Standing Army

Democracy and the parliamentary system developed in the British isles because it was bordered by the sea therefore it required a navy and not an army to protect it. Lack of a standing army had allowed the nobles to rebel and impose legal limits on the power of the King under the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215, which ultimately resulted in the calling of the first parliament as early as 1264. There was a short phase of fanaticism which resulted in the creation of Cromwell’s model army and the dissolution of parliament. However, it was a temporary affair because the model army was founded in 1645 and was disbanded in 1664.

The Indian sub-continent was protected by a vast, inhospitable ocean on the south and insurmountable mountains on the north and east, but it had land routes on the west which had to be protected by land forces. The armies of the British East India Company were recruited mainly from Muslims and high caste Hindus in the Bengal Presidency, which consisted of Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Trained and led by the British officers they became a formidable force, which united India by defeating Muslim, Hindu, Talpur and Sikh rulers, and were periodically sent into Afghanistan to create a buffer state by installing a pro-British government.

The Bengal Army joined in 1857 the first war of independence, or the Sepoy Mutiny as the British called it, against their British masters, in support of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II at Delhi. All ten of the Bengal Light Cavalry regiments were lost, and out of the 74 regular Bengal Native Infantry regiments in existence at the beginning of 1857, only 12 escaped disbandment. John Lawrence, the Governor of the Punjab, raised a fresh army to recapture the rebel cities of Delhi, Lucknow and Kanpur. It consisted mostly of recruits from Pathan and Punjabi mussalmans and Sikhs. These ethnic groups were rewarded by the British for loyal service by being given the status of martial races.

The repeated attacks by Afghans had devastated the Punjab, so the saying was, ‘What one eats and drinks is one’s own; the rest is Ahmed Shah’s’. The British Army provided them with material necessities as well as prestige for working for the rulers. Punjab needed the British as much as the British needed Punjab. The British enacted the Punjab Alienation of Land Act, to prevent the moneylender from exploiting the Punjabi peasant, who had become the backbone of the British army. The Act limited the transfer of landed property only to those among the agricultural classes. The British government began construction of canals in the plains of the Western Punjab in 1885 and brought large tracts under cultivation. There were called the Canal Colonies, where land with sufficient canal water became available for cultivation. Land was also granted for keeping and breeding horses, camels, and other animals for supply to the army. No other field of work gave such a great return in the Punjab as joining the army. For those who joined the British army, the best and the biggest reward was the allotment of land. It encouraged peasants and the landowning classes to join the British Army, and even the non-agricultural class took to military service to retain their social status.

In 1893, the Punjab, which included the NWFP until 1901, formed 44% of the entire Indian Armed Forces, including Gurkhas. This further increased to 57% in 1904. At the outbreak of the First World War, there were 100,000 Punjabis serving in the army, of whom 87,000 were combatants. 380,000 were enlisted during the war, of which 231,000 were combatants. This made a total of 480,000 who served from the Punjab. According to another estimate, the Punjab supplied 54% of the total combatant troops in the Indian army during the First World War. The Punjab’s population accounted for less than 10% of British India, but contributed over half of the entire Indian Army. By 1929, 62% of the whole Indian Army was Punjabi. One out of 28 males was mobilised in the Punjab against one to 150 in the rest of India.

The British were at first cautious, as before 1857 there were nine Indians to one British soldier, however in 1914 there were about two Indians to one Britisher. They had to open recruitment to Indians during the First World War; therefore by 1918 there were six Indian soldiers to one British. The same happened during the Second World War. By the end of that war, the Indian Army had grown to a force of about 2,500,000 men, making it the largest volunteer army in history. The three semi-arid districts of Punjab-Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Attock (Campbellpur), and the two districts of NWFP-Kohat and Mardan supplied most of the recruits for the Second World War. As a result, at the time of partition the Muslims were 36% of the British Army as against 41% of Hindus, despite having one to four ratio in population.

After independence, the Kashmir War of 1948 resulted in an increase in the Pakistan Army’s importance. Security against India became the raison d’etre of the new state. The army took part in the national and international decisions of the government. This increased its political influence. The old pattern asserted itself, as the British viceroys were often chosen from the army and the military commander-in-chief sat in with the viceroy’s council as an extraordinary member.

In January 1951, first native general Ayub Khan replaced General Gracy as commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army. And a conspiracy to overthrow the government by Maj. Gen. Akber Khan was discovered in March 1951, with inquiries conducted under the special supervision of C-in-C General Ayub Khan and Defence Secretary Iskander Mirza. Maj.Gen. Akbar Khan, his wife Naseem, Faiz Ahmad Faiz (editor of Pakistan Times), Syed Sajjad Zaheer (Secretary, Communist Party of Pakistan) and others were tried inside Hyderabad Jail.

In October 1954, Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad brought back the viceregal system, dismissed the central cabinet, dissolved the Constituent Assembly and appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army in his cabinet as Defence Minister, thus giving him a taste of political power and getting him intoxicated by it. Therefore when the next head of state President Iskandar Mirza abrogated the constitution and declared martial law in the country in September 1958, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, Ayub Khan, got himself appointed the Chief Martial Law Administrator and within weeks replaced the president.

When anti-Ahmadiya riots broke out in Lahore in 1953, the army was called out, which not only put down the riots but proceeded to clean up the city, paint public buildings, repair roads, pull down unauthorised structures and plant trees, leaving Lahore looking as clean and well-ordered as an army cantonment. This earned them a great deal of popularity, as they had managed to do for the city in a few days what the civilian authority had failed to do in years. Hence, when in 1958, martial law was declared, the public rejoiced at the news. However this time the army did not clear up the mess and go away as was the case in Lahore. Instead they decided to follow the South American pattern, where the army remains in power till it becomes unpopular and is chased out by popular revolt. And a civilian government runs the country till in its turn it makes mess of things and a fresh military takeover is welcomed by the people.

The Pakistan Army which had failed to act at the time of 1962 Indo-Chinese war, made a belated attempt to take Kashmir in 1965, but was only able to contain the Indian Army during the brief war, with the help of American planes, arms, equipment and training, by betraying their agreement with the Americans to use them only against communist invasion from the north. Therefore the Pakistan Army was cut off from further aid by the unhappy Americans. It resulted in loss of the whole of East Pakistan, and of over 500 villages and towns in the Sialkot sector and over 1500 in the Tharparkar sector. And over 90,000 Pakistanis surrendered in East Pakistan making it the largest surrender since World War II. An angry crowd burnt down the house of the army chief President Yahya Khan in Peshawar, and all the top generals associated with him were sacked, namely Hamid, Pirzada, Omer, Khudadad, Kayani and Mitha. Later the Air Force chief Rahim and the newly appointed army chief Gul Hasan were also sacked

The civilian government appointed as chief of the Pakistan Army a general who was number seven in seniority for habitually exhibiting compliance and obedience, and replaced his close political associates with bureaucrats, because he said that ‘to come into power one needed a special team, but to retain power one needed a special team’. The first to go were the progressives, Mian Muhammad Qasuri, Mairaj Muhammad Khan, Khursheed Hasan Meer, J A Rahim and Mubashir Hasan. Next came the bureaucrats Aziz Ahmed, Viqar Ahmed (he called him his Deputy Prime Minister), Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Ghulam Jilani Khan and policemen Mian Anwer Ali, Saeed Ahmed Khan, Rao Abdur Rashid and Masud Mehmood. Despite all the precaution, he lost power within six years, and was hanged two years later by the army chief appointed by him, whom he called his ‘monkey general’.

The civilian revenge came eleven years later on 17 August 1988 when the aircraft in which the general was flying was blown out of the air, and for the next eleven years two political parties, one after the other robbed the country. The army again took over on 13 October 1999. This time the army chief was forced to resign by a combination of judiciary and politicians through an election in 2008, leaving the country once again in the hands of the two corrupt political parties.

The Power has changed hand in Pakistan every decade, between army generals and civilian politicians. The country would do much better if a general came into power for no more than two years to clean up the place and left, because the longer he is in power the less afraid are politicians of making a fool of him. An example is the 2005 earthquake. My wife went into the mountains to help people, a politician announced a volunteer corp to do the same, and came to her saying that he wanted to invite the general to see the good work that she was doing, but asked if she would allow him to put his uniform on her workers. She said that she would have no objection if he thought that it would benefit the people of the area. General Pervez Musharaf and his entourage landed from the sky by helicopters, and announced from a prepared text various things which pleased everybody but never materialized, save that the next week the politician who had arranged this make-believe was sworn in as a minister of his cabinet.


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