Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Toward a Reclassification of Praetorian Rulers: Lessons from the Pakistani Experience

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Toward a Reclassification of Praetorian Rulers: Lessons from the Pakistani Experience

Article excerpt


In his book, Soldiers in Politics, Eric Nordlinger presents a tripartite classification of military political interveners, based on the extent of power exercised by the interveners and on the type of goals pursued. At the lowest level of intervention are the "Praetorian Moderators," who are described as reluctant to take direct control of the government except in some circumstances when they will carry out "a displacement coup," replacing one civilian government with a more acceptable alternative. Otherwise, they act as a domestic pressure group, exercising a veto over governmental decisions in order to maintain the status quo. (1) At the next level of intervention are the "Praetorian Guardians," who share the conservative orientation of the Moderators but are more willing to take control of the government "usually for a period of two to four years" in order to preserve the status quo and to excise the system of corruption and inefficiency. (2)

At the highest level of intervention are the "Praetorian Rulers," whose political and economic goals are "exceptionally ambitious." They tend to make no commitment about returning power to civilians and engage in more extensive repression than Praetorian Guardians. Not only are their economic programs more far-reaching, but they may attempt to overhaul the distribution of political power in the system. Some may try to create political parties in order to maintain their rule and to mobilize the population behind their goals. When Praetorian Rulers return power to civilians, they assume the role of Praetorian Moderators, circumscribing the range of action of their civilian successors. Nordlinger notes that it is common in societies where military intervention has occurred for there to be an escalation in the level of intervention over time with the military eventually acting as "Rulers." (3)

What separates the categories then is the degree of intervention and the duration of the intervention, since the pursuit of ambitious economic and political change is a function of the length of stay. There is thus a duration threshold of about four years, beyond which the military interveners can be called Rulers, and this is the way this category tends to be applied in the literature. Thus, Peru was governed by Praetorian Rulers from 1968 to 1980, Chile from 1973 to 1990, and Brazil from 1964 to 1985. The military in each case had ambitious economic and political goals. Eventually, however, each relinquished power to an elected civilian government and, while each remains a recognized power contender in its respective political system, it is quite clear that each military today no longer exercises the type of superordinate role it had during its stay in government in those countries.

By the standards provided by Nordlinger, Pakistan has been governed for a majority of its existence as an independent country by Praetorian Rulers. In fact, various scholars on Pakistan, applying the Nordlinger typology, have reflexively described the Pakistani military regimes as Ruler-type Praetorians, (4) placing them in the same category as the Praetorian Rulers of Peru, Brazil, and Chile. It seems as if the "Praetorian Ruler" category has become a residual category for military regimes of long duration, providing no differentiation among the cases so classified and therefore limiting the heuristic value of this typology of military regimes. Yet the nature of the Pakistani military behavior and its aspirational goals have been sufficiently different from their Latin American counterparts to call into question the applicability of the "Ruler" category to the Pakistani case unless, of course, subtypes of "Rulers" are identified, and it is the purpose of this paper through an examination of the coups in Pakistan to open the discussion on possible Ruler subtypes.


For thirty-three years of its existence as an independent country, Pakistan has been under military rule. …

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