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The Armed Forces in a New World Order

The Zia era ended as it had begun, with a Bhutto in power, for Benazir's party emerged with a narrow victory. Her position was much different from that of her father. She became prime minister under a constitution that left great power in the hands of the president, her parliamentary majority was narrow, and the army was strong, self-confident, and unwilling to renounce its political role. As the price of power, Benazir had to negotiate an arrangement with President Ishaq Khan and General Beg by which she reportedly promised to keep Zia's constitutional changes and to limit her involvement in military affairs, including management of the fighting in Afghanistan and nuclear weapons policy.

Several times Benazir ineffectually challenged the armed forces and the president on military matters. She was never able to find a comfortable relationship with these other two major players of the triangle of political power in Pakistan. She showed interest in improving relations with India but had little scope to take concrete steps. She skillfully cultivated her good ties to Washington, but overall her performance as prime minister was disappointing, and when the president--with the obvious backing of the army--dismissed her in August 1990 and called for new elections, there was little opposition.

The elections brought to power the Islamic Democratic Alliance (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad--IJI), a coalition that enjoyed the implicit support of both the president and the armed forces. Punjab's chief minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, a businessman and protégé of Zia, became prime minister. Although the dismissal of Benazir had been against the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitution, the new power arrangement seemed to offer Pakistan favorable prospects for stable representative rule because the three power centers were all in apparent alignment, and Nawaz Sharif represented the interests of the Punjabi majority. The arrangement worked adequately for some time, and when General Beg's time for retirement as chief of the army staff came, he did not attempt to force an extension of his tour of duty.

Beg's replacement, General Asif Nawaz Janjua, was a much lower-profile leader and sought to lead the army away from corruption and toward a renewed emphasis on professionalism and a sensible adaptation to the post-Cold War realities of Pakistan's strategic position. The army, however, was drawn into politics in May 1992 when the law and order situation in Sindh deteriorated so badly that the provincial government invited the army to restore public order under Article 147 of the constitution. Although the army could not solve Sindh's many problems, it made significant progress in combatting the cycle of terror, banditry, and kidnapping that had plagued the province. The army stopped short of imposing martial law, but it intervened in the politics of the province and, in the process, moved against political allies of Nawaz Sharif, the IJI coalition prime minister, who was already at odds with the president.

General Janjua died suddenly in January 1993, and President Ishaq Khan used his prerogative to reach well down the list of lieutenant generals to appoint Abdul Waheed, a highly regarded officer without apparent political aspirations. Waheed seemed to fit Pakistani political scientist Mohammad Waseem's description as "the transition from a group of conservative generals led by Zia who were inspired by Islamic ideals to a relatively liberal and modernist generation of military officers who have positive attitudes toward Western-style democracy."

Waheed was quickly called upon to demonstrate his commitment to democratic process. When a power struggle between the president and the prime minister in April 1993 resulted in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ouster, the military resisted the temptation to take charge during the ensuing period of political turmoil. In July, Waheed brokered a settlement in which both the prime minister and the president resigned, a neutral caretaker government was appointed, and new elections were scheduled for October (see "The Silent Revolution": A Year of Political Struggle, ch. 4).

There remained different points of view within the officer corps, almost all of whom had little respect for politicians and feared that an incompetent civilian leader might irreparably damage their core values--the integrity of the military and the security of Pakistan. Some officers were politically ambitious and had found their period of power under Zia rewarding-- financially and otherwise. Many, however, believed that any political activity, whether in the context of martial law or in the context of helping elected leaders deal with crises caused by politicians' ineptitude, undermined discipline and morale and detracted from the ability of the armed forces to perform military missions. Retired General Shaukat Riza, describing an earlier period of martial law observed: "After a short period of hot, righteous action, military men succumb to setting their mark on whatever is served up to them. Martial Law is disarmed, leaving in its wake a debris of shattered dreams and wasting social order."

On balance, the army preferred to avoid direct involvement unless the political order threatened to collapse completely. The crucial question for Pakistan's political future was in the shaping of the middle ground. Should the armed forces simply be recognized as having a voice in Pakistan's politics, or should their role be formally institutionalized? Zia's attempts to do the latter through creation of a National Security Council had been successfully resisted by Junejo, but the question remained central to Pakistan's security as well as to its politics.

The external relations of the military deteriorated sharply in the post-Zia period because of the collapse of Pakistan's relationship with the United States. President George Bush determined in October 1990 that he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons and, as required by the Pressler Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, terminated all United States assistance to Pakistan that was not already in the pipeline. Pakistan handled the cutoff with little public rancor and committed itself to freezing the nuclear program in an attempt to placate the United States. Washington permitted such commercial purchases as spare parts for aircraft and the continued joint naval and special forces exercises, but such key items as fighter aircraft on order were kept in abeyance. Further, the United States moved to reclaim nine ships that were on loan--about half of Pakistan's surface fleet.

In late 1993, the administration of President William J. Clinton, citing what it considered to be asymmetrical treatment accorded to Pakistan and India over their respective nuclear programs, proposed revising the Pressler Amendment and certain "country-specific" sections of the Foreign Assistance Act. The administration argued that by the time nuclear nonproliferation provisions had been added to the Foreign Assistance Act, India had already acquired the capability to build nuclear weapons and thus Pakistan had borne the brunt of most United States sanctions. In early 1994, the administration withdrew its proposal to revise the amendment because of strong criticism from a number of influential members of Congress, including Senator Pressler himself. In March the administration was reported as "floating" a proposal for releasing to Pakistan up to twenty- eight F-16 fighter aircraft--already paid for and part of a long- standing commercial order but undeliverable because of the Pressler Amendment. The proposal, which was certain to be challenged in the United States Congress, was to be part of a broader initiative to get India and Pakistan to halt their production of weapons-grade nuclear material and to discourage them from deploying surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

The impact on Pakistan's military readiness by the United States decision to halt assistance has been described by observers as near catastrophic, but even more important than the money and equipment involved was the strategic signal sent by the aid cutoff. As long as Pakistan was in the front line of opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States found ways of continuing its aid despite Pakistan's nuclear program. Once the Soviet forces left Afghanistan and the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist, Pakistan's importance dwindled. Whatever limited successes Pakistan may have had in salvaging parts of the relationship with the United States, it was clear that the end of the Cold War marked the end of Pakistan's strategic role.

The loss of United States support came at a difficult time. Unrest in Indian Kashmir had developed rapidly after 1989, and Pakistan inevitably supplied moral and covert matériel support, thus raising the specter of a new conflict with India. There were serious concerns in early 1990 that a war might break out. At United States prompting, both sides took effective steps to reduce the danger. Neither country wanted a conflict, but Pakistan remained in a quandary because it could not ignore events in Kashmir although it did not have substantial international support for its position. The United States and China made clear their unwillingness to provide political or matériel support to Pakistan, thus increasing still further the latter's sense of isolation.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan removed a potential threat to Pakistan, and the substantial retreat of Russia from the security affairs of the subcontinent offset somewhat the withdrawal of the United States. For the first time since 1947, Pakistan was not concerned about a two-front threat. Further, the emergence of five independent Muslim republics in Central Asia raised hopes that they might become allies and offer Pakistan both the political support and the strategic depth it lacked. As long as Afghanistan was in chaos, Pakistan would lack direct access to the new republics. However, it was still far from certain in the early 1990s whether or not the republics would find Pakistan an interesting political partner.

Approaching the next century, Pakistan faces yet another reconfiguration of the forces that determine its security environment. As Russia, China, and the United States stand back from South Asia, there are fewer constraints on India. Yet other sweeping changes are under way in the international environment. Pakistan remains engaged in its search for outside help to ensure its security. The end of the Cold War was only changed the terms of the problem.

Data as of April 1994

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