Pakistan suffers from an enduring sense of vulnerability that was born of the calamities that attended its creation. It was the trauma of partition that formed Pakistan’s national psyche. The new nation inherited all of British India’s security challenges but with a fraction of its resources. In the post-partition distribution of state assets, it got the short end of the stick. Its military was formed from the rump of the old British Indian Army. Handicapped and impoverished, it had to contend with a troubled western frontier where Afghanistan—the only country to vote against its admission to the United Nations—was making irredentist claims. Its eastern neighbor, India, bore it even less good will. Its most populous province, Bengal, was separated by over a thousand miles of hostile territory.
The latent threats were not long in materializing. Pakistan went to war with India over Kashmir shortly after partition. The partition protocols had given the subcontinent’s princely states the right to accede to Pakistan or India. Among these were three large Muslim-majority states: Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. India forcefully annexed the first two. The third had a Hindu maharaja ruling over a 77 percent Muslim population. In a controversial move, the British had awarded India a land corridor to Kashmir. Fearing that Kashmir would suffer the fate of Junagadh and Hyderabad, members of Pakistan’s military and political establishments conspired to infiltrate tribal militants into the valley. Alarmed by insurgent advances, the maharaja appealed to India’s British governor general, Lord Mountbatten, who agreed to intervene if the maharaja signed the instrument of accession. In short order, Indian troops marched in and beat back the tribesmen, triggering the first shooting war between the two nascent states. India appealed to the UN, and the Security Council passed Resolution 47, which called for an immediate cease-fire and a plebiscite to decide the future of Kashmir. The resolution was never implemented.
For the Pakistani military, the war underscored the power imbalance and the consequent need to modernize. The government acquiesced, and state revenues were diverted to underwrite this enterprise. Starved of resources and authority, Pakistan’s civilian institutions languished. The military also intervened directly to subvert democracy. The politicians often made the job easy by using their terms in office as opportunities to seize patronage and distribute spoils to their supporters. In contrast to the corrupt and ineffectual civilian institutions, the military appeared disciplined and efficient. And in a state struggling to contain the centrifugal forces of ethnic nationalism, the military began to see itself as the custodian of the whole nation’s interests. Unwilling to trust the civilians with the country’s survival, the military assumed its guardianship.
There was an irony in this. Because of the colonial concept of “martial races”—that some races are inherently superior at war-making—the British recruited mainly from the Punjab (and the Pashtuns farther north). The Sindhis, Baluchis and Bengalis—the other major ethnicities that constituted Pakistan—were deemed lacking in these traits. This tendency persisted after independence. The army might have seen itself as a national institution, but because of its composition, the rest of the nation saw it as an instrument of Punjabi control. Though the army gradually instituted measures to increase its diversity, the perception of a “Punjabi Raj” abides. The military ended up fighting insurgencies in most of Pakistan’s provinces, including a particularly brutal one in Bengal that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh.