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European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States >
Military, Police, and Civilian Bureaucratic Institutions

Throughout colonial territories, local armies and police forces were trained to support the colonial state. This was by and large a very successful undertaking, enough so that Indian soldiers fought in European battlefields during both world wars, and the elite Himalayan Gurkha soldiers continue to fight battles for the British, the last instance being during the Falkland Islands war in 1982. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, wherein Muslim and Hindu soldiers in northern India rose in rebellion against their English officers, was not repeated on that scale, at least not until the time of independence, when armies in Egypt and Syria took to anti-imperialism. Recruitment among minorities and deployment of soldiers in alien communities to some extent accounted for the facility with which colonial administrations created and managed their militaries. Sikh soldiers thus predominated in units that kept order in Hindu and Muslim areas, while it was Baluch troops from western Pakistan, who opened fire on Sikh worshipers in Julianwala Bagh in the Amritsar Massacre in 1919. Still, the power of colonial militaries came from the discipline and esprit de corps that intensive training had instilled in the soldiers and more important, in the officer corp. The colonial armies had internalized the military ideas and political values of the colonial administration. To the extent to which they found a role in state formation in later years, they did so with the benefit of their colonial outlooks. Even in Algeria the military has remained one of the most Francophone institutions in the country.

More important, the colonial legacy determined their attitudes toward politics. Colonial militaries were generally unnaturally large, far larger than the size of the local economies warranted. Colonial militaries were based on the economic and political interests of the European power; they were not conceived, armed, or trained based on the economic and technological abilities of the colonial territory. The size and power of the military itself was the most important legacy that postcolonial states had to deal with. Muslim states thus inherited omnipotent militaries, far too large for their relative population sizes and economic capacities. Furthermore, the militaries had fought alongside the colonial rulers right up to the time of independence. Their attitudes toward the struggles for independence and those who led those struggles were not necessarily sympathetic. Military and police forces had clashed with and arrested politicians; they had viewed the champions of the independence struggles with the same cynicism and disparaging glare that their superior European officers had. The Indonesian generals thus remained wary of Sukarno and lost no time in deposing him when the threat of communism provided them with the pretext to do so. The same may be said of those who would lead coups in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sudan. They would remain preoccupied with order and show impatience with the politics of the masses.

Military, Police, and Civilian Bureaucratic Institutions

Local armies and police forces were usually trained to support the colonial state. One of the few instances when they rebelled was the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, in which Muslim and Hindu soldiers in northern India rose in rebellion against their British officers.

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In the new states the officers who had served the colonial order and the politicians who had fought for independence had to share in the task of state formation. The relationship between the military and the civilian order was often determined by this reality. Even in the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa, where left-leaning junior officers overthrew senior officers of the old school to join the anti-imperialist struggle, they did not resolve the inherent tensions between the military and civilian orders. These tensions in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Syria eventually led to military takeovers. The military's disdain for politicians and their perceived right to interfere in politics to restore order were in good measure legacies of the colonial era—whose militaries, with few exceptions, were not meant for external war but for preservation of internal order. These legacies were internalized by the rank-and-file of the colonial armies and became a part of their postindependence ethos. The officers in most colonial settings, and even in the Ottoman Empire and Iran, were more educated than the average population, and at the institutional level militaries had been more exposed to Western ideas. They therefore viewed themselves as better equipped in leading the new states to development and progress. The combination of their belief in their greater capability to oversee development—a view that in the 1950s was shared by Western powers—and their disdain for politicians, whom were seen as demagogues, often set military leaders on a path of competition with the political elite. In this the military leadership filled the shoes of the former colonial rulers as they competed with the nationalist leaders for the right to represent and to deliver on the aspirations of the local population.

Much like the military, the bureaucracy also served as a pillar of the colonial order. Trained and molded in the ethos of the colonial culture, bureaucrats in the empire's service shared and followed the values and political outlook of the European rulers. Because they controlled the machinery of the colonial state, they ineluctably occupied a central role in the postcolonial order. Politicians had only limited success in controlling them, lest they disrupt the entire workings of the state. As a result, the bureaucracy had a major role in state formation in the postcolonial era and in creating continuities between the ethos and mode of operation of the state before and after independence. In Pakistan, for instance, soon after independence in 1947 the bureaucracy eclipsed the political elite in managing the country. Political leaders Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948) and Liaqat Ali Khan (1895–1951) were replaced at the helm after 1951 by senior bureaucrats Ghulam Muhammad (1895–1956) and Iskandar Mirza (1899–1969), who had risen through the ranks of the bureaucracy under the British.

The power of the bureaucracy varied across colonial territories, depending on the extent of the investment that colonial rulers had made in their administrative institutions. For example, the Indian Civil Service was exemplary in its efficient functioning and elaborate structure, but the bureaucracies in the Arab Near East and Libya were generally undeveloped. The power and efficiency of the bureaucracy was a double-edged sword. It could serve as a major source of resistance to effective exertion of authority by the political elite, and it could infuse the new states with the political values of the colonial order. Still, the same power and efficiency was often an asset in mobilizing resources for development. Over the years the standards by which colonial bureaucracies operated declined; some even lost their independence and preeminence. As a result, their political role and their contribution to socioeconomic change have been diminished.

The judiciary presents a very different case. To begin with, it is of primary importance to studying former British colonies, where the colonial state consciously promoted a system of justice modeled after Britain's and gave it autonomy to function within the structure of the colonial order. As a result, Britain's colonial subjects developed a strong respect for the judiciary, and its independence from the writ of the executive branch became embedded in the structure of the postcolonial state. In Pakistan, for example, the judiciary has defied the executive branch over the years to assert the primacy of the law and the constitution. It voted against the military government of General Ayub Khan when he banned the Islamist party (Jamaat-i Islami) in 1964; and in 1993 the judiciary ruled against President Ghulam Ishaq Khan for having dismissed the government, and they ordered the government restored—and it was. That Ayub Khan and Ghulam Ishaq Khan abided by the writ of the judiciary showed that the judiciary's institutional power, as conceived of by the colonial state, has become instituted in the postcolonial state. In 1996 Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's attempts to rein in the judiciary and to assert the executive branch's supremacy over it was one of the principal reasons cited by President Faruq Leghari in dismissing Bhutto's government. Similarly, in Malaysia the judiciary has rendered a number of verdicts against the government. When a power struggle erupted in the ruling party, the United Malays Nationalist Organization, in 1986–88, a good deal of the wrangling occurred through the intermediary of the courts. Despite Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad's success in curbing the powers of the judiciary in 1988–89, the courts continue to enjoy a certain degree of autonomy.

Not in every postcolonial state—even among those that had been British colonies—can this degree of judicial autonomy and power be seen. In Malaysia, for instance, since 1988 the autonomy and powers of the judiciary have been significantly reduced through legislation and strong-arm tactics by the government. Where and when the judicial branch has been weak in the new states, it was more likely that authoritarianism and arbitrary rule became the order of the day. The manner in which the colonial state established and then institutionalized the division of powers between the various branches of government thus had a great bearing on the internal politics of the successor states. British colonies generally tended to be less dependent on centralized rule and more emphatic on the autonomy of the various state agencies from the executive branch. As a result, former British colonies from Pakistan to Malaysia have been more likely to have pluralist forms of government and more benevolent and open authoritarian regimes. These colonies tend to view legal and constitutional issues more seriously as frameworks for managing both political and social relations.

The judiciary also had the effect of instituting particular patterns of political activity in the body politic of the colonial society, which continued to dominate the postcolonial scene and by the same token to allow legislations and the courts to become avenues for political activism. The judiciary's autonomy and respect for the law under British rule often led to resistance to colonial rule and the use of legal channels to assert nationalist aspirations. For instance, in 1913 Muhammad Ali Jinnah helped to push through the Mussalman Wakf (Muslim Endowments) Validating Act to protect Muslim endowments and thereby limit the penetration of Indian society by the British. Similar efforts in Southeast Asia had the same effect, delineating the boundaries of Muslim society and thereby protecting Muslim cultural life against colonial control. In Malaya the British compensated the local kings for their loss of political control by giving them the final say on all cultural and religious matters. As a result, control over Islamic law and its implementation became an important marker of monarchical authority. The local kings have guarded their prerogative with great vigilance, with the result that in Malaysia all issues pertaining to Islamic law fall under the jurisdiction of state governments. In effect, Muslims used the law and the courts of the colonial order to limit state power.

Many of these laws did not stand after independence, however. For instance, from 1959 onward the state of Pakistan has systematically reduced the scope of private religious endowments and increased the state's control of them, and since 1980 the federal center in Malaysia has stripped the sultans of some of their legal powers. Still, the legacy of Muslim legal efforts against colonial rule has continued to influence the unfolding of politics. First, the law and the courts have remained important to the resolution of political disputes. Second, the same issues that once protected Muslim society in the colonial order and were thus politicized—such as the endowments—have continued to serve as determinants in struggles between the state and the society. That the postcolonial state succeeded the colonial state made this continuity easier. Pakistan may have done away with the spirit of Jinnah's law of 1913, but the fact that endowments are still a contentious issue is proof of the continued salience of the avenues that were used by local political leaders in keeping the colonial state at bay.

On a different level, how the colonial state interacted with society has been important to the workings of the postcolonial state and how it has in turn interacted with Muslim societies. Colonial rule was often made possible by manipulating divisions within society. Colonial rule thus accentuated social divisions and helped to institute them by treating different communities differently, in the eyes of the law, at the polling booth, and in how resources were allocated. Separate electorates or patronage handed out along linguistic, ethnic, or religious lines thus encouraged politics of identity at the cost of the development of uniform civil societies. In India this encouraged the emergence of the All-India Muslim League in 1906, which lobbied with the British for separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus. In Malaysia the same trend of events led each community to form its own party. At the time of independence in 1957, Malays gathered under the United Malays National Organization, while the Indians rallied behind the Malaysian Indian Congress and the Chinese behind the Malaysian Chinese Association. In essence, elections in the colonial period provided a critical political framework that shaped the conception of communities of their relation to power at the center as well as their own identity and self-definition.

The postcolonial state leaders, many of whom came from among the colonial bureaucracy and military, often followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. State leaders in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, or the Arab Near East would continue to manipulate social divisions even as they spoke of national unity. That the political leadership after independence inevitably belonged to one social group made the task of manipulating social divisions all the more difficult. There have been few cases in which the state has risen above the politics of identity or has been able to undo colonialism's divisive impact. Malaysia succeeded but did so only after the separation of Singapore and the ethnic riots of 1969. Other polities across the Muslim world continue to operate on the belief in the inherent division of society—a legacy of colonial rule. The nationalist rhetoric often belies the reality of everyday politics in which communal, tribal, or ethnic identities supersede national ones.

In the same vein, rules and procedures implemented by the colonial state to control local populations, especially during times of war, had an important effect on defining relations between the state and society in later years. For instance, restrictions placed on free expression during World War I and again during World War II in India and the Arab Near East, or during the emergency (the suspension of civil liberties) during the wars in Malaya, set the precedent for later authoritarian practices. Clauses in Pakistan's constitutions or in Malaysia's Internal Security Act of 1960 that restrict individual rights or give the state extraordinary powers often have their roots in wartime British restrictions, such as the Rowlett Act of 1919, the India Act of 1935, and emergency rules and laws in Malaya. Especially because World War II immediately preceded independence, the structure of relations between the state and society during the war had a greater impact on the politics of the independent states than the character of state-society relations during colonialism's earlier years. Across the Muslim world the World War II period was one of direct assaults by the colonial state on civil liberties. Restrictions on personal freedoms, the press, the right to due process and free association, the right to protest, and the like altered the nature of state-society relations. That independence followed shortly thereafter, and before the wartime regulations could have been rescinded and the nature of state-society relations restored to its pre–war status, profoundly affected the exercise of power and state authority in the postcolonial state. The war strengthened the colonial and postcolonial states, weakened social institutions that could have kept the state at bay, and strengthened pluralism.

Relations of patronage between state and society during the colonial era also have left an indelible mark on future states. In areas that were deemed strategically important to colonial rulers, such as northwest India, or where colonialism arrived late and thus was unable to dominate completely, control was secured through generous relations of patronage between the colonial state and the local populations. Northwest India—the territory that would later constitute Pakistan—bordered on Afghanistan and throughout the colonial era had been a source of concern to the British. Northwest India was also the area from which the Indian army drew most of its soldiers. As a result, the British asserted their control over this region through patronage, with the colonial state providing the local economy and political elite with financial support.

In Malaya a similar situation held with the rural Malay population, who did not benefit directly from the financial activities of the colonial establishment, but whose loyalty was purchased through patronage given to the rural power structure. In the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, colonialism arrived late after the first world war. As a result, colonialism was never able to establish the kind of state that ruled over India or Algeria. The temporary presence of European powers in the region, moreover, was often justified by strategic imperatives rather than commerce. As a result, the power relations were anchored not so much in direct exertion of power—although the French in Syria often used force—as it was in entangling the local population in the web of the colonial state's patronage. In Syria, for instance, the French were unable to attract settlers to the colony because of the temporary nature of the mandate system. The colonial economy and society therefore lacked the distinct settler domination that was the mark of French rule over North Africa. The colonial establishment therefore dealt directly with local landowners. The emerging relationship was one of state support for local agriculture, which in turn the French hoped, would establish French control over rural Syria. The absence of settlers and the patterns of colonial despotism that were associated with the French allowed them to develop a very different kind of colonial relationship in Syria. As World War II neared, the colonial establishments in the Arab Near East became more dependent on securing their hold, and minimizing the costs of control of the region, by generously supplying patronage to the population.

The consequences of state patronage, especially so close to independence, was to determine the pattern of later state–society relations. The state in such cases emerged as paternalistic, and the society came to view patronage as a function of the state. The domination of the public sector in the Arab Near East and the state's extensive patronage networks, which took shape under the ideological banner of Arab socialism, thus had its roots in the character of the colonial state. In Malaysia the relations of patronage led the Malay population to remain aloof from commercial activities and instead to rely on the state to guarantee its economic and social standing. The links of patronage between the dominant party, the United Malays National Organization, and the political structure of rural Malaysia is very much based on the colonial structure of authority. In Pakistan the relations of patronage had in part to do with the relative weakness of the Indian nationalist Congress party in those regions—especially in Punjab—and after independence laid the foundations for the rise of a large and paternalistic state.

Although ideological factors and policies adopted by ruling governments have also been important in the eventual domination of the state over society, and growth in the size of state patronage, it is arguable that the existence of such relations during colonial rule may have greatly facilitated such outcomes. Elsewhere, where strong links of patronage did not exist, such as in Iran in the Qajar and Pahlavi eras, the state emerged as far weaker. In Iran, in fact, imperialism was very important to keeping the Iranian state weak throughout the nineteenth century. There is evidence that the British may have looked favorably on the rise of the Pahlavi state as a means of shoring up state power to prevent Iran's collapse before an expansionist Russia. Even there, though, the British support was short-lived. Soon after the rise of Reza Shah Pahlavi to power, the British fell out with him and eventually insisted that he abdicate and leave Iran on the eve of the second world war. As a consequence, the Iranian state—until the formation of the Islamic Republic in 1979—did not develop the kind of control and therefore power that characterized the states where colonialism had spawned strong relations of patronage and control.

Colonial institutions, policies, and attitudes toward governance determined the trajectory of state developments in the postindependence era, leaving a strong intellectual, legal, and institutional legacy in the Muslim world. Muslim states developed in the shadow of colonialism, and their developments, modes of operation, and politics cannot be fully understood without considering the continuities between the pre- and postcolonial eras and the manner in which colonialism determined fundamental attitudes toward politics, society, and governance.

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