Are Generals Qualified to Make Long Term Strategy: Costs of Strategic Failures of Military Dictators

Is it possible for Generals to do long term strategic planning? 

What is meant by the famous quote “War is much too serious a matter to be left to the military men (or generals)”. This quote is by Clemenceau who was a French statesman who served twice as the Prime Minister of France and was the statesman who led France in the First World War, and was among the principal architects of the Treaty of Versailles
[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]

“Yes-Sir” Culture of Military

What can you expect from the soldiers who have been trained not to think but only to obey the orders: 

Theirs not to make reply,    Theirs not to reason why,  Theirs but to do and die. [Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson] 

What intellectual dialectic capacity do you expect from a soldier who has spent his life saying “yes sir” to his seniors and has expected nothing except “yes sir” from his juniors?

Can you expect (say) at commanders conference for a junior general to question the wisdom of a senior general? Or to engage in an intellectual debate about the finer points of strategy with the Chief?

Is it possible to develop sharp analytical skills in a “yes-sir” culture? 
Is there any room for the socratic method of learning in the military culture? 
Is military in the business of “asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas” and exploring and development options for arriving at a consensus through trial and error?  But, it is in these aspects that the vocabulary and the intent of mission and strategy is different from organizational and political theory. 

The particular demands of military are such that the soldiers are expected to obey the orders unconditionally. The requirements are such that no military can afford to have intellectual debates about the pros and cons and the finer points of strategies while the enemy is about to attack. Therefore, to expect that this culture would produce long term strategists that can weigh the competing demands of life is urealistic. 

Military Meanings of “Mission” and “Strategy” are Different

Meaning of “mission” in management theory and practice is entirely different from its meaning in the military context. As per wikipedia: 

A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company, organization or person; its reason for existing; a written declaration of an organization’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time.

In stark contrast, meaning of “mission” in the military context is the one taken in the film and TV series “Mission Impossible” where it means a limited duration assignment/operation.  

Similarly, the use of the word “strategy” in the military context is entirely different from its use in management theory. Strategic Management means as per wikipedia:

Strategic management involves the formulation and implementation of the major goals and initiatives taken by a company’s top management on behalf of owners, based on consideration of resources and an assessment of the internal and external environments in which the organization competes.[1]

In stark contrast, “strategy” in military context is no more than an extended “operation” culminating in a specific objective.  E.g. Operation Gibraltar, East Pakistan Operation, Operation Kargil, Karachi Operation, Balochistan Operation, Operation Zarb e Azb, etc. The broader frameworks in military context are often termed as “doctrines” and their disastrous results for Pakistan are explained below.

Mr Usman Ghani, a management consultant, beautifully explained with an allegory that: 

“strategy” for a fish is like the water in which a fish swims

In contrast, military strategy by design should be concrete, well defined and executable. Military is not in the business of making sense of murky waters bordering on philosophical such as the “mission statement” and “strategic management“, nor they are in the business of trying to build consensus and negotiating the greater good through allocation of resources through experimentation  involving trial and error and dispute. By design, military strategies need to be directed and well focused because lives are at stake and costs of error are disastrous. 

Military Training is Different

Do military men have the training or the patience for strategically analyzing the multidimensional problems that engulf a nation in today’s world and plan for the long-term in terms of conflicting constraints arising from globalization, environmental concerns, economic competition, trade regulations, energy future, geo political intrigue etc? 

Military has a definite objective as per constitution of Pakistan:

245. Functions of Armed Forces.- 1[(1)] The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

As per this constitutional role, the training imparted at military academies is operational and tactical in nature. Military men are trained to go after a target and either destroy it or secure it. “Theirs is but to do or die”. The objective of making the war is to win it and objective of resisting the external aggresion is to repulse the attack. Winning and repulsing the attack are supposed to be done at any cost, even at the cost of their lives.

Analysing long term alternatives, mulling over the probable eventualities, sensibilities, and political dimensions unfolding over decades is beyond the scope and mandate of the military academies. It is therefore not surprising that their graduates are not taught about the history of past and present military operations, especically the ones that went wrong. The students of these academies can not be confused with political, social, demographic, and economic conflicts that led to the failure of Operation Gibraltar or surrender in East Pakistan Operation or futility of Operation Kargil or folly of Afghan Jehad or chimera of strategic depth or the implications of constitutional violations through martial laws.

It is for this reason that Clemenceau said that “war is too important a matter to be left to the military men” because they have never been trained for analyzing the social, political, economic, psychological, and philosophical complexites of the environment in which war occurs.

Some extremely successful generals of World Wars were removed from their posts only because of their inability to manage the conflicting demands of people or to understand the sensibilities of other nations. Abrupt endings of such generals include the famous removal of General McArthur and General Patton. Both were brilliant as tacticians and successful in their daring operations. However, they failed to appreciate the broader dimensions of the conflict and were therefore removed once their operations were successful. 

Please note that there have been several military men who were president of USA including General Eisenhower who was the Supreme  Commander of the Allied Forces during World War-2. However, all assumed the office as civilians, after leaving their uniform and were formally elected by the people through the democratic process. This indicates that military men can become successful politicians but only when they leave the uniform along with all of the associated mindset and baggage.

Psychology of Military Mind  is different: Either friend or foe!

Military men are trained to look at the situation in terms of friend or foe. They look at things in black and white. There is no middle ground. In a limited time, they must decide whether the adversary is friend or foe and act accordingly. They use the force either to protect the friend or to kill the foe. Military generals are trained to take out the enemy with whatever force is required.

On the other hand, in statecraft and in politics, it is all about interests. It is not a question of friends or foes. It is a question of how to protect your interests and further them with least cost. All positions are temporary and can be traded for maximizing the interests:

“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”, Henry Kissinger in White House Years [4]

This point of thinking does not come naturally to military dictators. When thrown in such situations, their decisions are often always suboptimal because this manner of thinking is not their forte. 

Hence, military dictators’ dabbling in political engineering has been disastrous for Pakistan: For e.g General Musharraf’s NRO, or General Zia’s referendum or Gen Aslam Baig’s IJI all turned out to be disastrous. [23]

The statecraft as in Lincoln’s quote “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend” is never understood by the Generals, and their half hearted attempts in this direction were most unsuccessful.

For Military Men War can be a Solution for All Problems

With military training and background as above, every problem has one and only one solution that is a military operation culminating in an all out war. Again it is their training. When they are expected to shoot, it is always shoot to kill. Hence every major problem during the dictatorial rule of the generals had culuminated in a war as seen in the slide below!

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”, the Law of the Instrument also known as Maslow’s Hammer

Not trained in diplomacy, politics, economics, sociology, change management or psychology they take the easy way out and consider war to be the solution for all issues as seen in the slide below: 
Failure of Strategy Making by Generals

Historic Failures of Strategic Doctrines by Dictator Generals in Pakistan

What happens when generals (military men) arrogate to themselves “strategy making” when at best they have been trained for obtaining tactical advantage? The table below shows the fiascoes in which our country had been led into: 

Major Areas Ignored
Unrestrained Development
at the Expense of Have-
Nots without
Ignored people’s power
Estrangement of Bengalis
Surrender and Fall of East Pakistan
Created rich-poor divide; created
ZAB’s rise
Created famous 22-Families
Nationalization of all major firms that sent us back for fifty years
Defense of East Pak lies in
Size/depth of enemy forces;
inability to read enemy’s mind
Failure of Op Gibraltar
1965 War
Popular discontent in East
Pakistan can be subdued by military force
Fierceness of Bengali
Indian forces all out support
1971 warSurrender
of East Pakistan; 92,000+ Pakistani soldiers become PoWs
Army as Protector of
ideological frontiers
Ideologies are not Concrete
frontiers. Military is not in the business of ideological warfare
Created Jehadists Increased
sectarian polarization → → Led to Sectarian killings bomb
US’ Afghan Jehad, Strategic
Ignored US response in
Clinton’s time & 9-11
Arms culture → drugs culture
militancyinstability Talibanization
Bleed India in Kashmir
Ignored Indian capacity to strike
back in kind; RAW infiltration in Balochistan
Baloch resistance, Baloch
insurgency, Karachi disturbances
WoT imported in Pak; Blackwater/RAW/BLA infiltration
Suicide bombers
War on Terror →
Op Zarbe Azb

Unfortunately dictator generals’ strategies involving foreign countries actually turned out to be tactical in nature. They initially may have created some tactical advantage but were all checkmated by the broader discourse and broader issues of provincial disputes, international considerations, and geo-political manouvering for which the generals found themselves singularly unprepared. See the disaster of the following strategies: 

  • 1: Gen Ayub’s strategy of  Unrestrained Economic Development at the Expense of Have-Nots led to disastrous implication for Pakistan because it was undertaken without the representation of the people or considering their sentiments. It was disastrous in both wings of Pakistan:  
    • (i) In West Pakistan, the sense of alienation produced by the concentration of wealth in the famous 22 families resulted in the meteoric rise of ZAB that created the conditions for the mass scale nationalization, and roll back of all economic gains made during the 1960s [12]. 
    • (ii) In East Pakistan, the sense of alienation created conditions where Bengalis who faught for Pakistan were forced to secede: E.g. Shaikh Mujeeb ur Rehman who had led Fatima Jinnah’s presidential bid in 1965 from East Pakistan got the first major jolt when Gen Ayub won through massive rigging. The 2nd major jolt was the reaction that he faced for his 6 points when Gen Ayub equated it with treason and which eventually made him to lose faith in the united Pakistan, and became a self-fulfilled prophecy of Gen Ayub [15]. 
  • 2: “Defence of East Pakistan lies in the West” was the famous military doctrine of the 1960s which got its first major jolt during the miscalculation of Operation Gibraltar culminating in 1965 war, and later proved to be a disaster with the uprising in East Pakistan with the support of India [13], [24]. 
  • 3:East Pakistan is a Liability” and the discontent of Bengalis can be subdued through military operations was the strategic thinking of Gen Yahya, which backfired and led to the surrender of East Pakistan with over 92,000 forces as PoWs. As per Hamood ur Rehman Commission report, conditions were created by a clique of five generals that led to the uprising in East Pakistan [8, 24]. 
  • 4: Military is not only the defender of the geographic frontiers but is also the defender of ideological frontiers (chadar aur chardiwari ki hifazat): This Gen Zia’s strategy was instrumental in cultivation of Jehadis that history had proved to be one of the most disastrous of strategies ever.
  • 5: Joining the US’ Afghan Jehad and the chimera of Strategic Depth was Gen Zia ‘s major strategic contribution. It totally ignored the US interests and capacity of CIA to involve the mujahideens into a perenial war. This was then countered by the introduction of Talibans in the Afghanistan which was again responded first through missile attacks during Clinton rule and later after 9-11 through a massive war [19, 21].
  • 6. General Aslam Baig’s strategic doctrine of “Bleed India in Kashmir” of the 1990s [16], ignored the tit-for-tat ability of India to respond through infiltration of Balochistan by RAW agents, and destablization of Karachi and cultivation of Baloch insurgency. Eventually, the strategic assets of Bleed-India-in-Kashmir doctrine turned into strategic liabilities. 
  • 7. Taliban Strategy of 1995: Initially it worked and a pro-Pakistan Taliban government was installed in Afghanistan. But, the strategists underestimated the response of the US when its regional interests were threatened. Starting with the missile attacks during Clinton years, it led to a full scale ground attack by US forces after 9-11 with the famous U-Turn by Gen Musharraf. This resulted in US forcibly taking away the air bases, air space, and even gaining ground access to move troops from Gawadar to Afghanistan [22].  
  • 8. Good-Taliban-Bad-Taliban Doctrine (running with the hare and hunting with the hounds) Doctrine by Gen Musharraf again underestimated the depth of US interests in the region [20]. Their response through blackwater ops and CIA infiltration in Pakistan and with RAW agents supports created a situation of deadly suicide bombings that eventually all had to rolled back with Op Zarb e Azb.  

See other posts related to Pakistan History 101: 

References [Being Updated]

[4] Quote by Henry Kissinger, The White House Years, quoted from Dinesh D’Souza: What’s so great about America. This echoes Lord Palmerston‘s words “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual”. 
[5] Operational Gibraltar; -An Unmitigated Disaster? by Sultan M Hali in Criterian, Vol 7#1
[6] Operation Kargil was a Four Man Show – General Shahid Aziz, Daily Dawn Jan 28, 2013
[7] Is this the End of Strategic Depth Doctrine? The Friday Times, 11 July 2014 Issue
[8] East Pakistan Operation and Surrender: Hamood ur Rehman Commission Report
[9] Karachi Operations- MQM: a cycle of peaks & troughs by Abbas Nasir in Daily Dawn, April 18, 2015 
[10] MQM: A love-hate relationship by Ayaz Amir in Daily Dawn, Nov 12, 2004
[11] Balochistan Operations: A leaf from history: Reclaiming Balochistan, peacefully by Shaikh Aziz in Daily Dawn Oct 05, 2014; and Blood and Balochistan by Cyril Almeida in Dawn Apr 26, 2015 
[12] 22 Families and Nationalization: Who Owns Pakistan by Shahid ur Rehman
[13] Defense of East Pakistan Lies in the West; An Examination of the Strategic Concept of War by Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC makes an excellent dissection of strategy concerned for 1971. Defence Journal, Jan 2001
[14] Bengalis are Strategic Liability: Hamood ur Rehman Commission Report
[15] Autobiography of Shaikh Mujeeb ur Rehman: COVER STORY: From the founder of Bangladesh; DAWN BOOKS AND AUTHORS, NOV 18, 2012 and also reviewed in Memoirs by Hamid Mir The News- Saturday, November 24, 2012 
[16] Bleed India in Kashmir: BLEEDING WOUND: ANALYZINGPAKISTAN’S KASHMIR POLICY (1989-95) by Irfan Waheed Usmani, GC University, Lahore
[17] Gen Musharraf’s U-Turn on Taliban, The Telegraph, Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad, 03 Oct 2006. What Happened Between Musharraf and Mahmood after 9-11, by Hassan Abbas, Daily Times on September 25, 2006.
[18] Gen Musharraf’s Good-Taliban-Bad-Taliban Strategy
[19] Chimera of The Strategic Depth Concept by Lt Col Khalid Masood Khan,The Nation, Oct 16, 2015
[21] Strategic Depth, Shahzad Chaudhry, Tribune, April 3, 2015
[22] Tilting at the Windmills, the Taliban Strategy, Najam Sethi Friday Times, Aug 10, 1995
[23] Costs of Political Engineering by Military Dictators; link
[24] What They Never Tell us about Ayub Khan’s Regime, DAWN, By Murtaza Haider, Last updated November 5, 2016. 


  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Height of hypocrisy, a person who might not be able to differentiate between a rifle and a gun giving his expert opinion on military strategies and national policies. I read bloggers profile and found nothing about his connection to military or higher studies (like being offered by NDU or such like international institutions) and even then he writes on such hard core topic, its like giving tips to others on the hazards of north pole without even knowing where on earth it lies.

  2. Your comment is actually supporting my thesis of this post: How can generals who are only trained in military warfare can suddenly become experts in foreign policy, statecraft and international politics to make strategy decisions for Pakistan as dictators. BTW, we are discussing "National Strategy" in this post made by generals as dictators. Also, we are discussing here political implications of dictatorial strategies with which each and every citizen gets affected and is affected.

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