The Praetorian guards of Pakistan

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

The Pakistan army reminds one of the Roman praetorian guards

Everyone knows that Pakistan is a Garrison State ( as the eminent Pakistani journalist Moeed Pirzada has called it ), and the real ruler of Pakistan is its army, which has been in power almost throughout its history, either overtly when there was direct army rule after a coup, or covertly under a veneer and figleaf of civilian rule. All other organs of the state in Pakistan and its institutions, like Presidents, government ministers, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the police, the Election Commission, the media, etc obey its orders, and are servile to it. How did this happen?

Pakistan was created as an Islamic state after the Partition of India in 1947 on the basis of the two-nation theory, that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations which were hostile to each other and could not live peacefully together under a single state.

Hence a separate state had to be created for Muslims in which they could live peacefully and safely.

But soon after Pakistan was created, problems arose as to what was true Islam, Sunni or Shia, Deobandi or Barelvi, Salafi or Sufi, etc often resulting in sectarian violence. Ahmadis were branded as non Muslims, and barbarically persecuted. Civilian politicians were often quarreling with each other.

It became obvious after some time that Islam by itself could not hold Pakistan together. And it was here that the Pakistan army, under Gen Ayub Khan (and later Gen Zia-ul-Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf), stepped in, claiming to be the real glue which could keep Pakistan together, and therefore its real saviour.

Since it claimed to be the saviour of Pakistan, the army naturally wanted to be rewarded financially for its ‘patriotic’ services. With a gun in its hand it brooked no opposition, and those who questioned or criticised it were locked up and beaten, or simply ‘disappeared’. After all, power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

The military soon built up a gargantuan economic empire with its tentacles in almost every sector of Pakistan’s economy, as detailed below:

The Pakistan military is loath to disclose these details, and even asking questions about them is dangerous and taboo in Pakistan. A political leader who tries to curb this gargantuan scandal is soon ousted from power, e.g. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (who was hanged) and Nawaz Sharif (who was jailed, and who later fled to England).

Journalists who investigate or raise these questions are often bumped off by the ISI — like Syed Saleem Shahzad, who investigated the link between the Pakistan Navy and Al-Qaeda, or Arshad Sharif, who was killed in Kenya in October 2022 in mysterious circumstances.

Zahid Husain, who wrote an article in Newsweek documenting the military corporate and real estate empire that gave the senior officers enormous wealth, had to suffer. The senior lady lawyer who raised these questions, Asma Jahangir, was imprisoned and her family business targeted.

Ayesha Siddiqa, who wrote ‘Military Inc’ detailing the loot by Pakistan’s military, was told she may have committed suicide, and lives safely far away in England.

The civilian state institutions like Parliament and the judiciary dare not question the military about this. Civilian governments are very careful not to displease the army, lest they be ousted by a coup. The judiciary is totally subservient to the military, as is evident in the way it convicted Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif on the army’s dictate, and has now turned around, again on the army's dictate, and is now opposing Imran Khan and is supporting Nawaz Sharif.

As is evident from the above discussion, the Pakistan army (particularly its senior officers such as former chief Gen Qamar Bajwa) has acquired enormous wealth. It will naturally not wish to part with this.

The Garrison State therefore refuses to account for this loot, which it will have to do if the army is genuinely under civilian rule as in democratic countries.

If the Pakistan army effectively renounces politics, and subordinates itself to a civilian government, it will have to give up its economic vested interests (mentioned above), which it will be very reluctant to do.

As was said by someone about the Roman Catholic Church “It will readily give up 35 of its 36 principles, but fight tooth and nail before it gives up 1/36th of its property.”

Also, it may be called on by its civilian masters to render accounts of its huge loot, something which it will undoubtedly find very unpalatable.

For these reasons, and realising that it has the gun (and power grows from its barrel, as stated above), the Pakistan military will never really renounce politics. It has become a Vampire, which needs to drink the blood of the Pakistani people constantly for its survival.

From all that has been said above, it is evident that the Pakistan military for long has been having a merry feast, and like a tiger that has tasted blood, would naturally not like to be deprived of it.

Even today when Pakistan is facing bankruptcy, the military will not give up its benefits and amenities, and no civilian government dares to ask for it.

This is the real reason why the Garrison State does not tolerate any criticism, assessment or evaluation, and anyone who does so is immediately branded as an enemy of Pakistan.

But how do the Pakistani generals ensure the loyalty of their soldiers? In other words, how does one guard the guards?

This is done by following the dictum of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus '' Enrich the soldiers, and spurn the others.''

The Pak army has penetrated numerous sectors of the Pakistan economy, and has acquired huge assets, which it will have to surrender if there is civilian control. So it will never permit real civilian control, as in Western countries and India

Several army generals, serving or retired, and their relatives are millionaires, or even billionaires (like the former army chief Gen Bajwa). They spend a large part of the government budget on themselves, enhancing their lifestyle and retirement benefits. They are some of the richest people in Pakistan. After joining the army and getting promoted to senior ranks (major and above) their lifestyle drastically changes. They live in splendour, with huge houses, luxury cars and designer goods.

Even an ordinary soldier gets salary and numerous benefits not available to the vast majority of the common people of Pakistan, and thus they are kept happy.

Truly, the Pakistan military is the praetorian guard of Pakistan, deposing and installing civilian Prime Ministers and governments, just as the Praetorian Guards deposed and installed Emperors, and even getting them killed (like Bhutto), just as the Praetorian Guards assassinated Emperors.

(Justice Katju is a former Judge, of the Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, the Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

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