Pakistan’s destiny is defined by an oligarchical system, eponymously called the ‘establishment’. The genesis of this deep-statist ‘establishment’ were sown in 1958 when President Mirza abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law, only to be exiled by General Ayub Khan within thirteen days.
Since 1958, Pakistani ‘democracy’ has been under direct Military Rule for 33 years (1958-1971, 1978-1989, 1999-2008) and under an equally effective ‘indirect’ rule by the dour generals in the Rawalpindi General Head Quarters (GHQ), for the residual 30 years. This has led to an unsaid — though unmistakable — assertion of the ‘establishment’ in the narrative that protects the predominant institutional interest of the Pakistani Military and its cohorts in civil politics, judiciary, academia, media and the clergy. Led by the incumbent of the sprawling Army House at Rawalpindi, the definitive ‘redlines’ of all sovereign decision are either made or validated, by the ‘establishment’ head, as opposed to the ostensibly senior Prime Minister of Pakistan.
How Pakistan’s ‘Establishment’ Calls the Shots
The sham of the official Warrant of Precedence, that supposedly places the Chief of Army Staff at only Article/Level 6, is belied by the de rigueur pitstop or ‘calling on’ at the Army House, for any international visitor of consequence. Infamously called the ‘State-within-the-State’, the ‘establishment’ makes its own rules, and the current head, General Qamar Bajwa, extended his official tenure by another three years.
Prior to him, General Sharif demitted office only to assume the leadership of the 39-country Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, and before him General Kayani too had extended his official tenure by 3 years, without batting an eyelid.
Often, there are announcements and positions taken by the Prime Minister’s Office or the Senate, and then there are occasional ‘clarifications’ to the contrary issued from Rawalpindi, which confirms who the real McCoy is in Pakistan.
Diplomat Hussain Haqqani, in Reimagining Pakistan, notes coldly, “In the last seventy years, all elected prime ministers have either been assassinated, dismissed or forced to resign by heads of state or the judiciary with military backing, or deposed in coup d’état!”
Why Islamabad Needs Rawalpindi’s Nod
Therefore, all major pronouncements coming out of Islamabad (political capital) are soon followed by all the interested stakeholders turning their heads towards the twin-city of Rawalpindi (read: GHQ) for either a confirmation through an innocuously worded tweet from the DGISPR (Director General Inter Services Public Relations) or through the more telling and chilling silence from across the manicured cantonment, 20 kms down the road.
Various elements of the Pakistani ‘establishment’ enjoy support in popular imagination, galvanised by the muscular-nationalism afforded by the centrality of the ‘apolitical’ Pakistani Military, within it.
While such a framework is intrinsically driven by its own existential concerns and fears, therefore not given to religious extremism within its moorings, it does not shy away from tactically using the jihadi card, to deadly effect.
Why Pakistani Establishment Won’t Allow For Sustained Peace With India
Events like Kargil or the rote spectre of serendipitously-timed terrorist attacks jinxing India-Pakistan ‘talks’ personify the invisible hand of the ‘establishment’ — which does not allow the environment to drift towards a situation that either diminishes or de-legitimises, the necessity of an over-budgeted and over-privileged Pakistani Military.
Sustained peace with India is an unacceptable status for the ‘establishment’.
Therefore, the ‘establishment’ balances and continuously recalibrates its position to not overplay a tactical card (like the terror attack in the Army School killing 120 children), or allow the equally nightmarish situation — that is, continuous peace with India — to perpetuate.
Former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had cuttingly called the unconstitutional role of the ‘establishment’ as Khalai Makhlooq (alien angles), whose lurking shadows and imprint is menacingly omnipresent. The ‘establishment’ is purely driven by its own instincts that can be perceived to be contradictory, counter-intuitive or even pacifist, but always, driven by the larger goal of protecting its institutional interest, not necessarily the sovereign interest.
Why Pakistan’s ‘Peace Offering’ To India Is a Calculated Gambit
One recent development in the testy Indo-Pak realm has been the unusual nudge to ‘bury the past and move forward’ by the Pakistani Military Chief, General Bajwa. That it is a loaded political statement that is beyond the pay-scale of any Army Chief, but that is not even the relevant anymore, as he went to on invoke more statesmanlike allusions of ‘demography, economy and technology’. Crucially this ‘follow-up’ endorsement from the head of the ‘establishment’ stemmed from an earlier soundbite from the prime minister, beseeching India to make a move for peace!
This is clearly planned, coordinated and a calculated gamble in unison that begs India’s attention, inquiry and accommodative reaction.
This time, it does not risk the traditional course of an immediate derailment, as both power-centres are seemingly aligned — it is worthy of consideration and pursuing, even without harbouring naive notions of its sustainability or sincerity, over the long term.
Pakistan in Dire Straits
Understanding the backdrop is key — Pakistan is in an unprecedented tinderbox-like situation of dire economic-societal-diplomatic duress, isolation and notice.
Continuing the existing path without relieving some pressure of its deployed national resources, emotions and focus on the perennially bleeding Line of Control (LoC) without any commensurate benefits is draining.
The COVID pandemic’s return has worsened the situation — it has been forced to use the ‘Indian vaccine’, Biden is relentlessly pressuring China and the traditional Pakistani ‘bail-out’ options of the Arab Sheikdoms are playing hard to get. Pakistan is squeezed beyond imagination, and its military has had to take an unheard of ‘voluntary cut’ in its defence budget.
India-Pakistan Ties: Why Even Temporary Normalcy Is Helpful
Pakistan and its convoluted framework are a reality that need constant countenance and nuancing with eye-and-ears-wide-open. Nothing is constant and the occasional opportunity for a tactical thaw can be entertained, without lowering our own guard. Situational considerations force behaviours (not better sense), therefore, India could reciprocate with its own willing postures.
The Indian narrative is also fed on an equally vacuous hyper-nationalism that impulsively disdains peace for belligerence — but for the larger interest of national urgencies and priorities, domestic politics must give way to engagement.
Even temporary ‘normalcy’ is better than continued stalemate of attrition, especially if it comes without compromising the security steel.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)