Pakistan, Myanmar, and the future of military politics in Asia

Ahsan Butt, Dann Naseemullah, and I have a new article out (currently ungated and free to the public) in the Journal of Strategic Studies, entitled “Pakistan’s Military Elite.” Here’s the abstract:

“The Pakistan Army is a politically important organization, yet its opacity has hindered academic research. We use open sources to construct unique new data on the backgrounds, careers, and post-retirement activities of post-1971 corps commanders and directors-general of Inter-Services Intelligence. We provide evidence of bureaucratic predictability and professionalism while officers are in service. After retirement, we show little involvement in electoral politics but extensive involvement in military-linked corporations, state employment, and other positions of influence. This combination provides Pakistan’s military with an unusual blend of professional discipline internally and political power externally – even when not directly ruling.”


The paper is the culmination of several years of hand-crafted, artisanal data collection that proved both easier and far more challenging than I’d originally expected. I thought we’d get more on the personal backgrounds of the corps commanders, and less on their post-retirement activities. I plan to periodically update these data moving forward.

At the same time in Myanmar, we have seen the outrageous sentencing of two journalists to seven years in prison for accurately reporting on one of the massacres involved in the mass expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state.

What is the overlap of these two topics? In today’s Asia, militaries do not directly govern (Thailand being a notable exception). But some continue to exert remarkable influence on politics, whether through access to their own revenue, formal institutional prerogatives, the lingering but unexercised threat of a coup, networks of sympathizers in the media, civilian parties, and bureaucracy, and/or parallel military institutions that plant stories, blackmail dissidents, and repress (or credibly threaten) to repress opponents. Cook’s classic book on Ruling but not Governing is now highly relevant to Asia: some militaries have been able to survive the tides of formal democratization – and technically returning to the barracks – without actually losing political power. Explaining variation in the survival of these “military enclaves” (Cook’s evocative term) is a future research question I’m excited to get into.

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