The role of the military up to 1858 

“In the Mughal times maintenance of law and order was the responsibility of the village community through its headman and the effective district police were the local governor’s military forces” says the well-known historian of the British Raj, VA Smith in the Oxford History of India, (1998).

Following the demise of Mughal rule the military became solely responsible for the internal and external security of the realm of the East India Company Bahadur. The British rulers usurped the traditional role of the local community. As the dominion expanded, the state apparatus was bifurcated between the military and civil executive and later the military was bifurcated into the military and the police.

In the government of the East India Company, the governor-general had his army to protect (and enlarge) the possessions, his police to maintain order, and his civil executive officers to collect revenue and administer day-to-day affairs. The people of India had no role in governance.  The military exercised the dominant role, often in tandem with the governor-general.

The stock of the English generals rocketed sky high after they defeated Napoleon’s armies at Waterloo in 1814. The commander-in-chief, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was revered as a demigod. The victorious general served the Crown as foreign minister and also as prime minister and remained a close adviser of Queen Victoria till his death.

The English generals in India, protecting and enlarging the government of the East India Company, established notorious precedents of acting independently, indeed, in defiance of the policy laid down by the civil political authority in London.

The governor general who was in fact “Governor General of India in Council” and his commander-in-chief invaded Afghanistan in 1838 without taking the members of the Council into confidence. A few years later Sir Hugh Gough, commander-in-chief of the army in India, decided to invade the Punjab. The governor-general told him that the attack would contravene the policy laid down by London. Moreover, he had no funds to finance the war. The military man told the governor-general that victory in the battle was certain as the betrayal of elements from the enemy’ army has been arranged. Large amount of loot and plunder would come in their hands and there would be no shortage of funds. The two hatched a conspiracy. The commander-in-chief ordered the governor-general to report for battle duty since the latter was a retired lieutenant-general of the army and as such was subsequently in the reserves. The crafty governor-general put himself under the command of the military and also wrote a secret letter to a friend in London which was to be delivered to the government if the battle was lost in which he wrote that he was coerced by the military c-in-c. The two chiefs led the charge on horseback. They won and no one questioned their defiance of the political authority. The governor-general’s letter came to light a century later from the house of his friend.

In 1843 a major-general, called Charles Napier, acting against the policy laid down by the crown and against the advice of James Outram, the resident representative of the governor-general at Hyderabad, started military action against the Mirs of Sind. V A Smith writing in the Oxford History of India, has the following to say about the military leader: “The eccentric swashbuckler possessed as few scruples as Auckland (the governor-general at the time of the Afghan War) but had at least the honesty to admit it.  ‘We have no right to seize Sind’, he wrote in his diary, ‘yet we shall do so and a very advantageous, useful, humane piece of rascality it will be’.”

The entire Sindh incident was the unblushing violation of the 1832 treaty — a naked show of force by a military general against the policy laid down by the Crown.  What if a rogue general or a governor general or a conspiracy of the two were to rebel against the Crown. A possible coup d’etat in a vast colony like India, six thousand miles and months away from possible reinforcements posed nightmarish problems for the government of Queen Victoria in London. Something drastic was needed to maintain the British hold on India. 

The role of the civil executive

After suppressing the great Indian uprising in 1857, the government in London decided to take over the rule of the Company. The danger of preventing a possible revolt or an uprising on the pattern of the American war of independence was sorted out in a most ingenious way under the Government of India Act of 1858.  Scrapping the executive and legislative authority which the governor general had under the legislations of 1773, 1783, 1786 and 1833, the Act of 1858 vested all executive authority in the officers of the newly created civil service who were not put under the governor or governor general but were directly covenanted to the Secretary of State for India in London.  To put a stop to the loot and plunder of the people of India by the civil and military officers, the Crown barred all British personnel from purchasing any property or starting a business on the soil of India.

The high offices of the governor general and governors were reduced to mere post offices for sending reports and receiving policy directives from London. However, the pomp and show of the Viceroy, next only to that of the Queen in London, was maintained.

From 1860s onwards, India stood divided into as many governments as there were districts.  The Deputy Commissioner who was also the Collector and the District Magistrate, all in one, was like a mini-monarch. The intelligence agencies and the executive officers in the field were the eyes and ears of the government. The district magistrate had available the colonel of the nearby army garrison to come to his aid as requisitioned. The 1858 constitution of India gave no representation whatsoever to the people of India. They had no say in the running of the state.

The period between the retirement of Lord Canning, 1862, and that of Lord Curzon, 1905, was the high noon of the British imperial power in India.  Not merely in India and not merely of the British, the imperial glory of the western nations touched its zenith in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. They had colonised the remotest parts of Planet Earth and had not fought a major war among themselves since 1845.

Scientific advances, the triumphs of industry, technology and financial institutions along with popular pseudo-philosophical notions such as “the survival of the fittest”, recognised no bounds for the optimism of the white race. Britain was hugely proud of its political system in which the governments of elected representatives changed peacefully and the military was relegated to the back seat. The mission of civilising the world was accepted as the ‘white man’s burden’.  The influence of the generals and admirals declined as the post-Waterloo environment receded in memory.

While signs like “Dogs and Indians not allowed” were seen at places frequented by members of high society in London, there were many among the ruling elite in London who advocated that the elected representatives of the public must be associated with the task of governing India.  Prime Minister Gladstone considered it to be “our weakness and our calamity” that “we have not been able to give to India the benefits and blessings of free institutions”, which obviously implied the subordination of the military to the political authority.

The section of the British ruling elite which favoured the supremacy of the civil executive over the military and the association of Indian subjects in the process of governance continued to gain influence in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  The appointment of Lord George Nathanial Curzon as governor-general and Viceroy of India was its crowning success.

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Lord Curzon was no ordinary member of the House of Lords. He was a political heavyweight of the British ruling elite. Anxious to reform the army set up and place it under the control of the civil executive, Curzon obtained the appointment of General Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the most famous and popular soldier of the time as commander-in-chief of the Indian army. V A Smith describes the encounter between the two greats in the following words:

“…. Curzon found himself faced with a demand for the unification of the army administration under the commander-in-chief. Hitherto the head of the army in India had been the commander-in-chief, who had been customarily appointed an extraordinary member of the viceroy’s council.  But the administrative army department was in charge of an ordinary member of the council who was a soldier of standing not allowed to hold a command during his term of office. The arrangement …  meant that Viceroy could also obtain a second opinion about military matters in addition to that of the commander-in-chief. Kitchener resented this and desired the unification of the whole administration under his control…. Curzon considered that the substance of the matter had been conceded to Kitchener and he resigned in August 1905.”

The World War I made the generals regain the glory of the Wellington days in defining the high interests of the Empire. On April 13, 1919, a brigadier named Dyre shot dead 379 and wounded 1,500 citizens in cold blood at a Bhaisakhi Mela at the Jallianwala Bgh in Amritsar. Winston Churchill describes the massacre: “The Indians were ‘packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies’; the people ‘ran madly this way and the other’. When fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground. This was continued for eight or 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.”

He proudly told his superiors that he had been ‘confronted by a revolutionary army,’ and had been obliged ‘to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.’ A commission of inquiry was instituted.  The brigadier was promoted to the rank of major-general and placed on the inactive list.

The 1920s began with the brutal suppression of the Moplahs’ protests, (described by Mahatma Gandhi as a freedom struggle) in Kerala. The official figures were 43 troops killed against 3,000 Moplahs. Unofficial sources describe Moplah casualties to be as many as 10,000.  The violent suppression of protests termed “riots” between 1924 and 1928 throughout India frequently required the army to play a decisive role.  Later, when the huge protests turned non-violent under the command of Gandhi, the troops were on call all the time. Gandhi when confined in Birla palace as a prisoner was guarded by the gora fauj.

The massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh, the extreme action to suppress the Moplas and keeping the army on call at the time of the “riots”, and during the Congress agitations under Gandhi showed the weakened authority of the Raj during World War II. Confronted with the power of the people, the governor general and Viceroy Field Marshal Wavell advised that either five additional divisions of British troops should be provided or independence should be conceded. Another military man, Admiral of the fleet Mountbatten was chosen to perform the formal rites of the departure of the British troops. The military had conquered India and the military surrendered. Not for a day in its 200 years history, the British Raj had allowed elected representatives of the Indians to oversee or share the direction of the apparatus of the state which dealt with the internal and external security of the country.

The civil executive as sovereign

On August 14, 1947, Britain handed over sovereign power of two parts of British India to then Governor-General Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Constituent Assembly. The transfer was only notional. The century old imperial apparatus of the state, comprising of civil and military services (hereinafter called the Combine) continued to retain full powers under the law to undertake military action, put citizens in prison, collect revenues and administer day-to-day working of the government.

Our military had inherited General Kitchener’s mindset that the army was the ultimate protector of security. In times of crisis, the civil executive had a subordinate position and the people had no role. The first commander-in-chief of Pakistan, a British national, confirmed his superior status over the civil authority and refused to carry out a specific order of Jinnah.

For years after independence, the man in the street held the military in high regard for the services rendered during the partition days and as the defender of the country’s borders against India. Jinnah passed away in 1948 and then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was murdered in 1951. With their removal from the scene, the civil executive services exercised its authority with unashamed daring, often in defiance of the constitution, as if it was sovereign and was answerable to none. The elected representatives of the people had little or no say in exercising power in the assemblies or in governance. Many were bribed and intimidated. Members of parliament performed as advised by ministers or officers of the government. The people of Pakistan had no role in governance.

During the course of the next six years, the Combine dismissed Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin, dismissed the first sovereign constituent assembly, a number of elected provincial assemblies and chief ministers, dismissed their service-mate, Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad; enthroned and dethroned prime ministers eight times and abrogated the 1956 Constitution. The so-called political government, under the direction of the civil executive officers, through the use of force, annexed the territories of Balochistan in defiance of the agreement the Baloch sardars had with the British Crown, without giving its people any share in governance. The army backed the civil executive in their illegal and undemocratic deeds. Indeed, Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan served the civil-officer-turned-president as defence minister from 1954-55.

During the first 11 years, the people of Pakistan rated the government of the civil executive worse than what they had experienced during the Raj. The availability of vast assets left by the Hindu and Sikh evacuees for distribution among refugees pouring into Pakistan proved to be a booty around which the nexus between ministers, political figures and civil executive officers came into being. Deeds of corruption, nepotism and favouritism burst forth like leaves in the spring.

The people, still unsettled and unsure, often protested. The civil service and its allies, landlords, traders and mullahs responded by banning political parties, curbing all types of freedom, putting under surveillance political activists figures, trade union leaders, office-holders of the association of farmers, bodies of poets and authors and opened the doors of torture chambers. Protesting industrial workers and peasants were subjected to violence. Many political workers were dubbed as communists and locked in prison. The gulf in the social contract between the state and the people was wide open when the military decided to intervene.

The rise of the military


On October 28, 1958 commander-in-chief of the army, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, deposed President Iskander Mirza and assumed sovereign power over Pakistan as president and chief martial law administrator. In 1962, as a usurper of sovereignty, “I, Field Marshal Ayub Khan …” promulgated a constitution and got himself elected as sovereign through a pliant electoral college. The 1962 Constitution imposed a presidential system of government. The newly-created Doctrine of Necessity empowered the head of the military, to dismiss the government, dissolve parliament, retire judges and amend the constitution.

Ayub Khan’s constitution made the election process farcical. The cultural traditions of the people and the election laws coupled with the clout, influence and secret funds made possible for the Combine to make any person of its choice win or lose elections. The test came soon in the 1965 presidential elections. Miss Fatima Jinnah, a highly popular leader, decided to contest against Ayub Khan, the candidate of the Combine. Despite colossal vote-stealing, Ayub Khan won only by a questionable lead in West Pakistan, having lost in the more populous eastern wing. The election victory of the leader of the Combine in 1965 gave the Combine with a fig leaf of legitimacy which the international community recognised.

The new dispensation of the exercise of authority under the 1962 Constitution deprived the people of Pakistan of any possible share in governance. Their right to vote for an electoral college in the election process only enabled them to elect one out of several members of the ruling elite to a parliament of the ruling elite to serve the interests of the ruling elites. The media was muzzled. The structure of governance founded by Ayub Khan effectively silenced the voice of liberals and the Left.

The 17-day 1965 war with India, followed by a peace deal signed in 1966, brought bad news for the Combine. For four months the Combine had asserted, and people had believed it, that Pakistan had performed better than India in the war. The peace agreement at Tashkent came as a great shock to the people of Pakistan. By October 1968, the people had started to protest in the streets against Ayub Khan. They burnt down public transport, smashed traffic lights, and threw stones, while police responded by lathi-charges, teargas shelling and gunfire. Thousands were arrested and hundreds were killed in the encounters between the people and the military regime.

Faced with the prospects of a massive uprising in the country, the Combine assessed that it would be unable to quell, the Combine decided to change its leader. Ayub Khan abdicated and handed over the leadership to General Yahya Khan in March 1969, violating his hand-given constitution. The new leader announced general elections in order to give legitimacy to the rule of the combine. However, so great was the antagonism and hatred between the people and the State that the people completely thwarted General Yahya Khan’s Machiavellian scheme. The mass uprising of the people in East Pakistan, helped by Indian intervention, forced the civil and military forces of the Combine to abject surrender. The people of East Pakistan emerged as citizens of the new state of Bangladesh.

Following the 1971 war, the prestige and power of the Combine in the western wing evaporated in the cold December air. A mob in Peshawar burnt down the personal residence of General Yahya Khan as civil officers of the executive and police stood silently by Lt-General Gul Hassan and air force Chief Air Marshal Rahim — the leaders of the rebellion in the military against Yahya Khan and his coterie invited Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to head a new government.

The military loses and regains clout


Within hours of his arrival in Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had won the largest number of seats in the 1970 elections took over as chief marshal law administrator and president on December 20, 1971.

Unfortunately, Bhutto declined to change the structure of governance of the country which gave political, social and physical power to the Combine (civil and military services). On July 5, 1977 General Ziaul Haq deposed Bhutto and executed him on April 4, 1979. Zia unleashed a reign of terror by hanging people in public and inflicting scores of thousands of lashes on the backs of political activists. He also brutally suppressed the uprising by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Sindh in 1984. This reign of terror cost the Combine hugely in prestige and clout.

Unidentified enemies killed Ziaul Haq in an air crash on August 18, 1988. The Vice-Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg succeeded Ziaul Haq and ordered general elections. Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples Party emerged as the largest single party in the elections. The general approved the swearing in of Benazir as prime minister on three conditions: first, the military will remain independent with regard to its own affairs; second, the prime minister shall have no jurisdiction over the nuclear programme; third, the veteran civil service executive Ghulam Ishaq Khan, former finance minister and senate chairman would be the president, Yaqub Khan, a retired general, will continue as foreign minister and VA Jaffery, a senior civil servant will be the administrative head of the finance ministry.

The Combine deposed Benazir in 1991 through political manipulation, rigged elections and brought in Mian Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister. However Nawaz Sharif could not perform and he too was shown the gate in 1993. Faced by limited choice, the Combine once again called Benazir to serve as prime minister. Once again, her performance was below the mark set by the Combine, who removed her in 1996 and ordered fresh elections, the fourth in a period of eight years. Apparently, not-so-clever management of the election exercise by the Combine awarded Nawaz Sharif a large majority in the National Assembly.

Erroneously, Nawaz Sharif assessed that a large majority in the parliament amounted to his becoming a sovereign. His head turned. Recklessly, he rushed constitutional amendments to bump up his authority. He showed his contempt for the judiciary by sending his strongmen to raid the Supreme Court. Nawaz also forced the head of the Combine, Army Chief General Jahangir Karamat, to resign.

In the eyes of the Combine, Nawaz Sharif had become too big for his boots. He was dismissed, arrested and later exiled as he attempted to dismiss another head of the Combine, General Pervez Musharraf. With this, the Combine exhausted its options, for the time being, to use politicos as prime minister. On October 12, 1999 General Pervez Musharraf assumed the title of Chief Executive Officer to preside over the government.

By 2007, the chief patron of Pakistan, the US, assessed that the Combine under Musharraf had become weak and required a political shot in its arm. A deal was arranged between Musharraf and Benazir. The latter agreed to come to the help of the Combine on the condition that all criminal and civil cases against her, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and other accomplices, pending in the courts of law, would stand withdrawn and all convictions pardoned. The deal was signed, sealed and delivered through the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance of 2007. However, the accord soured before it could be put into operation.

The Leaders Fiddle as Pakistan Burns

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, a few moths later General Pervez Musharraf had to put himself on the retired list.  Fortunately for the Combine, the traumatic shockwaves of the mind boggling and horrific murder of Benazir got dampened with the announcement that her college going son Bilawal would succeed her as the head of her political party and her husband Asif Ali Zardari would act as the regent and co-chairman of her political party.  Fresh elections were held and a Zardari-Gilani government was sworn in an uncertain internal and external turbulent environment which has further deteriorated during the last two years.

With the armed forces at war in the Northwest Fronrier Region and the American drones picking up targets at will, high prices, high rates of unemployment, non availability of essential supplies and the breakdown of the system of electricity and fuel supplies and above all the failure of the administrative machinery of the state to protect life and property of the citizens has brought the country to the brink of uprising.  Anti-social and anti-state elements mount attacks on the police and military, blow up train tracks, electricity and gas transmission facilities and explode internal explosive devices in the most alarming manner.  Every day citizens in general and professional groups such as lawyers, journalists and doctors are out on the street protesting against the prevailing conditions. The desperate and depressed poverty stricken among the masses are committing suicides in large numbers.  Money and guns are the principal currencies of social intercourse.  The looters and grabbers hold the country in their grip.  One lives and holds on to what one owns for his turn has not yet come.

The police, normally a protector of the life, property and dignity of citizens has to be busy protecting itself.  Free and Fair Election Network data published in the Daily Times of 17 August, 2010, reveals that during October 15, 2009 and May 31, 2010, out of eight hundred and eight incidents of political violence in the country, 5700 were victims, 921 were killed, 3732 were injured and 63 were kidnapped.  The number of daily killings, dacoities, kidnappings, bomb blasts, crimes against women, children, and brutal attacks on the minority communities loudly announce the stark absence of the state authority. 

The lack of an effective system of justice is another serious blow.  Nearly 1.5 million cases were pending before the courts in January 2010.  While prisons in Pakistan are terribly overcrowded the rich and the powerful being above the law can rarely be found in any confinement. 

Since December last the government of Pakistan is blatantly defying the writ of the Supreme Court. 

Within two years the public image of the government is in mud.  The president of the country is best known at home and abroad as Mr Ten Percent.  The members of the parliament are best known for enriching themselves.  A recent report by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency revealed that the average value of the assets of a Member of the National Assembly (MNAs) has increased three fold from Rs 27 million to Rs 81 million during the past six years.   While an unskilled worker is paid Rs 6000 to 8000 a month, approximately a thousand legislators get paid nearly half a million rupees per month.  As reported by The News of June 7, 2010, the total expenditure in maintaining the secretariats, households, health services, gardens, traveling and facilitation of the president and prime minister is about a billion rupees per annum and this excludes the expenditure on foreign frequent foreign trips.

The virus of corruption has infected the vitals of the polity.  Talking to The News, veteran senior lawyer of Islamabad, Wahabul Khairi confirmed that he resubmitted before the Supreme Court Bench a list of political figures who received Rs 59.35 million by the Inter Services Intelligence Service to influence the 1996 general elections.  Nearly all industrial, financial or services enterprises owned fully or partially by the state are tainted by scandals and scams. 

What Can be Done?

As Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822), the self-proclaimed legislator of the world observed: The world is weary of the past, /Oh, might it die or rest at last !

The Combine and its ward the political elites, have the obligation to rescue the country and themselves from the steep downhill slope of the system of  tottering governance. 

The saga of exercising sovereignty, since 1947 by the military and civil services (the Combine), described in the last four articles of this series clearly leads one to conclude that the Combine miserably failed to provide Pakistan with a truly democratic and egalitarian state.

The Civil Executive of Pakistan dissolved the Sovereign Constituent Assembly in 1954, abrogated the 1956 constitution and appointed and dismissed 8 prime ministers in a span of six years.  It was so naïve in understanding the nature of sovereign power that on one occasion the Cabinet of Pakistan was guided into writing a letter to London to determine the scale of crockery and cutlery at 10 Downing Street so that it could decide what Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s should be provided with.

The military exercised undiluted sovereign authority for 33 years and in its desperate quest for legitimacy shared it for 14 years with nominated and pliant politicos, confirming the observation of the great historian Edward Gibbon “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive”.

No longer available to the Combine is the option of yet another unconstitutional intervention with or without the help of politicos, unless it wants to invite general uprising and face the wrath of power of the people in the cities and the country side.  Not withstanding any contrary advice of the U.S. the Combine cannot afford any repetition of its fatal past mistakes.

So, what can be done?  The options available are limited.  Two vital tasks stare Pakistan in the face.  The first: the direly needed protection of life, property and dignity of citizens, known in the imperial parlance as the restoration of law and order.  The second:  What should be the form of a new social contract between the people and the state?  

The authority under the prevailing law, to maintain peace and tranquility, to enforce law and order, stamp out goonda-gardi, check corrupt practices does not rest with MPAs, MNAs, ministers, chief ministers, governors, prime minister or president.  It rests solely with the district officers and the oversight of the judiciary.  To put the country back on the rails of good governance, the authority must be handed back where it belongs under the law.  The members of the provincial assemblies and parliament should confine themselves to legislate and barred from trying to run the districts. 

As a purely temporary measure, the government should appoint from senior, serving and retired, civil service officers known for integrity and patriotism who pledge to enforce the law without fear or favour and put them in charge of the districts with the powers of district magistrate and collector and such powers as they had under the repealed defence of Pakistan rules (except the powers to curtail the basic freedoms of the media and of detention of citizens without trial). The discretionary powers of the ministers to relax rules and regulations should be held in abeyance.  The task of bringing peace and tranquillity to a very large number of districts should take a maximum of three years.  The other districts where political factors are involved will require the settlement of their political demands for self-rule and autonomy. 

At the same time we must not forget that under the British, the rule of the district officers helped by the military after the end of World War I was largely responsible for the demise of the British Raj.  Pakistan has to find a new sovereign to maintain peace and order in the districts and its precincts, tehsils, towns and cities.  

In the developed western democracies, locally elected bodies, and not the provincial, state or national legislatures, their members nor the officers of the state are responsible to exercise the sovereign power necessary to maintain peace.  The police work under local elected bodies and members of the public assist the court as jury.  Why can not Pakistan take the same route?