The Crescent and the Sword: Islam, the Military, and Political Legitimacy in Pakistan, 1977-1985

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to test the hypothesis that military regimes are inherently unstable because they lack the essential political skills of persuasive communication, bargaining, mass appeal, and the development of new political strategies for survival and legitimacy. It is argued here that the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, through its skillful use of the normative symbols of Islam and nationalism was able to achieve a considerable degree of political stability and legitimacy, and effectively meet political, sectarian and ethnic challenges.

There is a commonly held assumption in the literature on the military and politics that the military is usually politically untrained and naive and is, therefore, unable to undertake long-term political management.1 It is believed that military officers lack charisma, persuasive skills, and political sophistication. The absence of these qualities in the military and its presumed inability to engage in the complex tasks of political engineering are then linked with the "unique general outlook, orientations, and system of values closely connected to military professionalism."2 It is maintained that the professional qualities of the armed forces may serve them well in their primary function of war, but may become a hindrance in the political arena, which requires an "infinitely greater degree of patience and deliberation"3 than the strict command-obey norm of military behavior. Morris Janowitz also attributes the lack of political sophistication in the military to its peculiar organizational characteristics, command structure, and, more importantly, to its pattern of socialization and training.4 These variables, Janowitz argues, put severe limitations on the ability of the military to produce the "leadership skills in bargaining and political communication that are required for [sustaining] political leadership"5 and for developing "new political devices." Similarly, it is believed that the military cannot appreciate the subtleties and nuances of complex political situations and is thus more likely to resort to coercive, disciplinary measures in order to regulate the socio-economic and political conflicts in society. This may be especially true in developing societies, where political conflicts are intense and new political forces, unleashed by the processes of socioeconomic change, are agitating for an enhanced role in the political system. The problem of accommodating malcontents and integrating, or at least containing, divergent sociopolitical forces becomes particularly acute for the military which is not trained in the art of compromise, bargaining, verbal skills, mass appeal, and give-and-take.6 It is on the basis of these assumptions that military regimes are believed to be "inherently unstable."7

The purpose of this study is to test these popular assumptions and hypotheses with reference to the political performance of the military regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, which ruled the country from 1977 to 1985, under martial law, and then transformed itself into a military-dominated civilian regime with the holding of non-party elections in January 1985. Pakistan constitutes a very appropriate case study to test the validity of the above hypotheses because its low level political institutionalization, relative economic backwardness, and embryonic stage of state formation and nation building is typical of many developing countries. Also, the military in Pakistan is a highly professional organization with its own sophisticated training institutions at both line and staff levels, and with a strong esprit de corps going back to the British Indian Army. Zia-ul-Haq's military regime also constitutes a particularly instructive case study since it came to power as the successor of the popularly-elected Prime Minister Zulfikar 'Ali Bhutto, who took pride in being a master politician.


The most relevant period with which to begin this study is early 1977. …


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