The state of war

A  review of TV Paul’s The Warrior State-Pakistan in the Contemporary World.

The Warrior State

Pakistan teeters at the brink of a crisis that could prove disastrous for democracy in the country, and yet again the military is showing signs of stepping in to set things straight. The more you see the situation unfold across television and newspapers, the more you see the valuable resource that is TV Paul’s The Warrior State – Pakistan in the Contemporary World. The book comes at a time when Pakistan’s position as a geo strategic ally is threatened by its own double-dealings and at a time when its position as a failing state is gaining traction. The book, read alongside equally strong and recent books by Husain Haqqani and Christine Fair, is a solid examination of the multiple levels of power within the country. It also offers a clear and logical examination of the stranglehold that the military industrial complex has on the state and its democratic institutions.

TV Paul in his book points to this military complex as the central and most tenacious character in Pakistan, bearing a significant responsibility for its rapid decline post independence. He refers to it as the “Deep State” which is embedded and can pick and choose government policy towards extremists in the country. The book is primarily an examination of the “role of war and war-making in the development of nation-states in the developing world”. The author attempts to expand upon the paradoxical nature of the state of Pakistan and says the “six decades of intense pursuit of military security has made Pakistan less secure and less unified as a coherent political unit.” The motivation behind the pursuit of such narrow goals is a result of the octopi-like hold that the military complex has on the ruling elite and the damaging impact it has in shaping state strategy and policies.

A reexamination of the tumultuous history, throws up more than a few clues to the development of Pakistan. It is a state bound to the fancies of a military and a secret service organisation that has directed the country’s policies. Paul points out to the crucial “state-to-nation” imbalance that Pakistan has never been able to bridge. The gap between the formal territorial state and the national groups living in it has been actively exploited by the elites resulting in multiple communal and ethnic problems, an answer perhaps to how Islam never provided the adequate platform for the unification of the country. The overarching idea that plays a critical role in the hyper-politicks of the elites is the idea of holding a dominant position vis-à-vis India in the region and maintaining its position as an important geo strategic ally for the big powers.

The geo strategic position or “geo strategic curse” according to Paul is a critical reason for the failing standards of the society in Pakistan. The use of its geographic centrality and its readiness to host games for the great powers during the Cold War and after has impacted the development of the country in multiple ways. Pakistan’s survival has depended on the largesse of countries that were willing to pay rent by way of foreign aid and arms. It has subsequently made Pakistan a ‘rentier’ state, which enabled the elites to further their support of a policy that gradually weakened political and economic systems within the country. The military went from security as a policy, to actively dissuading any internal development that would “undercut their paramount position in Pakistani society”.

This method of undermining the growth of internal institutions and economy that would withstand the assault of revolts, the military played and continues to play a deadly “hyper-real politick” game that exaggerates external threats. It sees the world through a Hobbesian lens that sees war and external threats as a natural state and over emphasises the growth and maintenance of a strong military ethos within the country. The hyper politick combined with the idea of achieving strategic parity with India as a legitimate goal has ended up making shambles of the Pakistani state, institutions, and economy. As Paul puts it, “When a smaller power attempts to maintain strategic parity and equal power status with its much larger adversary, it invariably has to spend more resources and exert greater efforts t keeping the military balance”. The massive inequality that Pakistan faces in comparison to India and the effort that has to be put in to achieve strategic parity, has resulted in the elites focusing on narrow goals of military parity and might. The author points out this strategic parity as a primary reasons for the emergence of Pakistan as a warrior state. “In a continuous obsession with external threat and short -run power politics, all underwritten by external support, Pakistan has neglected long term economic development”.

The strength of Paul’s analysis of Pakistan is the rigour and logic while analysing Pakistan against the post colonial development of other warrior states such as Turkey, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. He sees in these countries a commitment to development and participatory democracy, however stilted the efforts. He also sees a genuine need on the side of the elites to develop and maintain state institutions that would control the state apparatus and redirect income for development of the state rather than invest over and again in magnified external threats.

As Paul points out, Pakistan has failed at many levels to use the rent it charges for use of its geo strategic space for the development of the country. It has also failed in investing in good education and healthcare, vacuums that radicalised preachers of Islam and non-state actors have taken over. The only hope for Pakistan as Paul notes is a radical transformation within the society and the state to overthrow the elites and a revolt that allows for the power balance to shift. Nothing in Pakistan’s history or its current happenings indicate the possibility of such a transformation.

The Warrior State fails to address two critical issues. One, it does not give adequate attention to the influence of Pakistan’s neighbours on the military industrial complex and on the government in the country. Saudi Arabia specifically has enormous interest in maintaining the status quo within Pakistan and goes the extra mile to ensure that a moderate, democratic government remains a dream in the country. While the book does touch upon the issue, the magnitude of the radical Sunni influence cannot be undermined. Two, the book fails to make sufficient noise about the systematic violence against minorities that is a direct result of the radicalisation of the civil society. The misuse of laws like the Blasphemy Laws and the public calls for elimination of Ahmadis and Shia Hazaras has led to extreme violence against these groups. The increased Islamism within the society, and the influence of pro Sunni radical outfits is proving to be a detriment to the survival of these groups.

TV Paul’s book succeeds because of the intensity the academic rigour is coupled with an ease of narration that belies the intensity of the topic handled. The book sets itself apart with its emphasis on nation state building and how war as a development strategy does not always succeed when the elites refuse to learn from previous experiences and “reform and rebuild”.