By Col. M. Yahya Effendi (Retd)


Social breakdown is one of those loose concepts which has a broad implication. It has a definite link with rebellion, and then there is a subtle difference between rebellion (insurrection) and revolution:- "Rebellion is defined as a form of violent power struggle in which overthrow of the regime is threatened by means that include violence. In a successful rebellion, overthrow is achieved, whereas it is not achieved in an unsuccessful rebellion. A successful revolution may be said to have occurred when substantial social changes follow a rebellion, and a revolution is regarded as unsuccessful when little social changes result therefrom". ('Rebellion, Revolution and Armed Forces', by D E H Russel, Academica Press, USA, 1974).

Both rebellion and revolution implies a collapse of the existing social order. Revolution is a powerful synonym for "CHANGE", it implies violent upheaval and the overturning of a previously stable state of existence: "The difference between a revolution and other kinds of changes in societies is, to judge from many past users of the term, logically nearer to that between a mountain and a hill than to that, say, between the freezing point and the boiling point of given substance" (Crane Brinton, "Anatomy of Revolution", American Library, USA, 1968). The question is can revolution and chaos be averted?

How and Why of Revolutions

The environments in which revolutions take place, in popular belief, are within societies where there is suppression, social injustice and economic disparity. But this is not the case in reality. Most of the modern revolutions, the French and the Russian, were born under conditions where the society was economically progressive. It, however, does not imply that the society was a happy one. Famines, bad harvests and other natural calamities do always cause misery to certain sections of the society, but then according to Trotsky: "In reality, the mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would always be in revolt". The main problem has always been the existence among a group, or groups, of a feeling that prevailing conditions do not permit open economic activity. Thus it is economic grievances - not distress -- among groups, that feel the political system responsible for inhibiting economic growth. And this is one of the prime symptoms of revolution at any time and place.

If we study the economic life of those societies which underwent revolution, in the years preceding the event, we find that on the whole they were prosperous. However, the governments were chronically short of funds and developmental resources. These two factors, combined with the feeling that economic activity was inhibited, created the conditions for a revolution. Except for the Russian Revolution, no other revolution was initiated on the propaganda of class conflict. According to a study by R. B. Merriman, all the great European revolutions had a common financial origin and began as a protest against taxation.

In all cases, the government had been apathetically inefficient and the people impatient. The expression given to the need for change in this environment of discontent was always through pressure groups - intellectuals. Quantitatively, in a society markedly unstable, there seem to be absolutely more intellectuals bitterly attacking existing institutions and clamouring for change. It is indeed the expression of ideas for change - which may vary enormously in different revolutions - that makes the uniformity in depicting the early symptoms. We find that ideas are always a part of the pre-revolutionary situations, and we are quite content to let it go at that: NO IDEAS, NO REVOLUTION. This does not mean that ideas cause revolutions; it merely implies that ideas form part of the mutually dependent variables that underlie a desire for total change, through violence.

Class antagonism as a cause of revolutionary sentiments is justified up to a point that the upper classes, despite their privileges and power, were not in a position or were reluctant to use that power effectively to curb those who were aspiring to overthrow them. In fact, "social antagonism seemed to be at their strongest when a class had attained wealth, but is, or feels itself, shut out from the highest social distinction, and from positions of evident and open political power". Political power and social distinction are the manifestations of economic power, when economic power in a certain class in a society cannot buy privileges and social distinction, and there is no scope for upward mobility then we have a fairly reliable sign of an impending revolution.

All revolutions begin with violence, when the revolutionaries challenge the authority of the government in power with illegal actions. And in all cases the authorities have responded with force "but in each case with a striking lack of success". The ineffectiveness of the rulers to use force with any measure of success underlay their ineptness, and we cannot see it as a social phenomenon common to revolutions, because the power elite had, over a period of time, degenerated both morally and physically; and the power of their coercive agencies had likewise been undermined by complacency, corruption and indiscipline. The revolutions in all cases succeeded when the revolutionaries moved out of their intellectual discussions, complaints and rioting stages, to influence and win over the armed forces to their cause, especially the lower and middle ranking officers. Brinton holds that:-

"... We may suggest in very tentative and hypothetical form the generalization that no government has ever fallen before attackers until it has lost control over its armed forces or lost the ability to use them effectively - or, of course, lost such control of force because of interference by a more powerful foreign force, as in Hungary in 1949 and in 1956, and conversely that no revolutionists have ever succeeded until they have got a predominance of effective armed force on their side. This holds true from spears and arrows to machine guns and gas, from Hippias to Castro".

There is no such thing as a PERMANENT REVOLUTION, all those who tried to create it failed miserably. The Chinese "Cultural Revolution" is a case in point - it saw the demise of the Maoist cult. However, the prospects for the Third World seems to hold promise for the revolutionary processes as we approach the 21st century. Carl Leiden and Karl M. Schmitt, in their academic study, "The Politics of Violence: Revolution in the Modern World" (Prentice Hall, USA, 1968) have come to the conclusion that:-

  1. The fever of revolution will not abate in ... the 20th century (in all likelihood continue well into the 21st century - author's view).
  2. Continuous revolution is very likely to occur in the underdeveloped areas... (The Third World).
  3. In most instances such revolution is likely to be a coup or limited political revolt.
  4. In any particular area, revolutionary upheavals will continue until substantial social adjustments have been made.
  5. Revolution is not really precisely predictable as to time and place.

For the sociologist the study of revolutions is a pathological research, because like a rare disease, the revolution afflicts the body and soul of a nation, and similar to a vicious viral strain it has its period of genesis, incubation and a life-cycle all its own. And it also dies just as unmourned as an unwanted foreign body in a living organism struggling for health and survival ?

Breakdown in a social system has a long period of gestation, it may extend over generations before the mood for change matures and the explosion takes place. The people who initiate revolution, belong to a broad section of the population and represent a very wide social spectrum. The causes, or the triggering mechanism, has always been basically economic:-

  • Inhibition of economic activity for certain social classes.
  • Inhibition of upward mobility in the social stratas for those who have acquired economic power.

In both cases, the conditions ripen the environment for unleashing a process of revolutionary change or upheaval in the ailing society. Thus the image of the poor deprived scum of the earth rising against the oppression of the privileged classes are pure myth. The revolution must have armed might to ensure victory.

A Positive Role for the Armed Forces

The armed forces have either been the prime instrument of revolutionary movements, or have effectively prevented the breakdown of the social order by pre-empting the drift towards violent change. This fact has manifested itself time and again. As long as the military remains loyal to the incumbent regimes, the dissidents (despite the popularity and justification of their manifesto) will remain contained, and will not attain their objectives.

The loyalty of the military should not be taken for granted. At a certain point either the persistence of the revolutionary enthusiasm, or the anger against the system, will find inroads in the military, and sympathisers will emerge in the various stratas of the command structure. On the same analogy, if the incumbent regime has the wisdom to utilise the military in helping to bring about the very socio-economic changes, which the revolutionary movements aim at through violence could be achieved peacefully. The discipline and efficiency of the military can achieve the same results without dislocating the existing social order, and thus initiate the process of evolutionary change through a systematic and orderly allocation of resources and prioritisation. Throughout history, wise and sagacious governments have used their military to pre-empt violence and rebellion, through participation in nation building activities. The military participation in nation building is technically termed as Civic Action.

Revolution Pre-empted

Military-Civic Action is as old as history. From ancient Babylon in 500 BC to 1997 AD, civic action has been successfully conducted to shape and change societies. The Romans used their highly disciplined military forces in transforming the conquered societies, and improving the quality of life in the conquered areas of the empire. Similarly, the British, 2000 years later, applied the same methods and techniques in their colonial empire. The Russians even went a step further in Central Asia.

Where they completely changed the complexion of a predominantly tribal and pastoral society into a uniform modern agro-based and urban industrialised civilisation. The military played more than a subordinate role in bringing about the necessary socio-economic changes. The US Government's Department of Defence definition of Civic Action comprehensively explain the concept of the military's role in social action programmes:-

"The use of predominantly indigenous military forces on projects useful to the local population at all levels in such fields as education, training, public works, agriculture, transportation, communication, health, sanitation and other contributing to economic and social development, which would also serve to improve the standing of the military forces with the population".

According to a US expert, General Lansdale, civic action is "almost any action which makes the soldier a brother of the people, as well as their protector", and that it can cover any activity from "basic military courtesy and discipline" up to "formal projects". In other words, it implies "anything and everything" which the military could do to develop the bonds of respect, cooperation, and reciprocally with the civilian society in which they mutually benefit from each other, by meeting the criteria of civic action.

In under-developed countries like Pakistan, the military with its superior organisation, efficiency, capacity for economisation of resources, could be tasked to undertake any activity which will ameliorate the lot of the underprivileged sections of the society. This concept has a deep philosophical connotation in the nation's security framework. Underdeveloped countries are more often the prey of domestic instability and internal threats arising out of socio-economic disparities. These threats appear as political, social or politico-religious dissidence. Since security is the basic aim of the armed forces, thus their role in safeguarding against internal threats falls well within the purview of their overall mission. Hence, civic action projects is a strategic necessity, as it has the same weightage, by promoting national cohesion and political strength, as the development of conventional military power against external threats. Constructive projects undertaken in improving the lot of the poor and deprived masses are as much an internal security asset, as the acquisition of fire and manoeuvre expertise in peace-time training. Consequently, we must realise that the necessity of removing or alleviating those conditions which carry the seeds of violent revolutions, is as much an imperative for the military establishment, as the defence of the territorial and national integrity of the nation.


The role of the military in nation building is not a new concept for Pakistan's military. Already, the Corps of Engineers and Signals have done yeoman service in developing the means of communications in the far flung areas of Pakistan, thus opening the way for economic progress for a vast section of the population who had previously led a deprived existence for centuries. Government of Pakistan's, Second Five Year Plan (1960-65) had envisaged the important role Pakistan's military could play in the nation's socio-economic development:-

"Important relationship between civilian and military use of manpower should be carefully explored by the National Manpower Council in order to insure the best possible use of the manpower pool. New skills, habits of discipline and familiarity with group organisations are acquired during terms of military service. These attainments are national assets to be conserved after discharge and fully utilized in the civilian work of development...."

But the spirit of the above recommendation must have escaped the degenerating bureaucracy and political establishment of Pakistan. The military and civil drifted apart over the years and the imposition of two martial laws between 1969 and 1987 did not contribute either to national integration or socio-economic development. According to a US civic action expert:-

"Enlightened military administration can help neutralise fragmentation and division within a state through its own processes of amalgamation and unity".

The second Five Year Plan had envisaged civic action to be conducted through a "national youth corps programme" under the Army's control, for a wide variety of uplift projects in the rural areas:-

"...coastal embankments, small dams, flood control bunds, minor irrigation and drainage schemes, soil and water conservation, afforestation, arterial and internal roads, especially unmettled roads linking villages with towns, ponds, and tanks for fish culture and general village use, sanitation and drainage, construction of small school buildings, dispensaries, community wells, and protective walls and water supply projects..." and for urban development:-

"... Slum clearance, conservation of desirable areas, creation of green open spaces, sanitation and clean-up campaigns". But as we have experienced no such activity took place. The military's energies were directed elsewhere.

Instead, like the Latin American nations, opportunistic military and civilian leaders intrigued, dissented and were involved in activities which eventually led to the truncation of the country in 1971. And the economic mismanagement which began as a result, after the downfall of President Muhammad Ayub Khan, has brought us to our present state of near economic collapse.


There are no dearth of civic action models conducted by other armies for Pakistan to study and emulate. The Chinese People Liberation Army (PLA) has an extensive programme which keeps the military in close contact with civilian needs, and it contributes on a massive scale in dealing with outstanding national issues. One example is the army's role in the environmental field: the afforestation of China. Because of years of turmoil, mismanagement and lack of civic responsibility in the rural areas, had denuded China's forests. Today, the PLA is actively involved in afforestation. Labour units are formed consisting of prisoners who are petty felons and delinquents, and under the strict discipline of the military, are afforesting entire mountain ranges. The technique is that after a certain area is selected, at the right time before the seasonal rains, aviation units carry out aerial scattering of seeds, of such plants which become undergrowth to protect saplings from heat and cold. After the area has been seeded, the labour units move in and thus thousands of saplings are planted with minimal wastage of labour, effort and resource. The result is that once bare mountains are once again becoming green.

The US military has a highly organised civic action department. Commenting on the role of the military in the development of the USA, it has been claimed that:-

"If statistics were available they might well show that the contribution to the economy of this nation from civic action type projects in which the US Army has participated exceeds the cost of maintaining US forces throughout our history".

Prime examples of major civic action projects are:-

  • Completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, after the civilian contractors bungled the project.
  • Building of the 2166 Kilometers long Alaskan Highway during World War II.
  • The post-cold war development of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
  • Civic action projects in Korea and Japan. In Korea alone, by the end of 1960, the US military had completed 4,000 projects evaluated at $ 74,000,000. In the fiscal year 1960, the US invested $ 27,250,000 in civic action programmes. Today South Korea is an industrial giant!

According to an evaluation by H. F. Walterhouse a civic action expert:-

"... In their day-to-day operations, the agencies of the Department of Defence have a tremendous impact upon the economic health for the country and not just as a depressant. The services conduct a vast and diversified educational programme for their personnel, much of which has civilian application. Procurement and research programme contribute advances in equipment and techniques of reciprocal civilian benefit. When disaster or emergency arises or when political decisions, which require a tremendous administrative or technological effort by the government are made, the security structure has at its instant disposal facilities, supplies, trained and disciplined manpower and the prerequisites of management... Civic action, whatever its nominal designation, has been historically validated...."

The aim of any Civic Action Programme is to achieve civilian self-help. The military has proportionately a higher share of trained manpower, equipment and may be even funds; but it is the civilian base which has the overall resources and raw material for the purpose. The military can only help in organising, guiding, and focusing the logistic effort, to ensure that no waste occurs and in providing the necessary leadership and example. This also has a beneficial side. It helps in creating a spirit of competitiveness between the civilian authorities, NGOs and the military. The often apathetic civilian administration and NGOs are galvanised into competing with the army, with the result a certain acceptable pace of development is established which becomes a national norm.

The Pakistan defence establishment could contribute in many areas of national development, especially when we have reached the present economic impasse, where many economists and political scientists have started to pontificate on Pakistan's future as a FAILED STATE. In such an acute situation, the military, all three services, could provide the example and the models for helping the nation to come out of its present apathy, and tackle the myriad socio-economic problems it is facing. The area where the military could help have already been listed above, but under the present circumstances certain broad parameters and priorities need to be identified:-

  • The civic action programmes should not be confined to the inaccessible areas only, but also to all those urban and rural areas which are suffering the degradation of over-population, unemployment, congestion, pollution and the overall environmental deterioration.
  • The military, must fight the battle against illiteracy. Special emphasis must be given to adult literacy and mass education. Unless adult illiteracy is not contained effectively, Pakistan under no circumstances will progress in the field of primary/basic education. The main object of adult literacy campaigns is not just to ensure literacy, but to create the awareness of the debility caused by illiteracy in a society. Mass education covers such broad areas of local concern which will affect the overall quality of life of the communities. A prime example is making people aware of the filth in which the majority of our population live in. Another example would be to highlight the ecological damage in our rural areas.
  • Apart from the active military units, the defence services could make good use of reservists and retired personnel. Especially those who are released at comparatively young age and are fit for active community work. Retired officers (all categories) could be organised and assisted to run NGOs for socio-economic uplift schemes in their respective areas. Improvement of agricultural techniques and encouragement of horticulture should be a prime target of civic action. In the coastal region the Navy could contribute in improving fishery industry, protection or endangered species (like the Indus Dolphin) and the mangrove forests of the Indus Delta; techniques to improve boat building, navigation and control of pollution of coastal waters etc.
  • The formation and organising of penal units consisting of prisoners who fall in the socially reclaimable category who could be eventually rehabilitated by being placed under military control, using retired military personnel, and these could be utilised for socio-economic and agrarian uplift projects. The former criminals could be rehabilitated by teaching them new skills and utilising their manpower for the projects in hand. It would reduce pressure on our over-crowded prisons and provide employment opportunities to a large section of our armed services reservists pool which is wasted at present by retirement from service.
  • Adventure training of officers could be related to ecological projects:-

(1) Survey, protection and monitoring of national forest wealth and endangered species.

(2) Study and monitoring of essential livestock, including veterinary support in far flung areas.

(3) Environmental upgradation projects in the form of support skills and advisory services.

  • Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust could pioneer the recycling industry in getting rid of such dangerous and damaging industrial waste material like the poly-ethylene bags. These could be converted into materials which would be of permanent utility. In the US waste plastic is converted into material for building: replacing wood. These need to be seriously explored.

A commission to assess the scope and range of civic action capacity of the military should be constituted on an emergent basis. The Ministry of Defence must create a section devoted to civic action programmes. In this we must also consider that the Pakistani society has become increasingly violent, and violent crimes are becoming a social problem. In the civic action programme, the development of the capability and capacity of the community to ensure local security of life and property through volunteer assistance in law enforcement, should be a priority area of attention. This factor is basic to the entire theme of the need for civic action in Pakistan. As Walterhouse has cogently highlighted:-

"Where insurgency is not a factor, social and economic advancement to which military organisations make tangible contributions constitutes an all-important preventive measure against the inequities and discontent which encourage insurrection. When open revolt marks dissidence...civic action operations assume significance of greater proportions".


The Pakistan's armed forces can make a major contribution in nation building through a concerted CIVIC ACTION programme. However, there is a caveat. Not all civic action programmes have been a success. The failure of utilising the Pakistan military in the Second Five Year Plan (1960-65) was as a result of the lack of political will and the failure of the armed forces leadership to realise the importance of civic action. Similarly, a well planned civic action programme was launched in Laos by the US military in 1956, but it ended in a dismal failure because "too many organisations became involved for optimum effectiveness. Difficulties arose both within the Laotian Government and within the United States Country Team. The civil government began to operate its own separate civic action programme (ten-man teams); the United States Operations Mission (USOM) organised a number of three-man teams, and even the United Nations put some five-man teams in the field". The operation had started too late and ended too soon because of the Cold War competition and its strategic location.

The success of a civic action programme will depend on the following cardinal principles:-

  • Total commitment of the participants in an activity which is as important as the act of worship. Mass education should be a priority task.
  • Centralised policy making and decisions on an overall parameteric design followed by decentralisation of execution on regional area peculiarity requirements for projects.
  • The military could make its maximum contribution in environmental projects in which ecological upgradation to include protection/monitoring of endangered species would be well within the military's integral resources. By prioritising projects in rural and far flung areas will not only maintain an operational orientation but also vital topographical and psycho-social information/knowledge could be acquired for future operations: conventional, insurgency and internal security.