I will give one example only. However, this example can be extrapolated into other sections of the Pakistan military.

If we look at the Pakistan Air Force, their attack backbone is composed of F-16 Fighting Falcons. They have Mirages in the interceptor role, which are very old. They are in the process of replacing them with Chinese-made JF-17s. However, the F-16 remains their mainstay. They have a Lockheed-Martin-certified F-16 maintenance and repair facility.

During the recent regime change of Pakistani PM Imran Khan, there has been overwhelming evidence that the Pakistan Army was involved. No one knows why because Imran Khan's government was running the country very smoothly.

enter image description here

When the US undersecretary, Donal Lu, threatened the Pakistani ambassador in Washington because of Imran Khan's Russia visit, supposedly they also told the Pakistan Army to remove PM Imran Khan. The Pakistan Army promptly obeyed the USA and invited the opposition to take necessary measures while the army and judiciary helped them.

One theory that has been floating around on social media is that the Pakistan Army is dependent on the USA regarding arms, training, and spare parts. They also have businesses and family members in the USA. So, they don't want to piss off the USA.

Is the Pakistan Army stuck in a position where they must abide by the USA's policy on Pakistan?

Or, does it just want to control the country's affairs?

  • 2
    All of the discussions in the set up to the question of "people say" is highly speculative and best omitted. Also who is "we" in the last paragraph? Pakistan? The Pakistani people?
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 29, 2022 at 21:32
  • 3
    It can be done. Egypt did the reverse so when it left the Soviet sphere. Ukraine is in the process of doing that too, although not on aircraft as its Western backers balk at large offensive systems. One complication is that India also buys a lot of Russian gear and since it is a bigger customer may command more supplier loyalty. Aug 29, 2022 at 21:41
  • 3
    "Is the Pakistan Army stuck in a position where they must obey the USA's policies, or does it just want to control the country?" I don't understand the alternatives here and also why they have to obey the US? Sure there is s dependency but the rest of your question is just promoting a particular narrative, not really a question. Aug 29, 2022 at 21:42
  • 1
    About that supplier loyalty. Apparently India has the same problem itself: it buys a lot of Russian gear, but... its regional rival, China, buys even more and Xi and Putin are in full bromance mode lately. This can be problematic: France assisted the UK on Exocet threat mitigation during the Falklands war, for example. Aug 29, 2022 at 22:02
  • 1
    I'm somewhat doubtful that Pakistan's military nowadays depends that much on the US. It's possible that some faction in the military (there are always those in countries where the military wields some political power) is more pro-US than pro-China.
    – Fizz
    Aug 30, 2022 at 6:29

3 Answers 3


Is the Pakistan Army stuck in a position where they must obey the USA's policies,

No. The Pakistani Army thwarted U.S. policy goals regularly during the U.S. participation in the war in Afghanistan, effectively sheltering U.S. adversaries on Pakistan's territory or thwarting U.S. goals with respect to the exiled Taliban and al-Qaeda figures.

or does it just want to control the country?

Like many military forces in developing countries, the Pakistani military sees itself as a protector of a certain vision of the Pakistani nation. It doesn't really want to run the country. Military forces aren't well suited for the administration of the ordinary non-military affairs of a national government. But it also feels a right and obligation to take "corrective action" if the civilian government departs too far from that vision.

Some of the corrective action is to address perceptions of corruption, incompetence, or a constitutional crisis, and some of it is to address gross deviations from a particular policy based vision of what the civilian government should look like.

If we take the Pakistan military's dependence on the USA to be the real factor, can this be resolved by switching to Russian/Chinese/Turkish arms? Why or why not?

Switching from U.S. and/or NATO standard arms to arms produced by another country is a non-trivial and expensive task, but it is also hardly impossible and many countries have purchased military equipment from both U.S. and non-U.S. vendors in the past (e.g. Egypt, many armies in Latin America, and many ex-Soviet independent republics). The natural way to switch is to replace old military equipment from one country that is obsolete or no longer serviceable with new equipment replacing it from some other country, over many years in the regular routine procurement process over time.

Jet fighters costs tens of millions of U.S. dollars to buy, thousands of U.S. dollars per hour of operation to maintain and operate, and scarce pilots whose training is moderately specific to specific models of aircraft. It would take many months of expensive training from outside pilots familiar with the new jet fighters for a pilot trained on one kind of jet fighter to learn to use another kind of jet fighter. Most pilots only learn to use one kind of jet fighter in their entire career.

The weapons carried by jet fighters are likewise not interchangeable between models. You can't just strap an air to air missile from an F-16 onto a Mirage or a JF-17 without incurring research and development costs and upgrade costs comparable to a new version of a jet fighter (e.g. an F-16A to an F-16B), if not more, and the development process to do that would run at least one to three years. (But in extreme circumstances, such as the Ukraine War, jerry rigged interim solutions can be found to, for example, allow a Russian jet fighter to fire a U.S. missile).

Similarly, you can't use NATO standard ammunition in non-NATO small arms or artillery units. They aren't quite the right size for each other. And, to train ground troops to use a different kind of small arms or a different howitzer unit, for example, would involve one to three months or so of training and require the soldiers being trained to have the new equipment in hand available to them to work with. Generally speaking, small arms, howitzers, and tanks, etc. are much easier to transition than military aircraft. In a pinch, as the Ukraine War illustrates, troops can get up to speed well enough to function with unfamiliar equipment very quickly, if it is a matter of life or death to them.

Also, in the transition period, a country with legacy U.S. military equipment is susceptible to having their supplies of ammunition and spare parts for that equipment cut off, although local substitutes can be crafted with enough lead time and at greater expense. But, since the U.S. uses NATO standard ammunition, any NATO member can supply it.

This said, characterizing the Pakistani Army as in a state of "military dependence" on the U.S. grossly overstates the situation. The Pakistani Army does not simply do what it is told by the U.S. It may assess U.S. government views as it contemplates taking political action for its own reasons, but the U.S. government is far from pulling the strings of who is in control in Pakistan's civilian government through the enforcer of the Pakistani Army, driven by its reliance on the U.S. for military equipment, as the question suggests.

The U.S. has nothing great to gain from instability in Pakistan's civilian leadership and from periodic coups or threatened coups. For the most part, Pakistan's governance isn't something it thinks about much unless it is worried about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan due to tensions in some political crisis that has gotten out of control.

  • 1
    For the most part, Pakistan's governance isn't something it thinks about much unless it is worried about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan due to tensions in some political crisis that has gotten out of control. --- Surely you missed how hard the USA was working to pull Pakistan out of OBOR/BRI projects. The new government after Imran Khan is in the process of dismantling the CPEC Authority. Also, the USA sucessfully barred Pakistan from buying Russian oil and stagnating Pak-stream pipeline which could have been gone through if IK was in power.
    – user366312
    Aug 29, 2022 at 22:06
  • 4
    @user366312 "sucessfully barred Pakistan" Again, hyperbole. It implies levels of control that don't exist and is basically a conspiracy theory in that extreme retelling. The U.S. didn't bar Pakistan from doing anything. It encouraged Pakistan and every other country in the wold just joint anti-Russian sanctions as did essentially all of the E.U. countries and Turkey.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 30, 2022 at 0:03
  • 1
    I think this answer is oversimplifying things in re Pakistan military's ambitions. It's not a "hive mind". Some Pakistani military leaders have been more politically ambitious than others, leading to long periods of one [military] man rule. Also, unlike in other countries (like Turkey), in Pakistan islamization was carried out mainly under one of those military leaders, as far as I can tell. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamization_in_Pakistan
    – Fizz
    Aug 30, 2022 at 6:14
  • @Fizz "this answer is oversimplifying thing" Certainly. Politics.SE doesn't have space for a complete, nuanced, comprehensive answer. Every answer oversimplifies answer to all but the simplest of questions.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:04
  • 1
    FWTW, Pakistan makes its own arty ammo... in both NATO and Soviet/Chinese standards. They apparently even export some of the latter... to Ukraine.
    – Fizz
    Aug 31, 2022 at 23:53

there has been overwhelming evidence that the Pakistan Army was involved. No one knows why

Actually, the evidence wasn't that overwhelming. It's more like you're confusing it with allegations from some of Khan's supporters (and only more recently from Khan himself).

As the BBC recounts how Khan fell out with the leading faction of the army:

Both sides deny it, but it's widely acknowledged he came to power with the help of Pakistan's powerful army and intelligence services - and now he has fallen out with them. [...]

"He was made by them," one defecting member of Imran Khan's party told the BBC, referring to the military. "They were the ones that brought him into power." [...]

After coming to power, Mr Khan, by contrast [with Nawaz Sharif], proudly proclaimed he and the army were on "one page" when it came to policy decisions. [...]

his opponents were becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the military, naming the army chief, Gen Bajwa, and the head of the intelligence services (ISI), Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, as being responsible for "selecting" Imran Khan to office.

The dynamic changed dramatically last year. A number of observers told the BBC the army began to grow increasingly frustrated with Mr Khan's failure to deliver good governance, particularly in Punjab, and perhaps at how they were being publicly blamed for bringing him into power by the opposition.

Most crucially, a rift began to appear between Gen Bajwa and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, who was widely seen as hoping to become the next army chief. [...]

In October, the dispute escalated and enveloped Imran Khan. Gen Bajwa was understood to want a new man in charge of the intelligence services, and the army announced a change in roles.

Mr Khan, however, who had developed a close relationship with Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, resisted, apparently wanting him to stay on until elections had taken place - the assumption being that Lt Gen Hameed could once again help ensure Mr Khan's victory.

The prime minister held off issuing a formal notification approving the change of posting for nearly three weeks before eventually relenting. The now visible cracks between the military and Imran Khan's government emboldened the opposition.

When they began plotting a vote of no confidence, and sounding out potential defectors from within his party and coalition allies, a number of sources told the BBC, the military made clear that they were going to be "neutral" on this occasion.

So yes, Khan lost the support of the faction in charge of the military's top posts then.

Coups happen much more often like that due some military leader feeling disrespected or threatened (see e.g. how Musharraf came to power). But in Khan's fall case, it wasn't that much of an overt military intervention, more like letting the parliamentary opposition do the their work for them.

I dunno how neutra/objective al-Jazeera is on such topics, but they claim there's widespread factionalism in the Pakistani military, with the younger officers supportive of Imran Khan.

Support for Khan among the military cadres is not new. His ascent to political power in 2018 was widely popular in the military and, for years, a coterie of retired military officials vigorously defended Khan in the media and denounced his political opponents. [...]

“There is a gap between the top 150 officers and the rest of the military,” the author Nawaz said. “The younger officers see Imran Khan as better than the political alternatives, but the senior group has seen Imran’s Trumpian tendencies.”

So stay tuned for "revolt against seniors" if that's true.

I dunno how pro-US vs pro-China these military factions are, to be honest. There may be some or there may be no difference between them on that (external) issue. Calling Bajwa a US stooge may be a bit of stretch though, as he was rather a hardliner in the break with the US over Trump's demands, and that was 6 months before Khan came to power (Feb vs. Aug 2018). One thing that Khan and Bajwa did publicly disagree about (in re foreign policy) is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Bajwa condemned it, whereas Khan refused to do that. But this was well after their split on internal personnel feuds.

What is certain that Khan himself now borrows a well-tested page of (almost any) opposition in Pakistan, claiming that the current government was (likewise) "imposed" by the military. (This in addition to his claims of a US conspiracy.)


Asking the question that way is part of Pakistan's problems.

Almost all countries are trying to influence each other. Some more, some less, but if they have a government, they usually have a foreign policy. That's normal.

Countries differ in their means of influence. Political scientists talk about soft power and hard power. Some can offer to sell advanced weaponry, some cannot. Some can offer to sell raw materials, some cannot. Some can offer foreign investment, some cannot. Some can offer access to a large consumer marker, some cannot. Some can offer military alliances, some cannot. Some can offer military bases in strategic locations, some cannot. Some have a powerful movie industry to export their views. Some can only warn that instability will cause refugees and extremism.

  • Pakistan has a large military and nuclear weapons.
  • Pakistan is unable to maintain or replace some of their conventional weapons independently.
  • Pakistan has a large population and a relatively large economy, in absolute terms.
  • Pakistan has a small relatively small economy on per-capita terms.
  • Pakistan is near strategic areas like Afghanistan or Iran.

So one would expect Pakistan to have less influence than the US, or China, or France. But more influence than Nauru, or Myanmar, or Honduras. More or less influence than Estonia? That would be a very interesting question (which I cannot answer).

When a political event happens, there are usually many causes. The belief that there are foreign governments, dictating the fate of millions, may be true for some applications of hard power. There are countries which allow their executive to start wars without public debate.

But assuming that a small cabal, in some shadowy boardroom, can dictate millions of voters how to vote, or order thousands of officers to start a coup, denies the responsibility of those voters and those officers. In a stable country, when a general tries to set government policy, that general is dismissed by the civilian government. When a general tries to start a military coup, that general is arrested by the military police. And when foreigners tell the electorate how to vote, they may take that into account. Or not. Depending on how persuasive the arguments are.

Blaming foreigners is usually a poor excuse for the failure of the domestic political system. There may be some examples where foreign meddling has helped to destroy the domestic political system -- that many causes thing again -- but meddling cannot do it alone.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .