A huge number of people in Pakistan see the military as the savior of the country. There is a popular opinion inside Pakistan that the Pakistan Military's dominance must exist as long as the Indian threat remains. Otherwise, Pakistan would disintegrate more.

However, the dominance of the military also made the generals God-like figures. In other words, generals are above accountability and the rule of law. Which in turn gave rise to widespread corruption.

Is there any practical way to bring the generals under accountability in Pakistan while keeping the military's morale intact?

  • 5
    A stronger civil society and more respect for the rule of law. It would be racist to claim that Pakistan cannot develop those, but the road there may be complicated.
    – o.m.
    Jul 18, 2023 at 4:10
  • @o.m., How can civil society be stronger, and how can the respect for the rule of law grow? This sounds like a chicken-egg problem.
    – user366312
    Jul 18, 2023 at 5:02
  • 2
    There's not an easy or instant solution. If you look at other countries with a history of military coups or military domination in politics, you'll see that. Aside from drastic solutions like disbanding the military (and possibly reconstituting it), which you seem to rule out as damaging to morale. Replacing the military with foreign mercenaries/troops would also be possible (and some African countries have moved in that direction), but is probably not a good idea!
    – Stuart F
    Jul 18, 2023 at 9:14
  • 1
    Voting not to close - Nearly all successful democratic countries have ways to make the military accountable, so there are current and historical political examples that can factually answer this question. And let's give some time and see if the answers are actually opinion-only.
    – sfxedit
    Jul 18, 2023 at 14:52
  • How Pakistan could get rid of its military interference and free up resources to better serve its population is massively on-target for this site. And mechanisms to do so is of interest for other countries. There may be opinions as to which route is the most feasible (or not), but answers can refer to precedents, as per sfxedit. Keep open. Jul 21, 2023 at 18:23

3 Answers 3


My answer has here has two problems, it is not a detailed practical action program to reform Pakistan, and it is somewhat opinion-based since it references what I consider successful examples elsewhere. That being said:

I see three options for military accountability:

  1. The political leadership is sufficiently powerful to dominate the military, possibly through the creation of rival paramilitary forces. This is part of what is sometimes known as coup proofing measures. The army might have the most heavy weapons, but the police or secret service also have large numbers of infantry.
  2. The military is weak enough, overall, that it cannot possibly dominate the political process. This requires a country in a peaceful region.
  3. The members of the military are taught to respect civilian authority and understand that military rule will ultimately hurt the country. There are various quotes to the effect that one can do a lot with bayonets, but not sit on them.

I believe that the third option is the most stable option, and also the one to produce the best societies. There are a number of elements to this:

  • The military should contain a large number of short-time troops, who are more loyal to the society at large than to the military. (This is somewhat problematic because these people possibly make worse fighters. But having rank-and-file soldiers who believe in the rule of law is necessary for stability. Also, there is no guarantee that short-time troops would back civilian rule, see below.)
  • The civilian government must control the funding of the military. No factories owned by the military, no secret budgets outside civilian control.
  • The civilian government must control the promotions of senior military officers. It should also control part of the training of junior officers. This plays into the first bullet point, making sure that the senior officers cannot expect junior officers and private soldiers to obey illegal orders.
    This might also do good things for human rights. The effect on military efficiency would be a mixed bag, troops would not be expected to blindly follow orders, which can be good or bad.

I believe part of the problem for Pakistan is just what the soldiers would be loyal to if it was not the military. Would they support civil society and the rule of law, or would they support religious and tribal leaders? Speaking from a large distance (I have never been in Pakistan), I see the problem there. No stable civilian control without a genuine nation.


You asked - "Is there any practical way to bring the military under accountability in Pakistan while keeping their morale intact?"

The short answer - "No".


  • The military portrays itself as the sole protector of the nation against arch-rival India. This narrative is drummed into the public psyche and used to justify the military's dominance. Reducing the military's power risks undermining Pakistan's defense, or so they argue.
  • The military is not just a security force but an economic actor controlling businesses, land, and other assets. Any accountability measures threaten their economic interests and privileges. They will strongly resist.
  • The military claims to be the guardian of Pakistan's Islamic identity. Pushing back on them can be portrayed as undermining Islam. This makes the task politically difficult.
  • Pakistan has seen multiple periods of military rule interrupting civilian democracy. The civilians are often unable to assert control over the military. Constitutional changes are unlikely to be effective when the military doesn't respect the constitution.
  • Even with the best intentions, civilian leaders may not be able to reform institutions like intelligence agencies and the military-industrial complex which lie firmly within the military's ambit. This diminishes the scope of what accountability would entail.
  • Doesn't answer the question at all.
    – user366312
    Jul 20, 2023 at 11:05
  • 2
    It does. I edited it to be answering exactly what you asked if it looked too subtle at first. Jul 20, 2023 at 12:50
  • Unfortunately, I think this answer is likely to be correct in terms of the massive hurdles facing Pakistan's people in fixing this issue. I would add as an extra point that Pakistan is also facing low-level insurgencies - sometimes from actors, like TTP, that may very well have been nurtured by the military in the first place - that will make it difficult to build a case for neutering the army. People power would be about the only thing I can see moving the needle and countering the above list, but I have nothing to substantiate this opinion. Jul 21, 2023 at 18:34

Is there any practical way to bring the military under accountability in Pakistan while keeping their morale intact?


The path most likely to produce a more accountable military while keeping their morale intact (not necessary the best outcome globally, but what the question is asking) may be to:

(1) the make the military bigger and more high tech,

(2) encourage the military to take steps that help to develop a very professional and competent civil service that it feels comfortable turning over power to eventually, and

(3) encourage the military to help facilitate the development of one or more political parties that are not corrupt and vet their leaders for competence to develop, before turning over power more completely to civilians. Ideally, the parties would also have an unimpeachable publicly perceived commitment to Pakistan's Islamic identity as well.

Parts (2) and (3) of this plan are what the U.S. military establishment, when it is in another country, calls "nation building" (i.e. "a significant undertaking that governments employ to develop political, economic, security, and social institutions in other countries—especially those emerging from conflict."). RAND has a handbook telling policy makers how to do it, in general (which I don't purport to be relying upon in this answer).

One way to address (2) and (3) would be to develop a Pakistani equivalent to the French École Nationale d'Administration, an elite university which trains an outsized share of the top civil servants and many prospective politicians in France, perhaps as a sister university to its war colleges, or to its leading Islamic higher educational institutions, or both. It should have highly uncorrupt meritocratic admissions and grading policies.

Another institutional approach to advance objective (3) would be to strengthen political parties relative to the grass roots, so that they have the power to vet their leaders and officers better, in the tradition of British political parties, for example which are very strong vis-a-vis individual MPs. Strong parties and weak MPs also make efforts to corrupt individual MPs less worthwhile.

A third tool would be with respect to military HR policies designed to break up people with family or clan or similar ties into different units. The naturally dovetails with objective (1). Merit based exam promotions systems might be another good start on this front.

Key observations supporting this conclusion:

  1. Military coups are correlated to the absolute (not relative to population) size of the military. This is because this influences how many military officers need to be co-opted to gain de facto control of the military. It is easier to organize a conspiracy of 12 generals and admirals to overthrow a civilian government than it is to do so in a military with 200 of them divided into many competing factions. The bigger the military is, the harder it is to mobilize it unofficially and contrary to civilian orders. This is very viable in Pakistan because while it has a moderately large military, it isn't particularly mobilized militarily as a country in terms of troops per capita or percentage of GDP spent on the military.

  2. Coups are harder to facilitate without behind the scenes informal connections of extended families, clans, or similar close bonds beyond the senior officer's formal roles in the military. It is easier to undermine nepotism and informal ties in a larger military bureaucracy.

  3. A more powerful military makes the threat to Pakistan from rival India seem less existential.

  4. Military juntas usually voluntarily relinquish power to some sort of civilian regime (not necessarily a terribly democratic one) before too long, because soldiers soon find out that they aren't good at running a civilian governmental administration and have no desire to do it. Running the civilian government also tarnishes their reputation and popularity if they do a poor job of it (something that is inevitable in the long run because military officers aren't trained to do civilian governance jobs). The military has done so repeatedly in Pakistan's rather short history.

  5. The military (just like any monarch or dictator) wants their country to succeed so long as it doesn't undermine their power. A good professional civilian administration makes the country prosperous which increases tax revenues which makes more funds available for the military and military officers like a larger military. What top military officer isn't an institutional empire builder at heart?

  6. Most military coups are driven by a military officer perspective perception of incompetence and corruption in the civilian administration which makes their intervention necessary and desirable because they can do better than this very low bar. Pakistan's history is consistent with this pattern. So, this suggests that non-corrupt, competent senior civil servants and politicians are needed to facilitate a handoff that the military can trust will work out. If the military trusts the civilian leadership to do the right thing, accountability won't be nearly as much of an issue. Military assertions of dominance over civilian leaders bucking accountability to civilian leaders arises because military leaders don't trust them.

  7. The military will feel threatened by and distrust civilian leaders if its resources are reduced, while simultaneously having fewer people who need to be mobilized to carry out a coup.

  8. Pakistan has a smaller cadre of highly professional and skilled top level civil servants relative to its population, than India or many other countries with more accountable military forces.

  9. A higher tech military is forced to be more meritocratic in its HR practices, overcoming nepotism to some extent, in order to have people who can operate these advanced systems.

  10. Strong informal family/clan/etc. ties are a major driver of corruption in Pakistan that undermines its formal institutions. But the military is less subject to this than some other institutions in Pakistan.

China and Iran are examples of regimes that have followed this route to become less bad than they were in the 1970s and early 1980s, and to have more accountable military forces than they did then.

  • It's rare that I would downvote one of your answers, but in this case, yes. And largely due to your very first point: make the military bigger. Pakistani budget is 4%-ish and has been massively bigger in the past. data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=PK The last thing they need is more money. More high-tech? Maybe. But that would also require more money. A more powerful military makes the threat to Pakistan from rival India seem less existential. Pakistan's military usually starts the wars, so, no there too. Good points on some of the rest, but.. Jul 21, 2023 at 18:29
  • The empirical data on larger absolute size for a military force reducing coup likelihood is solid, even though it is counterintuitive. And, politics is the art of the possible. Threatening the military with smaller budgets and micromanagement is precisely the kind of strategy that tends to trigger coups, even though it makes naiively. A bigger military is less about raw amount of money than number of personnel, but high tech which has anti-nepotistic effect and builds a sense of security, is expensive. Indeed, the high cost makes the benefits of civilian economic regulation more attractive.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 21, 2023 at 18:42
  • To your point 3, a more powerful military, Pakistan will never match India by spending $ on its conventional forces, so that's also a fool's errand. It will, and has, bleed itself dry doing so. Maybe it could leverage the breathing space afforded by nukes/MAD to deescalate with India? (if popular opinion supported it, which it doesn't AFAIK). But any hope to achieve regional parity is doomed to fail. These prescriptions may be empirically valid in other circumstances. Not Pakistan's circumstances. Jul 21, 2023 at 18:45
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Policy is a balancing act. A more powerful military in this case is likely to make the military more accountable and less likely to engage in a coup. But government spending capacity is finite. There is a balance to strike between the benefits of spending more and the downsides of spending less on other things. Whether Pakistan actually matches India is ultimately irrelevant. What matters if whether the military folks whose cooperation is desired see it as making Pakistan as secure vis India as possible, without regard to whether this is actually true.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 21, 2023 at 19:04
  • Related commentary on Singapore. marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2023/07/…
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 24, 2023 at 3:56

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