When Friedrich Leopold Freiherr von Schrötter (1743–1815), made this statement in the 18th century at the height of Prussian Army’s prowess in Europe, he would not have imagined that many ‘seminarists’ would freely bandy the same term about Pakistan and claim to have coined the term themselves!
But plagiarism apart, in the Indian sub-continent if any country fitted Schrotter’s original statement, it is undoubtedly Pakistan. As an institution, the Pakistan Army has played the most dominant role in the nation’s affairs almost immediately since its blood-soaked birth. That it has managed to hold onto the preeminent position despite successive military reverses against arch enemy India, speaks volumes of its influence in the country’s polity and social life.
Western scholar Stephen P. Cohen and Pakistanis like Shuja Nawaz and Ayesha Siddiqa have written extensively and with great insight on the Pakistani Army but rarely has an Indian exclusively focused on the formation, evolution and dominance of the Pakistani Army.
Rana Banerji admirably fills this gap in a slim but power-packed monograph, The Pakistan Army: Composition, Character and Compulsions. Born as a project for the Pakistan Studies Programme at the Jamaia Milia Islamia, the monograph is most comprehensive overview of Pakistan Army’s history, doctrine and concepts in recent times.
Banerji of course is most qualified to write this authoritative volume. A 1972 batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, he was permanently seconded to India’s external espionage agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RA&W) in 1982. Posted to Pakistan in 1988, he spent four eventful years in Islamabad watching a country in turmoil after Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s death in a mysterious air crash, a caretaker government and the political rise of Benazir Bhutto as well as Nawaz Sharif. He continued to be part of the Pakistan desk in RA&W as he rose in rank and position in the agency.
After his retirement as Special Secretary in October 2009, Banerji has devoted his time to writing and watching Pakistan from outside the system. The monograph has clearly benefited from his vast experience and expertise in dealing with the affairs of India’s perennial bete noire over a prolonged period.
Neatly divided into just seven chapters spread over 80 pages, the volume is important to read and keep as a reference handbook to all students of strategic affairs since it provides a wealth of data not easily available at one place. Banerji begins with the division of military assets between India and Pakistan at the turn of partition and how Pakistani Army Officers of the time felt aggrieved with the inequities forced on the newly-created nation. The insecurity of low numbers vis-a-vis Indian Army has continued to dominate the thought process in Pakistani Army’s GHQ ever since. Banerji takes us through the transition of the Pakistani Army from Sandhurst to West Point, from the conspiracies within in the early years to the trauma of the 1971 defeat and from the Zia years to the changing socio-ethnic composition of the recruits with great felicity and mastery over facts.
The monograph also dwells at length on how the Pakistani Army’s doctrines and concepts have tried to keep pace with changing threat perceptions. For instance, the development and acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons was apparently necessitated by India’s post-2001 ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. But from all evidence, Pakistan Army’s most traumatic, and in recent years most educative, experience has been the Counter-Insurgency Operations it was forced to launch internally since 2003-04. That exactly a year ago, the Pakistani Army’s ‘Green Book’–an internal publication–describes, for the first time perhaps, domestic terrorist organisations and not India as enemy number one, is indicative of how the situation has changed in Pakistan.
Of particular interest to Pakistan watchers would be the analysis of the tenures of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence–Pakistan’s premier spy agency) Chiefs over the years and how it remains a powerful arm within the overall power structure. As Banerji says: “After Gen (Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani ascended to the top position from ISI, and generally ever since ISI acquired a new lustre after the Afghan operations, a career or a posting in the ISI has emerged as a desirable option, with young officers of the rank of Captian, Major or Colonel enjoying far greater power, perks and privileges in the ISI than many of their peers in rather more routine Army Field assignments.”
The monograph rightly concludes that the Pakistani Army is being buffeted by winds of change slowly starting to blow in Pakistan with the country caught between increasing civil society assertiveness on the one hand and the growing threat of Talibanisation on the other. Which way the Pakistani Army will turn is anybody’s guess and Banerji rightfully refrains from coming to any definitive conclusion although he does warn that “changes in Pakistan could have major implications–domestically and for the region, especially for neighbouring countries like India and global powers like the USA.”
As 2013 fades and 2014 arrives with renewed hope, the monograph should be a must-have for all students of the neighbourhood.