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Although India and Pakistan became independent states simultaneously, they have been travelling in different paths after that. Many believe that democracy is a major reason for the difference in fortune of both countries. Pakistan has been under military rule for a long time during its existence while in India, military has never been involved in government.

What are the reason for this difference (military intervention in government) between these two nations, given that Pakistan and India (at least North India) share a common culture and they had been under the rule of same dynasties for a long time. Also the military tradition and even officers during the early part were inherited from British Raj.

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Pakistan is a whole lot more homogeneous than India. Thus dictatorship could be a lot easier to impose on Pakistan as a much larger number of people would accept its legitimacy compared to India where it would be harder to convince the various ethnic/religous/linguistic groups to back one person or party. – Opt May 25 '12 at 14:33
@Sid: Indeed. And to wit, the one big ethnic division that Pakistan had, did lead twenty years later to civil war and division - resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. – Felix Goldberg Dec 18 '12 at 15:59

5 Answers 5

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One thing that might be a factor is the culture of each country going in.

During the colonial period the British got a great deal of their military manpower from India. However, it wasn't evenly distributed. In fact, the native colonial Indian military units were heavily Muslim. The result of this is that Muslim Indians grew to view the military very favorably, while Hindus grew to view it as an instrument of oppression.

When they went their separate ways, this had a certain lasting effect. The military in Pakistan simply had much more prestige than any civilian government could hope to have. So when things go bad, it is tempting to look to the military to set things right.

In India, on the other hand, the people's relationship with the military was much more like colonial America's: The military was used to oppress the people during the colonial period, so afterwards it was viewed as, at best, a necessary evil. Civil figures were the heroes of the independence movement. So certainly nobody would trust the military to come in and run things fairly rather than civil authorities.

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+1 For great answer. I was thinking along similar lines but you put it better than I could. – Felix Goldberg Dec 18 '12 at 14:53
The British Indian Army was not 'heavily Muslim'. As a percentage of the population, Sikhs and Garwahli, Coorgi and Nepalese Hindus were massively over-represented as were, during the two World Wars, Punjabi Muslims, though to a lesser extent. Interestingly, a Coorgi Hindu, General Cariappa, in a moment of madness, made a bid for power by asking Mountbatten to hand power over to the Army rather than the politicians. – Vivek Iyer Jun 6 at 20:23

While the size of India and the presence of multi cultural society makes it hard for an armed force to take control of the entire country I think the structure of the Indian army makes it even harder.

  1. India's military is not independent of the democratic structure. The President of the Republic of India is the supreme commander of the armed forces and the three arms --land, air, and naval are independent of each other. While the former is true for many countries including Pakistan, the latter is not usually the case. Each service branch of the Indian armed forces has an independent Chief of Staff who only reports to the President of India. Although India has a chairman of the chief of staff committee, that post has no formal executive power of the committee. The President of India too has no formal executive power (except during times of emergency) and most of the power is exercised by the Ministry of Defence that is answerable to the Parliament and the People of India.

  2. In addition, India has a fourth branch of armed forces that reports directly to the Ministry of Home Affairs (not the ministry of Defence). This branch is commonly referred to as the paramilitary force. According to the Wikipedia article I cited above, it has some 65,000 active personnel.

So in theory, this structure makes it very hard to make military coups a success without loss of civilian life. Whether or not that itself resulted in no coups in India is a highly debatable question but I would definitely say it is a contributory factor.

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I just failed to figure out what this answer came up with to get acceptance..."The President of the Republic of India is the supreme commander of the armed forces and the three arms --land, air, and naval are independent of each other."...What is the difference with Pakistan in this case? – user806 Oct 31 '12 at 15:57
Interesting observations, but I doubt they go far towards explaining the phenomenon asked about in the question. As for the paramilitary force, its existence is hardly a force for democracy per se; Russia has just such force and there it's of the best props of any authoritarian regime... – Felix Goldberg Dec 18 '12 at 14:52
Field Marshall Mackenshaw says that Indira Gandhi once quizzed him about reports in the American press that the Army was preparing a coup against her. Of course there was nothing in it, but she was smart enough to see that the letter of the law or supposed command structure were quite meaningless in context. Interestingly, the Army pursued a separate Intelligence initiative when Krishna Menon was Minister of Defense and after the latter's fall this became common knowledge. – Vivek Iyer Jun 6 at 20:57

In my opinion, although both India and Pakistan's military were involved in military conflict soon after their birth, India's military directly inherited the structure laid down by the British. One of the things that the British very strongly believed in was the subservience of the military to the civilian leadership.

Pakistan had to develop a new military structure from scratch, and none of its leaders could enforce that culture. Moreover, the military got very powerful due to its role in military conflicts almost immediately after its birth. This changed the dynamics of the civilian-military relationship in Pakistan.

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Do you have evidence to show that Pakistan's military was developed from scratch and not inherited from the Raj? It seems very unlikely to me. – Felix Goldberg Dec 18 '12 at 14:54
Yes, since India was the legal successor state of the British raj, almost all the military institutions (along with the British army chief) were directly inherited by India. Pakistan did not get this, just because they did not get the most important military structures and people in their territory. – Arani Jan 31 '13 at 18:32
Pakistan's military was entirely inherited from the British. After Independence it still had a British GOC- Douglas Gracey- till 1951. – Vivek Iyer Jun 6 at 20:55

I believe a number of reasons have contributed to this:

  1. Perceived threat from India leading to an over-powerful military organization, with the nascent nationalist perspective of the general public finding an identity and sense of pride in the powerful military their country possessed. In other words, the people of the country thought in the following way: We may not be great in health/literacy/human rights etc. but we have a powerful army so let's celebrate that! This led to the acceptance of the military organization as something good and to be supported.

  2. Wrong political fundamentals in laying the basis of the nation, which were not entirely democratic in nature (and may have had links to violence ab initio). This led to identity crisis for the political classes as they had no strong ideology to bank on. The political vaccum was filled by the military.

  3. Continuation of feudalism caused subjugation of the rural masses which stifled independent political thought among them.

In India's case the huge size of the nation, coupled with some wise fundamental ideas which shaped the sense of Indian-ness (non-violence, anti-feudalism, etc.) ensured that the military never got an upper hand.

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After Independence, the Indian National Congress was confident of winning a General Election because of its superb grass-roots network and system of patronage. Moreover, Nehru understood that it was his enemies on the Right who had most to lose from free and fair elections while his friends on the Left, outside the Congress, stood most to benefit.

Convincing election victories- in which the main opposition was visibly Leftist- gave the Indian regime great legitimacy. There could be no question of an Army coup because the Sandhurst trained General Staff had less influence over the NCOs than their 'gram sarpanch' (village headman) who was probably already part of the Congress machine.

In Pakistan, the situation was very different. Jinnah and Liaqat's Muslim League had successfully played the 'Islam in danger' card but there was no way they could carry East Bengal- which had the majority of voters and whose politicians were far more like their counterparts across the border.

Even within West Pakistan, immigrant politicians like Liaqat were at a disadvantage. The Muslim landed gentry preferred to deal with Aristocratic Premiers, like Tiwana, as opposed to verbose middle class lawyers .

On the other hand, the military- because their officers were rewarded with generous land grants (something which didn't happen in India)- had to work with the 'feudal' land-lords and accommodate their interests. In any case, after the assassination of Liaqat, the Muslim League had no West Wing leaders of stature who were not disqualified by reason of Religious affiliation.

In the event, a former soldier turned Political Service officer rose to the top but his unpopularity was such that the ambitious Army Chief had no difficulty packing him off to exile.

What alternative was there to the Army? The politicians wouldn't hold elections and thus secure legitimacy because they would lose. The Civil Service had no link to the grass-roots. By contrast, the Army had a network which reached down to the villages. Thus General Ayub Khan saw it as sponsoring something called 'Basic Democracy'. However, elections were still represented a source of danger. Fatima Jinnah, the elderly sister of the founder of the country, did surprisingly well by falsely claiming that Ayub had sold out to the Indians on the Indus water issue.

Democracy wasn't good for Pakistan. It split the country and then enthroned a paranoid dictator. The Army had to step in to hang him by the neck simply to save their own skins.

In contrast to India, the Pakistani political class had not developed esprit de corps by sharing jail cells nor had they established a personal reputation for self-sacrifice.

By contrast, the Pakistani soldier- however much he might enrich himself- needed to have shown courage in battle simply so as to be accepted by his peers. Thus, disillusionment with elected politicians, who enrich themselves unconscionably, always leaves a window open, in Pakistan, for military intervention because there literally is no alternative.

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