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Pakistan Table of Contents




Soldiers on parade
Courtesy Embassy of Pakistan, Washington

The Colonial Background

At its creation in 1947, Pakistan looked back on two traditions while seeking to reject a third. One was the more than 100 years of British colonial rule that radically reshaped the superstructure of the subcontinent and was the door to modernity. The other inheritance, the Muslim conquest and dominance from the thirteenth century to the nineteenth century, provided the Islamic factor that led to the partition of India and shaped modern-day Pakistan. The Muslim conquest also offered a useful mythology of exaggerated Islamic military prowess and dominance. The tradition that the new nation rejected and sought to leave behind was that of largely Hindu India. Indeed, differentiation from that heritage was the raison d'Ítre of Pakistan, yet it remains important, for much of Pakistan's cultural heritage is shared with India. India also remains the primary preoccupation of Pakistan's foreign policy and security concerns.

The country's British heritage has played the greatest role in shaping the often amorphous military tradition of the Muslim period into streamlined modern forces. Beginning in the earliest days of the East India Company (chartered in 1600), native guards were hired by the British to protect trading posts. As time went by, these troops were given additional training and were organized under British officers into the armies of the company's presidencies at Calcutta (Fort William), Madras (Fort St. George), and Bombay. In 1748 the presidency armies were brought under the command of Major Stringer Lawrence, who subsequently became known as the father of the British Indian Army. A series of military reforms, first undertaken by Robert Clive in the mideighteenth century, continued through the first half of the nineteenth century as the British Parliament asserted increasing control over the East India Company and its military arm. Part of the legacy that shaped the British Indian Army was the growing understanding that civil and military spheres of activity were distinct and that each must respect the other but that ultimate control rested with the civilian power, whether in later times the governor general or the local district magistrate. The role of the military was to give "aid-to-the-civil power."

The critical event in the evolution of the British Indian Army was the uprising of 1857-58--known as the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion by British historians and sometimes as the First War of Independence by later Indian nationalists--when troops in north-central India, Muslim and Hindu alike, rose up against the British (see The Seeds of Muslim Nationalism , ch. 1). Some bonds of loyalty held, but many Indian troops slaughtered both their British leaders and hapless civilians. With the help of Indian troops who did not join the rebellion--especially Sikhs and Muslims from the Punjab--the mutineers were put down with a violence that matched the atrocities that they had committed.

The bond between Indian and Briton had been broken, and a rethinking of British military policy in India was set in motion. East India Company rule was abolished, and direct British rule-- the British Raj--was instituted in 1858. Emphasis was put on recruiting in areas where disaffection was least and where the British discerned the existence of "martial races" (ethnic groups) noted for their military tradition, lack of political sophistication, and demonstrated loyalty. By these criteria, the most fertile area for recruitment was in the Punjab region of northwestern India. The Punjabization of the British Indian Army and the assumptions that underlay it would weigh heavily on both the international and the domestic politics of Pakistan once it was created as an independent entity.

The Pakistan Army structure of the early 1990s in many ways bore a close resemblance to the British Indian Army structure at the end of the nineteenth century. During that period, recruitment into individual, homogeneous regiments depended on class and caste, rather than on territory. Over time, these regiments became sources of immense pride to the men who served in them and to the ethnic group from which they were frequently recruited. Service in a specific regiment passed from father to son; the eventual shift from British to Pakistani rule went with hardly a ripple in the structure except for the change in nationality of the senior officer corps.

The British experimented with various forms of recruitment and of elevation to officer rank. During the period between the two world wars (1919-39), the British trained Indian officers to command at least Indian troops, and training establishments were set up to produce an indigenous officer corps. A small number of officer candidates were sent to Britain to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst; after 1932 the majority of candidates were trained at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun.

A rank that predated that of the native officer was the viceroy's commissioned officer--an Indian who had risen from the ranks and performed officer functions (except for commanding officer), especially at the company level. The viceroy's commissioned officer came from the same social background as did the troops in his unit and performed a dual function: for the troops, he was a role model and figure of respect to whom they could turn for advice; he was also an invaluable intermediary between the troops and the British officer who commanded them.

The British Indian Army came under immense stress during both world wars, when it was rapidly expanded and deployed abroad to wherever the British Empire appeared threatened. During World War I, nearly 750,000 Indian troops were recruited for service; some 36,000 were killed, and twice as many were wounded. The troops generally acquitted themselves well, and their contribution was used as an arguing point by Indian nationalist politicians who sought greater autonomy for their country.

The army encountered a different kind of stress during the interwar period and beyond, when it was called on to suppress the growing wave of nationalist resistance. This use of Indian personnel alienated the nationalist leaders, especially those of the Indian National Congress, who would become the leaders of India in 1947. The problem was much less serious in what was to become Pakistan. Indeed, during the "Quit India" movement during World War II, when the British sought to crush Congress with special vigor because of its resistance to the war, the All-India Muslim League and the army supported the British cause (see Toward Partition , ch. 1).

During World War II, the British Indian Army (together with the small Royal Indian Navy and Royal Indian Air Force) grew to meet imperial requirements, expanding from essentially a constabulary force of 175,000 to a mass army of more than 2 million. This growth meant appointing many Indians as officers, who received only short training courses, and general recruitment in areas of the country where "martial" spirit had not been discerned before. Once again, Indian troops performed loyally and effectively, even while the country was in political turmoil.

Data as of April 1994

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Pakistan Table of Contents