Raza Habib Raja
Most of the political developments in Pakistan involve armed forces and also Punjab’s politicians as Punjab is the most populous province. Some or the other, a narrative has developed which links Punjab and armed forces (who mostly hail from Punjab) in a conspiring role. Even now as President Zardari is having political problems, several journalists are calling it a conspiracy of Punjab, hatched with the support of armed forces, against smaller provinces.
So does such a linkage exist? Can we establish with certainty that army is nothing except an armed wing whose sole existence is to ensure Punjab’s dominance? Does the army systematically and more importantly INTENTIONALLY safeguard Punjab’s interest or army is merely protecting and promoting its institutional interests and Punjab due to its dominance in the army gets “spill over” benefits? Does army interfere when Punjab is in political problems or it intervenes when its own institutional interests are in jeopardy? Does army differentiate between Punjabi politicians and others?
These are very key questions and need a serious thought rather than rhetoric and opinions based on hearsay. When we lump together Punjabi elite and army, whenever a political development takes place, what exactly are we trying to say? Are we trying to infer that there is a deep conspiracy which involves Punjabi politicians and army high command? If yes, then has army only removed politicians from smaller provinces? If it has removed Punjabi politicians as well then who are those Punjabi elite we keep on talking about?
The answer to all of these questions is important because if Pakistan has to survive as a political unit then we have to cultivate harmony and remove mistrust. We also need to find the real source of Punjab’s dominance and try to correct it because it needs to be corrected.
So is it really the army?
There is absolutely no doubt that Punjab dominates the armed forces both in the Jawan as well as officer cadre. Armed forces have a tremendous budget allocated to them (a huge portion of it is not quantified even though Miss Ayesha Siddiqua’s book does make a good attempt). Consequently, as a result the benefits accruing to army affect more Punjabi households rather than other provinces. And these benefits are extraordinary ranging from subsidized commercial plots, after retirement high profile civilian jobs to memberships at paltry rates to otherwise very expensive clubs.
However a closer look would reveal that most of these benefits are actually accruing to three districts of Attock, Jhelum, and Rawalpindi. The high recruitment from these areas is a legacy of colonial times. Yes there is a spillover effect to other areas as well but primarily the economic benefits within Punjab re restricted to these areas.
Secondly it is true that while Punjab gets more benefits due to its higher representation but army’s interest may or may not be completely synonymous with Punjab’s interests each time. Yes these may even overlap at times but we need stronger evidence to conclude that army is a non elected political institution SOLELY geared to just ensure Punjab’s hegemony. Let’s not forget that army has intervened two times to remove Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi Politician. First time it was a completely chaotic situation with a very realistic chance of a clash between federal security and Punjab police (1993). The second time army moved to protect itself as an institution and deposed Nawaz Sharif after he had dismissed General Musharraf who was of Mohajir ethnicity. Before the whole Musharraf drama occurred, Nawaz Sharif was actually trying to take peace measures with India. It is argued and with justification that army staged Kargil to derail peace process at that time.
Musharraf’s coup is an interesting case as it took place when technically Musharraf was not even a CNC. He had already been deposed and there was no “official” obligation for the core commanders. The majority of core commanders who brought the coup were from Punjab and they moved to ensure the preservation of their institution’s privileged status and had no qualms in deposing Nawaz.
For army, its own interests reign supreme and these may or may not always coincide with that of Punjab and its civilian rulers.
However, having said that whereas army may not be always consciously safeguarding and promoting Punjab’s interest its ideological orientation does have some effect. Ideologically armed forces are geared to hold up Islamic values as well as Pakistani nationalism in terms of their orientation and identity. This ideological orientation, designed chiefly to ensure internal cohesiveness and combating zeal, is also identical with the general state nurtured ideology which tries to negate ethnic plurality. So whenever army is in direct power its ideological thrust amalgamates with and in fact reinforces that of the broader state’s cultivated ideology.
In fact that is why generally armed forces are viewed as more “patriotic’ by a substantial chunk of Punjabi middleclass as they appear to hold the same values as that of the latter.
Moreover, the centralised modus operandi of army, though originally designed for military and professional purposes, gels well with the overall centralized state structure when army is in power. Thus small wonder that every military rule has seen a reinforcement of centralized way of governance and thus ethnic rift has increased during every rule.
Personally I think that the relationship between army and Punjab’s dominance exists but is somewhat murky to be conclusive with respect of causality. Dominance even if attributed to Punjab’s high representation in armed forces is not always a result of their (armed forces) conscious efforts. Yes there are times when the interests of the province and army will coincide but army does not consciously, at least most of the time, connive to promote Punjabi interests.
Yes, if we change the army’s composition it will ensure more benefits to other provinces but may not change the centralized structure favouring Punjab. Over emphasis on population based distribution of resources is diverting too much resources to Punjab’s advantage The overall state structure with all its political institutions, elected and non elected, are geared towards excessive centralization both administratively and ideologically. This centralized structure is the major culprit and it has Punjab as its major beneficiary.
Beneficiary parties, irrespective of their ethnicity, seldom give up privileges voluntarily. The better way to wriggle out of this situation would be decentralize, remove emphasis on promotion of political Islam and yes may be divide Punjab into smaller provinces. In NFC award the percentage weightage of revenue collection and poverty has to increase.