Marine Corps Intelligence Activity Pakistan Military Culture Study


Cultural Intelligence for Military Operations

  • 48 pages
  • November 2011


The Pakistan military is ambivalent toward the United States yet largely dependent on U.S. military aid. The Pakistan military distrusts civilians, and throughout Pakistan’s history, the military has repeatedly sought to control the civilian government. Currently, a worsening security and economic situation is taxing the military’s resources. However, the military is a hierarchical organization that remains internally stable and professional.


The Pakistan military is a complex organization that has significant influence on Pakistan’s economy, politics, and society. The military was formed in 1947, when the partition of British India created the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan’s military is composed of three branches: army, navy, and air force. The army is by far the largest and most powerful branch, and the head of the army, the chief of army staff (COAS), is typically the most powerful man in the country, particularly during times of martial law but also during civilian rule.

Pakistan’s military has a diverse role in society that extends beyond that of many military organizations in other countries. Its primary mission is to defend the country, which entails border defense activities and threat reduction measures, both internal and external. The Pakistan military believes that the country’s primary threat comes from neighboring India, against which it has fought four wars (in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999). Ongoing skirmishes over Kashmir and the Siachen Glacier are a constant concern. Internal threats are also a concern for the military; it has put down uprisings in all four provinces and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and is battling religious extremists groups throughout the country. The military is particularly concerned with the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (Student Movement of Pakistan, commonly known as the Pakistan Taliban, or TTP).

In addition to its standard defense role, Pakistan’s military also plays a significant political role. The military has fostered its role in politics and governance because it believes that it is a more efficient, better organized, and less corrupt institution than the civilian political class, which the military considers largely inept. Pakistan’s military has directly ruled the country for more than 31 of Pakistan’s 64 years of independence. All military coups have been bloodless, led by the COAS, and generally welcomed by the population. However, the longer the military’s rule extends, the less popular it becomes. Because of this, the military repeatedly cedes power voluntarily as its declining popularity threatens its position in the country. This dynamic has created a cycle of civil-military rule in which the military perceives civilian rule as threatening to stability or inviting civil unrest, steps in to gain control, and is then forced, because of declining public support, to hand power back to the civilians, who rule until the military returns to power. However, the military never fully cedes power in areas it determines crucial to its mission, such as foreign affairs and nuclear polices. The military has a major role in Pakistan’s economy, officially to provide resources and welfare to retired soldiers and officers. The military is frequently in charge of construction and transportation projects in the country, and the government has even called in the military to manage the country’s utility and electricity companies. The military also has its own business conglomerations that give it a source of income independent from the state. These commercial ventures are the largest businesses in Pakistan. Retired officers run most military businesses, which do not publically disclose the full scale of their activities, leading to accusations of corruption and nepotism. These business ventures, combined with the estimated 20- to 40-percent share of the government’s yearly budget for defense spending and millions in yearly foreign military aid, make the military one of the largest economic players in the country.

The military also sees itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ideology, which is built around Pakistan’s role as a home for South Asia’s Muslim population and the constant threat it feels from India. Pakistan’s ideology has been important in defining the purpose of the state (because of its short history) and differentiating Pakistan from India despite the many cultural and historical traits the two countries share. Pakistan believes that India has never accepted Pakistan’s status as an independent state and that India will exploit any opportunity to challenge Pakistan’s existence.

In 1940, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) asked British India for an independent state for South Asia’s Muslims because they believed that Muslims would not have equality and opportunity in a Hindu-dominated India. Britain’s partition of India created an independent Pakistan composed of the Muslim majority areas of contemporary Pakistan and Bangladesh. Initially after partition, the fact that millions of Muslims remained in India conflicted with Pakistan’s vision of itself as a home to South Asian Muslims; the 1971 civil war and creation of an independent Bangladesh also challenged this vision. The military became the primary defender of Pakistan’s ideology when it came to political power in 1958. In the 1970s, Gen Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88) changed this ideology to focus on Pakistan as an Islamic state rather than a home for Muslims. His military regime undertook campaigns to impose Islamic principles on state institutions, including the military, and eliminate what he considered un-Islamic influences. Pakistan is struggling to recreate an ideology that promotes its purpose as a country. The military believes that it is the only force in the country able to protect Pakistan’s unity and integrity. Segments of the population share this belief and often place more trust in the military than in civilian leaders to direct the country’s image and vision. However, this claim remains controversial in Pakistan because it provides the army with a much-expanded potential role in the country’s economy, politics, and society.

Views of the military, held by both the public and scholars, are widely divergent. Some consider the military an efficient, professional organization that has had to expand its role in the country because of the ineffectiveness of civilian institutions. Others consider the military a predatory organization that has sought to expand its influence and wealth at the expense of the rest of society. The Pakistan military has made itself an institution separate from wider society. Entrance into the military is difficult and competitive. The military offers excellent pay and benefits, particularly for officers, which encourages enlistment and loyalty to the institution. Members of the military are better educated and better paid than other members of society. They see themselves as living above the corruption that characterizes most of society. Although at times the wider society shares this view, segments of the broader population often resent the military’s dominant role in the economy and politics. This was particularly the case near the end of Gen Pervez Musharraf’s rule.

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