Edmund Burke on Pakistan and the Loyalty of Armies to the State

Friedrich Leopold Freiherr von Schrötter said of the Prussian Army during the reign of Frederick the Great that ‘Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country.’  Schrötter made this remark in response to the size of the Prussian Army–which then numbered almost 200,000, a puny number, incidentally, compared to the size of twentieth-century and contemporary armies–and its utilization of all Prussian social classes. This quote is quite easily pressed into service when it comes to describing Pakistan, which of all nations in modern times perhaps best meets this description: Army generals in charge of central administration more often than not, a gigantic portion of its budget given over to defense expenditures, the subordination of all democratic institutions to military control, the hijacking of clearly visible, articulated, and pragmatic national priorities by the need to ensure a continued dominant role for the armed forces; the list goes on. (Nowhere is the power and influence of the armed forces in Pakistan more visible than in the cushy retirements that Pakistani senior military personnel enjoy. I recently read the autobiography of a Pakistani Air Force senior commander that begins with him recounting the precise moment when he decided to start writing his memoirs; this inspiration occurred to him at his post-retirement villa in Spain.)

In preparing my syllabus for my Political Philosophy in the fall semester–which I have organized around the theme of ‘Revolution, Counter-Revolution’–I am revisiting Edmund Burke‘s Reflections on the Revolution in France. As I read through it, I was reminded of, and encountered, a passage that while normally regarded as being eerily prescient of the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, could well be pressed into service when it comes to talking about Pakistan:

It is known that armies have hitherto yielded a very precarious and uncertain obedience to any senate or popular authority; and they will least of all yield it to an assembly which is only to have a continuance of two years. The officers must totally lose the characteristic disposition of military men if they see with perfect submission and due admiration the dominion of pleaders; especially when they find that they have a new court to pay to an endless succession of those pleaders, whose military policy, and the genius of whose command (if they should have any), must be as uncertain as their duration is transient. In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.

Note: I am well aware that almost any country with a sufficiently well-developed military industrial complex would meet the description I afford of Pakistan in the first para above. Pakistan distinguished itself by the persistence of military commanders in active positions of political leadership.

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