Why Would Pakistan’s Army Interfere in Politics?

There is a widely held belief among the general public in Pakistan that the army is the ultimate arbiter of what happens in Pakistani politics.

pakistan-army-politicsIt is thought, for example, that most election results are predetermined by the “agencies” – an oblique reference to the secret service apparatus of the Pakistani defense establishment. The agencies decide who will win and who will lose. And important government decisions especially those related to foreign policy and internal security cannot be made without the army’s tacit consent or approval.

Does the army indeed exercise this level of control over Pakistani politics? It is difficult to affirm or refute this with any reasonable level of confidence. But the more interesting question, and one that perhaps can be answered, is: Why would the army want to interfere?

To understand this one has to understand two sets of people: Those who run the army – the generals. And those who run the civilian administration – the politicians. Politicians first: This is a motley set. They include feudal landlords, hereditary “pirs“- the descendants of long deceased holy men, urban mafiosi, and a spattering of mullahs. This whole set is not usually associated, in the public eye, with integrity, honesty, decency, competence or for that matter patriotism.

The army on the other hand recruits its soldiers from across the social spectrum

The selection process – especially for the officer corps – is competitive and demanding. Only the best survive. In some sense the army is a complete meritocracy – it is “up or out.” If you meet the cut you are promoted to the next rank. If you do not you retire. Hence those who run the army – the top generals – get to where they are on the basis of their merit and competence. Remember also that the army inculcates patriotism in all its soldiers – enlisted men and officers. The message that their raison détre is to defend Pakistan to the last breath is hammered into their minds again and again. In the end, whatever else you say about these men, you cannot say that they are not patriotic.

So on the civilian side, running the country, you have a set of politicians of dubious competence and integrity who get to where they are because of inherited privilege or deception, or coercion, or other even less savory methods. Ask the general public what they think of their politicians patriotism and the response, stripped of expletives, would be that they will happily sell a close family member for a foreign passport.

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On the other side are a group of generals who have come up through the ranks based on their competence and professionalism. And etched in their conscience, by virtue of their training, is the paramount importance of protecting Pakistan from any perceived threats.

Now back to the question of why the army would want to interfere in politics: The generals, professional and competent patriots, do not trust the politicians, people of questionable competence, integrity and sincerity, to be faithful to the country. They believe, perhaps not without reason, that if these politicians are left to their own devices they would pose a real and present threat to the integrity and security of Pakistan. And since direct interference for the army is not an option they resort to other means – the agencies – to keep the politicians from doing too much damage.

This is clearly a dysfunctional way to run a democratic country

The politicians should be running the country with the generals focusing exclusively on the army. Running a six hundred thousand man army is difficult enough without the added involvement of keeping a set of dubious politicians in check. The generals would be happy to focus on their own domain and leave the running of the country to elected representatives of the people. But they will not do this until they have confidence that the people’s representatives have the integrity, competence, experience and sincerity to do so.

So we as a country need to try harder to bring into politics people who do have the qualities needed for national leadership. And once we succeed in doing this the army, reassured that the country is in safe hands, will no longer need to be involved in minding the minders.

Nadeem Qureshi is Chairman at Mustaqbil Pakistan. Nadeem is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, and is fluent in Arabic. Mustaqbil Pakistan is a Pakistani political party which believes that the country’s many problems stem from a single cause: Our politicians in general do not have the sincerity, competence, education and experience to run the country. Mustaqbil Pakistan’s raison d’etre is to provide a platform for the country’s best people to enter and compete in the political arena. Read other articles by Nadeem.

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  • WorriedPakistani

    A good synopsis. And then these corrupt and incompetent politicians charge an army general for treason……… who will then save the country from these hungry wolves?

    • Anwar

      Nadeem Qureshi has not answered the hypothesis that if the army has somewhat control on the process of electing the people who come to power and they are so patriotic, so why don’t they manage the process to ensure that a good competent crop of politicians are given the power

  • syed abid salam

    I think the earlier lot of politicians like Liaquat Ali Khan,Khawja Nazimuddin,Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy,Sardar Rab Nishtar were men of integrity,competent,honest,a decent bunch who despite the weak,fragile state of a democratic system were well-p
    laced to steer the ship of state after the demise of the Quaid.Continuity of system would have provided nourishment to a sapling growing to a sturdy tree,come hail or storm.Student of Constitutionalism.