By Ahmad Faruqui, PhD
Once in a while, there arrives a moment in the history of nations when it becomes possible to think the unthinkable, to shed shibboleths and to devise new pathways to the future. Such a moment has arrived with the swearing in of the new democratic government in Islamabad.
Prime Minister Gilani and his cabinet should re-examine the premises of Pakistan ’s national security policies, which throughout history have been determined by the army. Neither the army’s strategies, nor its war plans, nor even its budgets have ever been submitted for parliamentary scrutiny. The concern, shared by civilian and military governments alike since independence, has been that doing so would lead to a military debacle.
And what has been the result of this secrecy? Not one but several military debacles, precisely the outcome it was supposed to prevent. The army has engaged in two major and several minor wars in Kashmir that have failed to change the situation on the ground but have brought with them much economic cost, social suffering, political distress and international opprobrium. As if that was not enough, the army precipitated a civil war in East Pakistan and lost half the country.
And it did not stop there. After the country was dismembered, when the army should have gone into a quite, self-searching mode, it chose instead to reinforce the dread of India among the people.
It was the best time to rethink national defense but the opportunity was squandered. The army chose to pursue even more aggressively a unidimensional approach to national security focusing on military strength. Thus, instead of rescaling its size to correspond with the new borders, the army grew by 50 percent.
Moreover, girding itself for Armageddon, it began working on a clandestine nuclear program which ultimately yielded a plethora of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles. But this program ultimately backfired as the US cut of all aid when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. When Pakistan, now engaged in an arms race with a country that was seven times its size, decided to match India’s five nuclear explosions in May 1998 with six of its own, it suffered a battery of crippling economic sanctions.
Moreover, the decision to nuclearize the armed forces failed to yield a cut in spending on conventional forces. There was no nuclear dividend and poverty rates and illiteracy rates continued to grow. This deepened the ethnic and sectarian fault lines in the nation’s body politic. Along the way, the population of Pakistan exceeded that of Bangladesh , in a dramatic demographic reversal.
Such is what happens when the entire edifice of national defense is turned over to the army. The French statesmen Georges Clemenceau, twice prime minister of France in the early 20th century, warned about the consequences of leaving defense in the hands of the generals, saying “War is too serious a matter to be left to the generals.”
So what should be done? The first priority should be the creation of a parliamentary committee to review the country’s defense policies. This committee on national defense should work closely with the three service chiefs and the chairman of the joint chiefs to review the country’s grand strategy. This goes beyond military strategy, whose purpose is narrowly focused on how to win wars and even more beyond tactics, whose purpose is to how to win selected military engagements. Grand strategy addresses higher-level questions such as whether or not to go to war, with what means, at what place, against whom, and for what purpose. These questions fall into the province of parliament, not the military.
Grand strategy, to be successful, has to rest on a rational, non-emotional foundation of facts. It requires a realistic framing of the threats facing the country. External and internal threats have to be identified and evaluated under a variety of scenarios. Only then can a robust grand strategy be derived that is valid against a variety of futures.
The truest manifestation of grand strategy recognizes its multi-dimensional nature and suggests the deployment of complementary political, diplomatic, economic and social policies for its attainment. Rarely can the objectives of grand strategy be attained by military force alone. The armed forces, trained largely in the successful prosecution of military campaigns, have to play a role in the formulation of grand strategy but they can never play the dominant role.
Once grand strategy has been formulated, the new role of the armed forces in national defense will become apparent. Recommendations for changing their mission, their orientation and organization and their strength will flow from such an assessment. For example, it will become clear that given the existence of a substantial, well-publicized nuclear deterrent, Pakistan does not need armed forces that are about half the size of India ’s.
As discussed earlier, the large size of the armed forces has not helped Pakistan avoid military defeats. In fact, it has tempted the country to engage in adventures for which it was seriously under-qualified. Operations such as those carried out in Kargil in the winter of 1999, even after the nuclear tests had been carried out by both countries just seven months prior, are a manifestation of the army’s strategic myopia for which Pakistan has paid dearly.
In addition, the large size of the armed forces has created a political imbalance in the polity that has precipitated not one but four coups. The true measure of militarism can be gleaned from the realization that the military, even when it is not explicitly in power, governs the nation’s defense and foreign policies. In addition, the military now intrudes deeply into the civil sphere, including the universities. Just about every senior civil post appears to be held by either a serving or retired general officer. In addition, military officials are awarded land that they can resell at a profit. Their position in society is out of line with that held by their counterparts in all countries with the possible exception of Burma . Even in China, it is the communist party and not the army that holds sway in national defense.
Reconfiguring the armed forces will yield three major benefits. First, the problem of terrorism will become more tractable as non-military levers are identified, developed and deployed. The American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq is a testimonial to the futility of using overwhelming military superiority against an enemy that operates among the people. Industrial armies are ill-equipped to fight such non-conventional wars and the latest testimonial to this thesis comes from a recently retired British General, Sir Rupert Smith, author of “The Utility of Force.”
The second major benefit from a reconfiguring of the armed forces would be the eradication of militarism in Pakistani society. Professional soldiers will wish to get back to the business of building their core competency, which is winning wars, rather than running the country. And the third major benefit would be the freeing up of scare economic resources to promoting human development.
(The writer has co-edited “ Pakistan : Unresolved Issues in State and Society.” Faruqui@pacbell.net)