Political Armies and Pivotal States: A Comparison of the Turkish and Pakistani Militaries

Led by Pinar Tank

Feb 2009 – Dec 2009

This project aims to compare and contrast the role of the military in Pakistan and Turkey focusing on the impact of the ‘war on terror’ on civil-military relations. How has the political role of the Army changed in Turkey and Pakistan? Almost a decade before the start of the US offensive in Afghanistan in 2001, Chase, Hill and Kennedy (1996) labeled Turkey and Pakistan as ‘pivotal states’ – hot spots that could not only determine the fate of their regions but also affect international order – and urged US policymakers to concentrate on their stability. Fuller (2007) nuances that definition by emphasizing the positive potential of pivotal states – their soft power – that can serve as a tool for regional stability. However, Turkey and Pakistan are not only pivotal states today but also ‘front-line states’ in the ‘war on terror’. Has the ‘war on terror’ impacted civil-military relations in the two countries in a similar or different fashion? Unlike the era of the Cold war – when a comparable domino theory prevailed – pivotal states no longer need assistance against an external threat from a hostile political system; rather, the danger is that they will succumb to internal disorder. Both states have political armies on whom they have relied to provide stability in times of political chaos. While there are similarities in the guardianship role of the two militaries, they have held differing positions on the question of political Islam. Despite the traditionally accepted strong role for the military, both militaries face pressure, domestically and internationally, to withdraw from the political arena ensuring a democratic transition that would rid the state of praetorian governance. Nonetheless, the role of the Turkish and Pakistani militaries is complicated by the turbulent geopolitical context in which they operate. Pakistan faces the threat of instability spreading from neighboring Afghanistan while Turkey fears the consequences in Turkey of a Kurdish state emerging in Northern Iraq. Thus, both countries have an ambivalent relationship to the United States, an ally that intermittently supports and, at other times, subverts their respective national interests. This geopolitical situation complicates the conditions for the withdrawal of the military from politics. From a wider perspective, the direction that the military takes in these pivotal states will have consequences for regional stability.

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