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Rajesh Singh asked: Why has Pakistan army been playing a central role in Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy?

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  • Sushant Sareen replies: Politics abhors vacuum and the leadership vacuum (Jinnah famously said 'what is the Muslim league except me and my stenographer’) as well as the political leadership’s vacuity in Pakistan soon after independence left the army as the only coherent and cohesive force in the country that could fill this vacuum. An underdeveloped political culture meant that the political leadership looked towards the army, which was one reason why the army chief Ayub Khan was also made defence minister. The military bureaucratic establishment negotiated with the Americans and this set the stage for the army's central role in foreign policy making in the years to come. Alongside were social and cultural factors - feudalism and a fascination with the military - that facilitated the central role for the army. Also contributing to the importance of the army was the circumstances in which Pakistan came into being and the consequent hostility with India and the fear that India wanted to undo partition. This gave rise to a national security state in which the army naturally acquired a central role. The inability of the political class to either set the rules of the game (much less play by any rules) or to come up with a constitution paved the way for the military to take over power. It is widely accepted now that the martial law that was declared in Lahore to contain the anti-Ahmediya riots in 1953 allowed the army to taste the blood of usurping political power.