From Guns to Cereal, Military Dominates Pakistan Sixty years ago, Pakistan was born when British India was split in two. Pakistan's military emerged as the guardian of the young Muslim state and soon turned to the United States for aid. The army continues to dominate Pakistan, from its government to its economy.
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From Guns to Cereal, Military Dominates Pakistan

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From Guns to Cereal, Military Dominates Pakistan

From Guns to Cereal, Military Dominates Pakistan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Pakistanis celebrated 60 years of independence today with fireworks, flags and a moment of silence for the hundreds of thousands who died in riots at their country's birth.


We're marking the occasion with a weeklong series on Pakistan. And today we look at the powerful military that's ruled this nation more often than not since it appeared on the map in 1947. To create Pakistan, British India was split in two, with the idea that Pakistan would be for Muslims and India for Hindus.

MONTAGNE: At independence, Pakistan inherited two things that would spell conflict for years to come - a large army and borders that were in a dispute. Within a year, Pakistan was at war with India over who ruled the region of Kashmir. And very quickly the army emerged as both the military and political guardian of the Muslim state.

Husain Haqqani is the director of Boston University's Center for International Relations. We turned to him for a brief history. He says the army's early power became entrenched with help from the West.

Mr. HUSAIN HAQQANI (Boston University): Pakistan, because it needed money and resources for its military, turned to the West and became an American ally very early in its history. Whereas India said we will remain non-aligned in the Cold War. So Cold War factors came into play. The United States ended up putting a lot of resources into Pakistan's military. And to this day the fact remains that whenever Pakistan has had civilian government, it has received less U.S. aid than when it has been under military government. So the military's role has continued to grow.

MONTAGNE: How would you weigh it if you had a scale? How much of western support kept Pakistan's military in a position of power and how much of it was the inability of Pakistan's civilian leadership to shake off the power of the military?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, for one thing, the military has ruled Pakistan for longer than the civilian leaders have. Secondly, even if in the United States the military decides that it's not going to obey civilian leaders and it's going to undermine them, which thank God has never happened, it would be very difficult to maintain a democracy.

The biggest problem from the Pakistani military's point of view in having a democracy in Pakistan is that the democratic leaders want to spend more on education, on health care, because that's where the votes are. And so while Pakistanis brought the line for a long time that Pakistan has an existential threat and therefore should have a strong military, they also wanted a lot of other things to happen in the country. And the civilians and the military have always disagreed about what should be the primary focus of the Pakistani state and government. The civilians want to spend more on the social sectors. The military wants to continue not only to spend on better equipment but for more privileges for itself.

So if you go to Pakistan, the best neighborhoods are the military neighborhoods. They are called defense housing estates. Nowhere else in the world does the military get involved in large-scale business as the Pakistani military has.

MONTAGNE: Right. There's a new book on Pakistan's military called "Military Inc.," which is fascinating because it lays out the level of influence and how deep it goes into the society down to, what, the military owns companies that make cereal.

Mr. HAQQANI: Absolutely. In fact, the only Pakistani-made cereal is made by a company that is run by a foundation that is under the military. It's supposed to benefit army veterans. But the fact remains that they manage that by not allowing competition in the cereal sector. They manufacture sugar. They have a bank. They have insurance companies.

Because the military is running the government, these institutions, these business institutions, can have privileged conditions. And so they are not open to free market forces and competition, which undermines the growth of Pakistan's economy as a free market economy. And therefore it creates many tensions, unfortunately. In Pakistan people sometimes get angry and say we don't want to support an army that dominates us. Although if the army was not so entrenched in business and politics, people would always look up to their army.

MONTAGNE: But it doesn't seem that Pakistan feels, in most places, militarized.

Mr. HAQQANI: Oh, actually Pakistan's militarization is relatively subtle. For example, this whole phenomenon of jihadism, where you have militias, many of whom are running amok and are totally out of control, as happened with the new - with the recent Red Mosque incident in Islamabad, these people are actually an extension of Pakistan's militarization. Because what happened in the 1960s was that the Pakistani military realized that however much it might spend and however much it might strengthen itself, it will never be able to compete dollar-for-dollar, weapon system for weapon system, with India.

So therefore they decided that one of the easiest ways of increasing Pakistan's military potential was to cultivate an ideology of jihadism and create these small militias that would keep India engaged in a long-term conflict for a long time in a proxy war. And that was (unintelligible) Kashmir during the 1990s.

Now, of course a lot of that experience had been gained fighting the Soviets through the Afghan Mujahideen or Afghan freedom fighters, as they were called at that time, and who later on mutated into becoming the Taliban, who were also a similar bunch of ideologically motivated guerilla fighters. And that has contributed to terrorism, which is now one of Pakistan's biggest problems.

MONTAGNE: So how did this play into the way in which the army and even President Musharraf acted after September 11th?

Mr. HAQQANI: If you read General Musharraf's book, called "In The Line of Fire," he actually says it in so many words. He says I war-gamed after the United States came to me and said either you are with us or against us. And I realized that there was more benefit in being with the U.S. than being against them. So basically he took a U-turn and the Pakistan army agreed that a U-turn had to be taken in dumping the Taliban and allying with the United States. But the point is, can the Titanic be moved in a narrow stream on short notice? And the Pakistan army is a behemoth. It's a large institution, more than 600,000 people, and not all of them are going to turn at the command of General Musharraf ideologically and philosophically, which is why General Musharraf has had so much difficulty in implementing his U-turn.

MONTAGNE: Husain Haqqani is the author of "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. HAQQANI: A pleasure being here.

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