Country Listing

Pakistan Table of Contents


Survival in a Harsh Environment

Pakistan is located in a critical and historically contentious part of the world. At the time of independence, it was the world's fifth largest nation. Yet three of its close neighbors (China, India, and the Soviet Union) were larger, more populous, and not necessarily well-intentioned. Pakistan was divided into two wings, East Pakistan (renamed Bangladesh when it became independent in 1971) and West Pakistan. It would soon become apparent that the country, divided by 1,600 kilometers of a hostile India, was also divided by competing ethnic groups with only Islam serving as a tenuous link. Furthermore, West Pakistan was geographically a fairly narrow country, lacking in strategic depth--its main cities and communications arteries lay close to the border with India and thus were vulnerable to attack. Additionally, the headwaters of Pakistan's rivers and vital irrigation systems were largely controlled by India. East Pakistan, except for its Bay of Bengal coast, was also virtually surrounded by India.

There were other security complications. Pakistan's borders with India were new and hence were totally unfortified and, in most places, were drawn in ways that made them almost indefensible. Because the borders were also undemarcated, there was ample opportunity for conflict. Although the military gave border control over to paramilitary forces, the armed forces remained ready for deployment in case of emergency.

Almost all of Pakistan's ethnic groups extended into neighboring countries. This situation caused particular problems with the Afghans, who did not recognize the border as valid and hoped that their new neighbor would be unable to assert its interests.

Security concerns were not limited to the outside world. Despite the euphoria of nationhood, Pakistan was increasingly subject to the same kinds of internal stresses that had characterized British India--fractious tribesmen, dacoits (armed gangs of thieves), and restive cities--and required the army to render aid-to-the-civil power. Even the need to repress nationalist movements recurred as regional groups within Pakistan sought greater autonomy from central control.

Although Pakistan perceived in India a threat to its security, initially it was not able to defend itself against that perceived threat because of limited personnel and matériel. Pakistan therefore had to develop a comprehensive military strategy that would offset at least some of its weaknesses. High hopes were placed on support from other Muslim nations, some of which could help financially and others of which would provide through alliances some of the geostrategic territorial depth that Pakistan lacked. But the emergence of the first state created on the basis of Islam was of relatively little interest to the nations of the Arab world. Britain helped significantly in supplying officers and equipment, but it was itself in an economic crisis and would not alienate India.

The year 1951 marked an important turning point. During a period of political tension, India moved troops toward the frontier in a manner Pakistan interpreted as threatening. The year 1951 also saw the appointment of the first Pakistani commander in chief of the army, Mohammad Ayub Khan, who concentrated on reshaping the Pakistani military. Ayub Khan put special emphasis on training and operational planning, two critical areas in which Pakistan did not depend completely on foreign resources. These tasks, plus reorganization, occupied the attention of the army well into the 1950s. Critical shortages of equipment, however, remained, requiring that Pakistan look abroad for its provisioning.

Data as of April 1994