Perils of a ‘Garrison State’
Dr. Ishtiaq’s book analyzes historical records to show what actually ails this country.
Book Title: Pakistan: The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011
Author: Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2013
Pages: 508, Hardbound
The genesis and evolution of Pakistan remains an enigma for historians and political scientists. Voluminous work produced on the subject since the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 seeks to explain the interplay of two interwoven and interlinked factors behind the turbulent state – religion and militarism. The political use of ‘religion’ to demand a separate homeland for the Muslims and its later abuse by the military establishment with the help of the clergy, to capture power and establish a ‘Garrison State’ is, in a nutshell, the story of Pakistan, revealed by renowned political scientist, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed in his book Pakistan: The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011.
The book presents and analyzes historical records – largely shrouded in mystery and distorted by vested interests – to show what actually ails this country, the sixth most populous in the world, having a geostrategic location that can’t be ignored by global and regional powers.
An impression, rather misconception, emanates from some published reviews that it is just
another work on the same pattern as produced by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa in 2007, namely, Military Inc. It appears that the majority of the people haven’t read the book and are misled by its title alone. Unfortunately, the intelligentsia – if we really have any in Pakistan – has yet not initiated the debate and dialogue that this significant work deserves. This is the only rational and dependable study so far which traces the historical evolution of Pakistan and its pitfalls as ‘a fortress of Islam’, and also presents practicable solutions for making it a viable state.
The author, in this meticulously-researched and thematically focused work, has explored the evolution of Pakistan from a weak state to a selfproclaimed “fortress of Islam” – a concept that proved fallacious after its dismemberment in 1971, yet still insisted upon by many. Dr. Ishtiaq’s work is based on a conceptual and theoretical framework that combines the notion of a post-colonial state and Harold Lasswell’s concept of a Garrison State. In the very first chapter entitled, ‘The Fortress of Islam: A metaphor for a Garrison State’, the author has shown how a state famished at the time of its birth transformed
into a nuclear power despite facing multiple crises – political, economic, social and religious, etc.
This work is a sophisticated study that explains why Pakistan emerged as a garrison state during the Cold War. It goes far beyond the political economy of the military establishment about which Ayesha Siddiqa wrote. The theory has been elaborated in great detail by Dr. Ishtiaq. It talks about how the garrison state dominance over all other institutions is vested with the army. The military hierarchy, since the days of Ayub Khan, was, and still is, a “favorite” of the United States and its allies. Its rise to this level of power is propelled both by internal and external factors and historical reasons in which the military interests of the United States on the fall of the British Empire in this region played a vital role. Branding and marketing of Pakistan as a ‘frontline state’ by its founding fathers has been properly documented by the author and has created a furor in circles which never accept the truth.
The history of the garrison state, as narrated and analyzed by Dr. Ishtiaq, explodes many myths, unveils many facts, depicts the true events and
exposes many faces that ultimately rendered this “fortress of Islam” into a “CIA Headquarter” during the socalled Afghan Jihad, making it a “breeding ground of terrorism.” The allies and holy warriors of the past are now dangerously poised against the United States and its allies, neighbors and democratic societies, which are under threat from religious fanatics who ruthlessly resort to violent attacks.
In this comprehensive study, the author has skillfully presented the bizarre twists and turns of events in a straightforward manner and has successfully exposed the myth of this ‘fortress of Islam’. The lesson is very bitter: the perpetrators of terrorism have ultimately fallen victim to it. Dr. Ishtiaq has remarkably traced the journey of the garrison state that started from falling in the lap of the United States to armed conflicts with India, from martial laws to the birth of Bangladesh, from follies of political leaders to the brutal “Islamization” of Zia and from the corruption of elected governments to the proliferation of terrorism. This, he rightly judges is the path of self-deception and selfannihilation. He justifiably deplores the attitude of conspiracy-mongers who shift the blame to outsiders rather than admitting their own mistakes.
While succinctly highlighting future challenges after the exit of the international forces from Afghanistan, and the growing religious fanaticism and terrorism in and around Pakistan, Dr. Ishtiaq realistically conveys that nothing will change unless the garrison state paves the way for a secular and democratic state. It is an incontrovertible fact that in Pakistan, either directly or indirectly, political power has always been with the army. A handful of generals decide what is in the “best interest” of the country – Balochistan is a case in point. From the economic matrix to the foreign policy paradigm, they are the real decision-
makers. This is the real malady of being a garrison state. Dr. Ishtiaq has painstakingly traced the roots and causes of this malady in an objective and unbiased way. Unlike many other writers, he has not resorted to a blame game – fixing responsibility of the debacle on a particular institution or a political party or a class. However, in the final analysis, facts show that it is a collective failure. No doubt, the ruling classes – controlled by the custodians of the garrison state – committed blunder after blunder and are mainly responsible for the present pathetic state of affairs.
The tragedy of the garrison state is that its de facto rulers and the cronies working for them, do not care about the aspirations of the people and have done nothing worthwhile for the less privileged. This attitude leads to a suicidal path. To overcome this dilemma, the author has reached the conclusion: “It is, therefore, imperative that the stakeholders in the Pakistan power equation – especially the military – work out a long-term policy and strategy that can create stability, peace and prosperity within Pakistan as well as help normalize relations with its neighbors - provided they, too, nurture similar aspirations”.
No one would disagree with Dr. Ishtiaq. His work holds hope for Pakistan. What the country needs is that the forces that matter come out of their self-assumed notions like “custodians of ideological fronts” and “fortress of Islam”. This work should be an eye-opener for them. The stakeholders, especially the army, should initiate a meaningful dialogue for converting this garrison state into a modern, democratic country. As established by Dr. Ishtiaq, this is the only road to salvation.
The writer, a Supreme Court lawyer and well-known author, is adjunct faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).