MANTRAYA BRIEF#15: 1 JUNE 2016
Pakistan Army: Martial Race or National Army
V. Vidya Lakshmi
The kind of influence Pakistan’s army enjoys in the country has few parallels. However, notwithstanding its primacy, it remains an ‘ethnically imbalanced’ army and not a ‘national army’. With a deeply entrenched concept of ‘martial race’, modernity is an unattainable goal for the Pakistan army.
Pakistan army, the most celebrated institution in the country, has never failed to garner scholarly attention. The kind of primacy and influence the army enjoys in Pakistan has few parallels. The army is not just responsible for the protection of its territories against external aggression but is largely believed to be the sole guardian of the country’s ideological moorings. Notwithstanding the long years of military rule – overt as well as covert – the military has been under scrutiny for its ethnically homogenous character. This ethnically imbalanced composition of the army has often been a source of ethnic strife in Pakistan and goes against the very principle of a ‘national army’. A cohesive military contributes to the institutionalization of a monolithic force that has a greater capacity to intervene in the domestic politics.
A large majority of the rank and files, in the range of 70 to 75 percent, are drawn heavily from the districts of Punjab, also popularly known as the Salt Range. This is followed by the recruitment of Pashtuns from the parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which is about 15-21 percent. Mohajir and Sindhis range between 3-5 percent followed by Baloch with 0.3 percent, which is lower than representation of the ethnic Sindhis in the armed forces.[i]
Military’s recruitment pattern in Pakistan has had its roots in the nineteenth century British tradition of ‘Martial Race’ which presupposes that certain groups of people compared to others possess a natural ability to fight. Punjab was central to this notion of race.
Military’s recruitment pattern in Pakistan has had its roots in the nineteenth century British tradition of ‘Martial Race’ which presupposes that certain groups of people compared to others possess a natural ability to fight. Punjab was central to this notion of race. The Mutiny of 1857 saw recruitment of large number of Punjabis into the British Indian Army. This was an outcome of their peculiar historical and ecological conditions which made them natural warriors as opposed to the non-martial races which included the Madrasis and Bengalis. By the end of nineteenth century Punjab became the largest military labour market. The percentage of Punjabis in the Army in the immediate aftermath of 1857 was 32.7 percent. By 1900, it was 50.6 percent with further increase in the following years.
Within Punjab only Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims were considered the martial classes and the Dogras and Hindu Jats were less preferred. Within the Sikh regiments, only Sikhs belonging to the dominant peasant Jat caste and adhering to the Khalsa creed were considered to be ideal recruits.[ii] For instance, army recruitment for the year 1914-1918 had one percent of combatant recruits from Bengal and 7.5 percent from Madras while Punjab alone provided more than 50 percent of the combatants.[iii] The traditional martial races were assigned most important combat roles in the British army. They included the Gurkhas, Dogras, Punjabis (Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims), Rajputs and Pashtuns of tribal areas, who supposedly had the essential cultural and physical attributes. A large chunk of recruitment from the Salt Range (the districts of Jhelum, Rawalpindi, and Attock) was suggestive of the fact that there was a linkage between agriculture and warrior ethos. The peasants and agriculturalists of this region were granted lands and allotted plots within the canal colonies as a reward for their military service and loyalty. This made the army an enticing profession for the Punjabi peasants who were the beneficiaries of the socio-economic development in Punjab. Besides, the British Empire also had concerns regarding the “external threat” from Russia which was also a consideration for seeking recruitment in parts of Punjab and North West Frontier Province. These attempts were to prevent the expansion of the Tsarist Russia from the west and to solidify the British hold on India.
The ‘martial race’ model had a smooth transition into the post-independence era and advantaged the dominant ethnicities. It left Bengalis from East Pakistan bereft of any representation in the army, despite being a major province.
The ‘martial race’ model had a smooth transition into the post-independence era, while being the source of tensions between the state and provinces. The myth continued to play a significant role in the military and advantaged the dominant ethnicities, who were drawn from these economically productive areas. The biases that came with the myth left Bengalis from East Pakistan bereft of any representation in the army, despite being a major province. Punjab province with 25 percent of population had 72 percent representation in the army whereas East Bengal province with 55 percent of population had almost no representation in 1947. Steven Wilkinson in his recent book ‘Army and Nation’ argues that Punjab (43 percent) and NWFP (14 percent) dominated the armoured corps in the post partition period. The armoured corps had no Muslims from Sindh, Balochistan and Bengal, which Wilkinson argues; accounted for around 70 percent of the new state’s population. This was also manifested in the composition of the officer corps in 1955, where only 10 percent of Bengalis were recruited in the Air Force and less than 1 percent in the Army.[iv] It was also in the interest of the dominant ethnicities to maintain the status quo because of the privileges attached to the military ranks. This has been a cause of deep resentment amongst the Sindhis and Balochis and has manifested in the form of ethno-nationalist movements.
Article 39 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan observes that ‘state shall enable people from all parts of Pakistan to participate in the armed forces of Pakistan’.[v] However, Pakistan army continues to remain a deeply unrepresentative entity as far as large tracts of its territory is concerned. Since partition most of the Army chiefs have been from Punjab province including the present incumbent General Raheel Sharif and his predecessor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The ratio of Punjabis and Pashtuns vis-à-vis others (Sindhis, Balochis, Mohajirs etc) as the Chief of Army Staff (Commander in Chief pre-1972) has been 10:3.
In 2011, then Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced the proposed induction of 10,000 Baloch youth into the Pakistan Army, although the principle of domicile rather than ethnicity was to be the criteria for such induction.
It is, however, important to acknowledge that there have been some attempts to federalise the army and make it more representative of the country’s polity. This has been ensured by relaxing the recruitment standards in Sindh and Balochistan. By doing so, the army hopes to curb the ethno-national insurgencies and diminish their resistance to the central authority. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), media arm of the Pakistan military, came up with a report[vi] in 2007 revealing a reduction of the number of Punjabis in the army from 71 percent in 2001 to 57 percent in 2007. The report also claims to have reduced the Punjabis to 54 percent by 2011 which would be followed by an increase in the representation of Sindhis from 15 percent to 17 percent and an increase in the recruitment of Balochis from 3.2 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2011. The report also suggested an increase in the persons from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan from 0 to 9 percent.
In 2011, then Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced the proposed induction of 10,000 Baloch youth into the Pakistan Army, although the principle of domicile rather than ethnicity was to be the criteria for such induction. Sindh is home to a large number of Pashtuns. It is possible that the Army continues to hold on to the principle of ‘martial race’ while recruiting from Sindh and Balochistan, without necessarily contributing to an expansion of representation along ethnic lines. It is, thus, premature to suggest that the army has become more representative since Punjab continues to remain the ‘sword arm of Pakistan’.
Pakistan remains a state that aspires to be modern. However, at a notional level, such modernity is an impossibility, with the deeply entrenched tradition of martial race. Pakistan continues to implement recruitment policies of the British era and prospects for change are bleak. Pakistan’s strategic culture goes against the very notion of modern national armies, central to any modern bureaucratic state.
[i] Ayesha Siddiqa, Pakistan Military-Ethnic balance in the Armed Forces and problems of Federalism, Manekshaw Paper, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, No. 39, 2013,p.14.
[ii] Tan Tai Yong, The Garrison State, SAGE publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp 71-72.
[iii] Steven Wilkinson, Army and Nation, Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2015, p.50.
[iv] Steven Wilkinson, Army and Nation, Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2015, p 201.
[v] C. Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz, “The Changing Pakistan Army Officer Corps”, Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 34, No.1, February, 2011, p. 76.
[vi] “Punjab’s dominance in army being reduced”, Dawn, 14 September 2007, http://www.dawn.com/news/266159/punjab. Accessed on 2 June 2016.
(V. Vidya Lakshmi is a project intern with Mantraya. Opinions expressed here are that of the author.)