LUBP Interview with Dr Ayesha Siddiqa (Part I)

Previous LUBP Interviews

with Nadeem F Paracha

with Kamran Shafi


LUBP is pleased to present an exclusive interview with Pakistan’s leading political commentator and military analyst, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa.

Dr. Siddiqa is a regular op-ed contributor to leading Pakistani newspapers. She did her doctorate from King’s College London in 1996 and has worked on issues varying from military technology, defence decision-making, nuclear deterrence, arms procurement, arms production to civil-military relations in South Asia. She has written two books on defence decision-making and political economy of military: Pakistan’s Arms Procurement and Military Build-up, 1979-99: In Search of a Policy (Palgrave Press, 2001), and, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (Pluto Press, 2007).

Dr. Siddiqa worked a civil servant for 11 years during which she served as the Director of Naval Research with Pakistan Navy making her the first civilian and a woman to work at that position in Pakistan’s defence establishment. She also worked as a Deputy Director Audit (Defence Services).

She is a Ford Fellow and was the ”Pakistan Scholar” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at Washington, DC for 2004-05. She is a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (South Asia Studies Program).


LUBP: Dr. Siddiqa, thanks for taking out the time to interview with us. Tell us something about your background and what made you go into the civil services and then subsequently quit the service?

AS: I was born and raised in Lahore. So, despite that my family is from Bahawalpur, a place with which I have active contact, my heart is Lahori (it is a frame of mind). I joined the civil service in 1988 purely for personal reasons.

I lost my father in 1979 and being an only child I was left with my mother to confront issues of inheritance. After I did my bachelors from Kinnaird College, Lahore my mother, who was a novelist – Jamila Hashmi, advised me to do CSS.

Seeing my resistance to the idea one day she told me that “look child you don’t have a father, brother or uncles to help you. You need to stand on your feet to survive, which in this country, means having contacts. You should either earn a name for yourself through writing (and she meant fiction) or join the civil service.

In hindsight, it was a good decision because I finished with my written exams for the CSS in October 1987 and my mother passed away in January 1988 leaving me behind to stand up ‘on my two feet’. I realized that being a member of the civil service made such a difference in the world.

The deputy commissioner Bahawalpur, who was a pakka DMG (District Management Group) officer with the ‘right’ kind of attitude for a brown sahib, began to behave differently. I was no more the awam (ordinary person) but part of the class of rulers. Trust me, this meant a lot in a feudal-bureaucratic environment.

I was in the Audit and accounts service and served in various capacities. It was during this period that I went to England to do my Ph.D. in War Studies, King’s College, London. I returned in 1996 and rejoined civil service where I remained until I resigned in 2000. Prior to my resignation I also served in Pakistan Navy for a year and a half as Director of Naval Research. The problems, which were the cause for my joining the civil service, were no more and I was more inclined to pursuing an academic career. I have no regrets on my decision. I think I was just not suited for a bureaucratic career.

LUBP: How did your experience as the Director of Naval Research assist you in your research methodology? Did this experience guide you in what many consider the definitive analysis of the economics of our security establishment, “Military Inc.”?

AS: My stint with the Navy was an interesting experience and an experiment. Actually, the CNS then Admiral Fasih Bokhari had a great idea to get a civilian to work for him and bring a change in the service. However, the status-quo forces didn’t allow him to do so. But it was interesting. One raced with time and battle with ideological bottle necks.

Majority of the naval officers were not willing to open up the system and bring about the necessary change. The one and a half years stint was also wonderful from the perspective of me understanding the fact that civilians and military personnel are two different species. The biggest sin in this country (in the eyes of the military) is to be an argumentative civilian.

As for my book, my stint at the NHQ just helped endorse my findings. I gleaned some bits of information but noting major.

LUBP: In our interview series, Kamran Shafi talks about the “Deep State” and his understanding of it and describes it as “alliance between the intelligence services; the army, and the civil bureaucracy, which is beholden to the former two.” What is your assessment of the term?

AS: There are different names for the deep state. Sometimes, people refer to it as the establishment as well. I believe that there are two sets of members of the deep state – the primary actors and the secondary actors. While the civil and military bureaucracy is the primary actor, there are other members as well such as judiciary, business and industrial elite, members of religious elite, media, some political parties or individual members of political parties. These are what I call secondary members as they become less or more significant due to their relationship with the primary members.

These people are connected due to their common interests of remaining the sole power in a socio-politically underdeveloped state. The establishment never lost power even at the best of times. This even includes the period of ZA Bhutto’s election. However, he was ousted when he lost touch with the establishment. The bottom-line is that the deep state in Pakistan is deeper than one can imagine.

LUBP: The misuse of the WikiLeaks to plant fabricated news has been a major source of embarrassment for our self-anointed “independent media”.’ To what extent is our media – not only the mainstream print and electronic media – but also the blogsphere – stringed to the Deep State?

AS: The media was always connected with the establishment. We must not forget that the first papers were established with the help of the state. Later, some papers acquired a leftist tone mainly due to the state acquiring a different shade.

But the fact remains that the media’s relationship with the establishment is very old. The link has now become stronger because of the common sense of a nationalist agenda. The new members of the media are less well trained and too arrogant not to see how they get used by the establishment. I would insist that being sympathetic to the establishment’s point of view is different from becoming its agent.

The fake WikiLeaks story is just a reflection of the unhealthy dependence of the media on the state. Given the fact that information is centrally controlled, there are many a budding journalists or even senior ones who happily get into a partnership to access information.

The fault also lies with the owners of media groups who are reluctant to invest in their human resources. So, journalists have little option but to wait for some agency wala (spy agencies) to pass on critical stories. It is a weird relationship because there are times when paid journalists (by the agencies) go astray and are then punished.

LUBP: When the Hamid Mir/Khalid Khawaja tape story broke, Café Pyala, yourself, the Daily Times and LUBP were some of the very few that paid attention. LUBP was the first to break this story. Does the burial of this story indicate a disturbing lacks of ethics within our media?

AS: Hamid Mir was exposed but there are many others who do the same. They are meant to twist information to the deep state’s advantage. Even reputed papers such as Dawn publish planted stories on the front page. Very recently, my name appeared in TTP’s hit-list. Interestingly, the publication of the story was followed by visits from agency moles in the media who tried to tell me strange stories with the intention scaring. Perhaps, they want to see me leave the country.

My argument is that today’s media may have greater tools but it lacks a free spirit. It has far less courage than the media of the 1980s which was under greater physical constraints but was much more free in thinking.

(to be continued)

Part II here



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