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
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 14:33
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    @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. Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 15:59
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    @Opt: Yet the argument is made that the ethnic dievesity of (the former) Yugoslavia was a major contributing factor to Tito's long dictatorship: as only a dictatorship coud hold the country together. I see no a priori reason to assume either consequence. Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 23:54
  • The death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1948 and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 in Pakistan compared with Jawaharlal Nehru staying Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964 may have made a substantial difference.
    – Henry
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 10:04

7 Answers 7


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.

  • +1 For great answer. I was thinking along similar lines but you put it better than I could. Commented Dec 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 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
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 15:57
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    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... Commented Dec 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 20:57

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.


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. Commented Dec 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 18:32
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    Pakistan's military was entirely inherited from the British. After Independence it still had a British GOC- Douglas Gracey- till 1951.
    – Vivek Iyer
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 20:55

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.


Primarily the reason for Pakistan's plight lies in its creation itself. Pakistan was carved out of India to fullfill the ambition of one man Mohd Ali Jinah who rallied the like minded enthusiasts behind him. Its was never actually meant to be a muslim India as was advocated. The seed of dictatorship were laid there and then. Pakistan never came out of that illusion.

I disagree with the arguments above which talk of "heavy Muslim composition of British army..." or the "streamlining of Indian armed forces..." as reasons for the non military interference in Indian democracy. The fact remains that the British rule and their atrocities made people of republic of India believe in very foundations of democracy - a system of their own and for their own. The political class was looked upon as the guardian to create a better India and fortunately they did make some right noises too and hence importance of armed forces was almost sidelined. It was only during a war situation that people ever exhibited a leaning or concern for the army. But yes, a commendible job too by the army that all this while they remained professional and adhered to their job of guarding our great nation despite the lack of concern from its own civilians and constant agression from Pakistan.

On the contrary Pakistan began its journey as a dictatorship and in due course it transformed into a military junta. People had inspiration, no history, no heros to idiolise or believe in. The first time Pakistan ever moved closed to a democracy was year 1970 with free and fair elections however same didnt go down well with Ayub Khan and eventually we witnessed worse genocide in the history. Credits to America, the jihadi forces got a stronhold in the country and the army-jihadi nexus became all powerful to call the shots.

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    Sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 14:14

The difference between the trajectories of the two nations regarding polity may be attributed to many facts: A few of them are already mentioned above. Let us revisit them and add few dimensions of our own to the paradigm:

  1. Disproportionate Size of Army to Civilian population.
  2. Foundation of Idea of a Nation: Indian Nationalism is far older and deeply cherished by its Citizens than Pakistan which was created by a handful of elites in the name of perceived threat to religious minorities post independence. A Nation needs to inspire it's Citizens with belongingness, hope for future on a continual basis to ensure it's survival. For Pakistan, after its creation, not even a single national idea remained for consumption of masses. Untimely death of Jinnah may have played its part but the question remains is what he has to offer pakistani Citizens for future when the only demand that he had was already met. On the contrary, INC and Nehru described independence just as a milestone though an important one, a lot more remained to be achieved in social, political and economic life. Hatred of Hindus & perceived threat from India was an idea founding resonance with Pakistani masses which was able to gel them together. The Armed forces were able to sieze the opportunity of being the sole champion of this cause in the eyes of People of pakistan.
  3. Islamic Culture : No leader of Islamic World has ever been accepted by people without having a past of military exploits. Muslims, particularly of Pakistan consider them as a martial race. Democracy is something in conflict with the basic ideologies of Islamic Societies. Most of the Pakistanis wanted their leaders like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan or Parvez Musharraf to be the next Mahmud Ghaznavi, Mohd Ghori or Ahmed Shah Abdali thus providing them with a legitimacy to rule and thus turning a blind eye towards the means by which they have attained power.
  4. No institutional evolution in Pakistan as compared to India: During its formative years, the indian leadership provided the country with atmosphere for growth of institutions - Judiciary, election commission etc in such a way so they may evolve on their own and attain maturity thus paving way for establishment of institutions whose existence don't depend on persons but their own processes. In nutshell it can be said that with each progressive phase of post-independence, the Indian Citizen's faith in Democracy and it's institutions have grown much. Contrastly, in case of Pakistan absence of comparable institutions of democracy at any stage has led the people look towards Army as their Messiah. In Short it can be summarized that, The very nature of evolution of institutions in both cases based on the psyc of the respective Societies is the true reason of both Countries adopting a contrasting trajectory as far as polity is concerned.
  • Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 8:25

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