Pakistan has for most of its history been ruled by its powerful military. This has been both direct and indirect. However, Its interference in Pakistan’s politics has pushed the country to the brink of an all-swallowing disaster on many occasions. Yet there are no lessons learned, and neither will any lessons be learned before the country is blown into smithereens.
As the British were planning to quit India, they left the Indian subcontinent divided between two states, India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan soon became a state with the military becoming overly involved in politics, while India emerged as the largest democracy in the world. This is astonishingly contrasting for countries with shared cultural and linguistic features.
After years of non-constitutionalism and multiple crises, Pakistan got its first constitution in 1956, but it was soon to be thrown out. Pakistan got its first martial law in 1958, only after two years of constitutional rule. The martial law brought in General Ayub Khan as an all powerful man to the helm of the country, at the same time tossing the country’s first constitution into the dustbin of history. His era was marked with intrigues, which later on led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
It was during his rule that for the first time seeds of religious fundamentalism were sown. This, he did to gain ascendancy in an election over the sister of the country’s founding father, Fatima Jinnah. In contrast to the popular narrative that his era was marked with economic prosperity, his era, however, was the one that ushered in inequalities and led to the rise of 20 families who were known for controlling the country’s resources. Moreover, the list of the woes faced by the citizens in the first direct military rule is quite long.
Subsequent military rules further aggravated the country. Hopes of the return of democracy with the ouster of General Ayub Khan from the realm of power were shattered once again when General Yahya Khan proclaimed the second martial law in 1969. The second martial law came also with its set of disasters for Pakistan. This included the abrogation of the country’s second constitution, which was enforced in 1962.
However, the military coups didn’t stop with the one General Yahya Khan engineered. The country had to face a military coup that would have a lasting impact on it for the rest of its history. It was the 1977 coup which brought General Zia-ul-Haq into power. However, it didn’t do away with the new constitution, but proved to be the most disastrous coup of the country’s entire history.
The so-called Afghan Jihad, which has been haunting not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan till date, was the work of General Zia-ul-Haq . Moreover, he enforced several conservative laws—the core of his Islamisation scheme—which promoted religious extremism in the country. In addition, the country’s sectarian divide can also be attributed to General Zia. Moreover, his policies radicalised the Pakistani society.
Consequently, the 1999 military coup helped General Pervez Musharraf in wielding absolute power and ruling as a military strongman with no tolerance for the dissenting voices. The Musharraf regime proved like all the preceding military regimes as a destructive one for Pakistan. Although the Balochs were treated no better before, the Musharraf regime excelled every other military and civilian dispensation before in inflicting atrocities on the Balochs. His involvement in the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti cannot be doubted.
Moreover, the anti Baloch policies of the Musharraf era are behind the modern day Baloch insurgency. In addition to this, General Musharraf allied himself with the US in its never-ending war on terror, which costed Pakistan heavily both in lives lost and material.
However, the Pakistani military involvement in politics has not only been overt, but it has constantly pulled strings from behind the curtain as well. In its bid to forge a hybrid regime and run the country in a subtle way according to its own taste and wishes, the Pakistani military under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa propped up Imran Khan.
This setup was to prove disastrous as well, ending in a vortex of crises. There grew differences between the army chief and Imran Khan along the way, which culminated in a deep-seated loathing for each other and the forced ouster of Imran Khan from power.
Conclusively, these experimentations have cost the nation a lot. The country is now in a deep economic chaos with no sign of the tide’s ebbing in sight while political instability is constantly knocking at the country’s foundations. Worrying speculations are also pouring in of the country defaulting. These are the outcomes of the military’s involvement in the country’s politics. The outgoing army chief left this mess behind, with the nation’s hopes pinned on the new army chief, General Asim Munir, to act as a saviour.
However, the new army chief will not be any different from the previous ones, as history suggests. The military should rather be restricted to the barracks and barred from any interference in politics, while hopes should be pinned on the politicians, not the army chief.
Osama Ahmad is an Islamabad based researcher. He tweets at @OsamaAhmad432