One point I haven’t mentioned before is that the British Raj propounded the ‘martial races’ concept, which had a big impact on the Indian subcontinent, and which Pakistan continued to accept after independence. Technically the concept was abandoned in the 1970s within the Pakistan military but until just a couple years ago Pakistani society held the military as the highest ideal — and (alongside cricket stars) the ideal for the male. The fiercest of military men as the model for manhood followed the British colonizer’s dictum, which was dryly summarized by Dr. Jeffrey Greenhut:
The Martial Race theory had an elegant symmetry. Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward.
The ‘high’ culture of the Bengalis in East Pakistan, which placed great emphasis on the arts and intellectual pursuits, was intolerable to West Pakistan’s military class — and this was partly the reason for the horrific atrocities they carried out against the Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim.
The damning parallel between the groups that were loyal during the Mutiny and those who would be designated as “Martial Races” later seems hard to escape. Though I generally try and avoid paranoid speculation, the idea of “divide and rule” also seems to be relevant here: by keeping the various ethnic regiments of the Indian army divided along linguistic or ethnic lines, they prevented them from congealing along racial (as in, brown vs. white) ones.
For better or worse, groups once designated by the British as “martial races” still tend to carry that badge with pride. But it’s a dubious source of honor, and also an extremely dubious way of asserting one’s manhood & masculinity. (How much violence against women has been perpetrated in the service of the myth of Jat or Pathan/Pashtun martial masculinity?)
A quick glance at the composition of Indian Army Regiments shows that the Indian Army is still run on the “martial races” concept — in particular, the post-1857 interpretation. This designation was based on British perceptions of which communities were best able to bear arms and loyally serve the crown, and is related to their cultural stances on climate (hill-folk favored over the plains dwellers) as well as occupation (favoring sturdy independent peasants). Ultimately however, the British favored groups which stuck with them in the 1857 mutiny (Jats, Sikhs, Gurkhas) over those groups perceived to be disloyal (upper-castes, Bengalis, Tamils).
Over a third of the recruits in the Indian Army are recruited from the Jats, Rajputs, Gujjars, and Dogras of Haryana, Punjab, and Himanchal Pradesh — though these states comprise just over 5% of the national population (given the caste identities, the Army is really drawn from an even smaller subset of that group). That is, roughly as many infantry as fielded by the entire US Army are recruited from a group of castes among a cluster of states totalling 50 million in population. Many of the rest are similarly drawn on a narrow regional/caste basis.
The Pakistan Army has always been psyched to believe that “one Pakistani is equal to ten Indians”.
This has been repeatedly debunked in all the wars fought between India and Pakistan.
While the outcome of wars is debatable, 1971 and 1965’s Battle of Assal Uttar (the physical graveyard of Patton tanks which were superior to anything India had) gave Pakistan no leeway to cover up their inadequacy at combat unlike the fact wherein Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam is not discussed in history, military or otherwise or for that matter, any other debacle, not even the 1971 fiasco of their own making (except in general vague and defensive terms)!!
That apart, Musharraf has a chip on his shoulder. He is a Mohajir and hence non martial as per the British classification. And yet he was the COAS. In addition, he pipped Khatak (a blue blooded Pathan and a martial race man) to the post of COAS. He also had a personal grievance to settle. Gen. Zia chose Gen. Musharraf (then a Brigadier) in 1987 to command a newly-raised Special Services Group (SSG) base at Khapalu in the Siachen area. To please Gen. Zia, Gen. Musharraf with his SSG commandos launched an attack on an Indian post at Bilfond La in September, 1987, and was beaten back.
Despite serving under the same basic TACOS as the Indian Battalions conditions of service were generally better in the British battalions and their take home pay was greater due to various allowances they received. Although poorly paid by British standards they were extremely well paid by Nepali standards.
The various Gurkha welfare organisations launched a campaign, adopted by Joanna Lumley (UK media star) for parity in Gurkha TACOS with British soldiers and the right to abode in the UK. This campaign was successful and had the precise effect that the UK Army suspected it would have:
Increased social problems in the UK as Gurkha families settle in the UK
Lessening of the inflow of capital into Nepal as Gurkhas choose to bring families into the UK and retired Gurkhas move to the UK rather then take their pensions and settle in Nepal.
Bringing Gurkha soldiers TACOS in line with UK soldiers has caused manning and career management issues leading to redundancies.
At a time of a shrinking Army it is hard to justify maintaining Gurkha battalions when we are losing British battalions; Gurkhas are no longer the cheaper option.
I have served with Gurkhas, they are great, but like all soldiers have their strengths and their weaknesses. I can amplify on any of the points above, but my feeling is that the change to the Gurkha system has severely threatened their long term viability in the British Army.
I am largely an Anglophile, but I don’t romanticize the Raj. Or maybe I do. Who ever knows with me? One day I think one thing, the next day I think another. The oral history in my family regarding the time of the “britishers” is uncomfortable to recount. Half-whispered and half-remembered family mythology as oral history: “She never went into that town by herself, Madhu. No one knew why. She never wanted to be around them alone.” What does this mean? Is it true; is it exaggerated; was it a small incident or something too horrible to imagine? But no-one knows or dwells on it. It’s the past and the past is over. The general feeling is, “why think about it?”