. Currently, there are no indicators whatsoever that the Pakistan military will ever relinquish the primacy and unfettered powers it enjoys in its nation.

Excerpted from Lt. General Kamal Davar’s book Armed Forces and Their Corporate Interests with permission from Rupa PublicationsWe welcome your comments at