Why Dictator Generals are Weaker than Civilians Rulers in Withstanding External Pressure

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]
There is a widespread “myth” that what Pakistan needs is a “strong leader” (a savior on horseback) who will come and conquer all our issues and problems in no time. There is a mythical belief that Pakistan is stronger in withstanding external challenges and pressures when ruled by military dictators than when it is ruled by the civilians. This post describes a tale of two encounters that belies this myth. First is the situation arising from India’s nuclear explosions in 1998 when a civilian was the prime minister and the second is the situation arising after 9-11 when a dictator was in power.
As can be seen from the comparison of the two situations, a civilian PM was better able to withstand the US pressure than a military dictator who made a u-turn on a single call for Assistant Secretary of State. Whereas a civilian PM did not buckle under intense international and US pressure, a military dictator easily submitted to all the demands in no time. Analysis of these two situations can help us in understanding why neo-colonialism requires dictators and monarchs in developing countries; rulers who can easily be brow beaten into submission. Neo-colonial demands are difficult to achieve in a civilian democratic (even a sham) dispensation. Developing a democratic consensus among large diverse populations is messy and takes a lot of time. However, dictators provide an easy way out for getting the things done by the powers playing the great game.

Dictator General Musharraf: 
11 Sep 2001
Post-911 Situation
Civilian PM Nawaz Sharif: 
11 May 1998
Post Indian Nuclear Tests Situation
Decision to make U-Turn on 13 Sep
Decision for nuclear explosion: May 28
U-Turn on 20 year old Strategy. Reckless throwing away of all strategies
Stood Firm on Nuclear Strategy of 25yrs
Surrenders on a single call from US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Did not concede even on 4 “intense” calls from President Clinton
Surrenders only 1 day after being threatened by  US Assistant Secretary of State to send Pakistan to stone-age
Withstood pressure for 17 days from 11-May to 28-May. Threats of severe sanctions, enticement of aids,…
Bubbling bravado, know-all, be-all attitude: “Mai darta-warta
Quiet, listening, playing the cards to his chest till the last moment
Did not consult except a few of his trusted lieutenants. No
analysis, no deliberations, no debate, no consultations, no people input. 
Extensive deliberations with all the institutions; public debate, consultations with security establishment, advisors, consultants
Accepted ALL demands, instantly. Unconditional surrender. Even US was surprised. USA was expecting
only half of the demands to be met and were willing to concede several of their demands.
Accepted NO US demands, did not buckle under threats. Was willing to accept all
the repercussions and stand with the nation. NS was willing to being made example like that of ZAB for atomic program. He was eventually made an example next year in coup by Gen Musharraf

Myth of Savior on Horseback (Boots to Solve all Problems)

The myth of a dictator who will magically be able to bull-doze corruption and all the problems of a big country like Pakistan in no time is fervently believed by many. This mythical view dominates despite our repeated adverse experiences of military dictators. There have been four such dictators who have ruled directly for around half of Pakistan’s existence, but despite their well intentions (if any), they could not eliminate corruption or even address systemic problems. The hollowness of this myth was exposed and their promise never materialized. In fact, the situation became much worse with each intervention.

It is interesting to note that the presence of this myth in most developing countries have managed to keep them continuously destabilized (political hegemony) through military interventions time and again but yet continues to persist.
Unfortunately people have not been able to comprehend the real intention of this meta narrative of “need for a strong powerful leader” which is propagated intentionally to justify neo-imperialism (through dictatorships) and contributes to neo-colonialism by perpetuating instability so that the neo-colonialism and its exploitation may continue.

Why Dictators are Weaker

  1. They don’t have the strength of people’s power. 
  2. Their decisions are not consensual. 
  3. They typically represent the interests of the non-elected elites and the status quo interests. 
  4. Their major interest is to protect their unconstitutional rule for which they often make major compromises with long term economic costs. 
  5. They do not have experience of listening to any thing against their will. They have been trained to listen to only yes-sir from their subordinates. “Theirs is not to question why, theirs is but to do and die.”
  6. They are trained for tactical manoeuvres and not for strategic thinking. 

The real intention of narrative “We need a strong powerful leader”

We don’t see this narrative in any democratic first world country. This narrative is only prevalent in third world countries like Pakistan. The purpose of this narrative is to turn away the public from handing over power to the people. Democracy is inherently messy because it tries to achieve consensus over opposing demands and conflicting interests. The process of consensus building requires trials and error and experimentation. Neocolonial mindset wants to live like a caged bird that is given all the necessities in its cage and continues to recall the halcyon days of the colonial empire when the natives had to do nothing but obey. This mindset abhors creativity, experimentation and transferring of the will to decide to the people. 
People of third world countries are considered as illiterates, not worthy of being given the right to decide for themselves their destiny. The erstwhile colonial masters and their neo-colonial successors feel it is their right to rule the people through an iron hand as exemplified in the quest for strong dictators. 

[to be completed. Work in Progress]


  1. LOOKING BACK: The 1998 Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Tests
  2. Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: 1998: The Year of Testing
  3. Chagai-1
  5. [To be completed]

See Also: 


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