Preserving the democratic project

Sep 04 2016


The arrival ceremony for the state visit of General Zia at the White House with US president Ronald Reagan, July 1982.— File photo / White Star
The arrival ceremony for the state visit of General Zia at the White House with US president Ronald Reagan, July 1982.— File photo / White Star

The general perception that the army is involved in most internal and regional matters is not misplaced in Pakistan. If the dominant narrative of a security-oriented state is to be understood in this context, important to the conversation are the historical complexities of civil and military ties. Although military intervention in representative democracy has frequently thrown up challenges that civilian governments must contend with and that have been perilous to their survival, it is evident that direct intervention in the form of a military coup will no longer solicit public approval. That said, four successful military coups (1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999) have successfully ingrained the army as an all-encompassing guardian of the state.

More recently focused on eradicating internal terrorism while appearing visible on the world’s stage as Pakistan’s ‘diplomat’, the army has intelligently raised its profile. However, for the sake of national interest, it must be said that even if flawed and ineffectual, democratic processes must be given space and support to take root. The army is a vital cog in the state’s wheel where counter-terrorism and national security is concerned, but it periodically provides and secures what the ruling government must undertake — peace in Balochistan, eliminating Karachi’s violent militancy and leading the rehabilitation effort in Fata after Operation Zarb-i-Azb, among other duties. This is why, given the army’s control of domestic security and defence policies, the security-state paradigm has visibly overrun the concept of a social welfare state. If the PML-N looks to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as a feather in its cap, for instance, then it must not relinquish its political space. Having provided certain technical and security guarantees to the Chinese the army has seemingly come out on top, not only building on its popularity as a result but consolidating its position in the absence of strong governance.

Given this history and that both sides — the civilian and the military — have also worked together in different ways over the decades (Zia and Nawaz Sharif in the 1980s; Musharraf and the creation of the Q League), the question is how will Pakistan’s contemporary challenges — external and domestic — be handled with both the army and the ruling government keeping well within their prescribed boundaries. Will Pakistan linger at the crossroads for a long while yet as the duo works out how they can best serve democracy together?

In this collection of essays edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, Pakistan’s myriad historical contradictions and struggles for its raison d’être are examined

These questions are discussed in a collection of essays, Pakistan at the Crossroads: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures, edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, examining Pakistan’s political economy and its relationship with world powers, offering solutions to its myriad challenges: terrorism, border conflicts, economic and political threats, and tensions between the military and civilian authorities. In the introduction, Jaffrelot says Pakistan has been described as an “ideological state” because of how Islam has been politically interpreted. Terming it a “garrison state” (the historic role of the military), and a “terror state” (with the rise in radical Islamic movements in its midst), he reruns the argument that Pakistan is paying the price for support given to jihadis for decades. The collection of 11 essays — the outcome of two conferences at Columbia University — also examine Pakistan’s trajectory both domestically and on the international stage vis-a-vis its relations with its neighbours and world powers (the US and China).

Jaffrelot’s essay (Resilience or Clientelism?) analyses US-Pakistan relations over the past six and half decades by defining cooperation as clientelistic — the US needed a “broker to contain communism, to play the middleman vis-a-vis China and to offer support in the post-9/11 ‘global war on terror.’” On its part, the ‘client’ (Pakistan) has historically required arms and money to resist India. Backtrack to the shift in the nature of the relationship, from security-centric to a civil-society oriented approach after 9/11, when Ambassador Richard Holbrooke lobbied President Obama for economic development aid and one realises that this, too, was undermined by short-term security objectives and mutual distrust. The essay delves into the history of a relationship of dependence, purely instrumental and not based on shared ideology where the patron has a clear advantage.

Evidence of a cyclical clientelistic relationship emerged as early as the post-Partition years. In the 1950s, ties were not formed on political, economic or even societal affinities, but based on geopolitical considerations and strategic mutual interests. In 1947, “Karachi asked the United States for support ... to cope with the so-called Indian threat.” Although Pakistan had asked for a $2 billion five-year loan for economic development, President Truman, unsure of the ramifications of befriending Pakistan as opposed to India, offered $10 million (to Pakistan). Jaffrelot’s thesis being that Pakistan initially entered an alliance that was security-driven, which largely explains why successive US administrations have forged workable — and friendly — ties with Pakistan’s military. When the military intervenes to overthrow civilian governments, the Americans slap them gently on the wrist but then it’s been business as usual with the military as the main interlocutor — Eisenhower described Ayub Khan as a friend and George Bush said the same of Pervez Musharraf. However, because Pakistan became a client state from a development and security viewpoint at a time when few countries received as much support from the US, the potential to evolve into an independent ‘friend’ was greater, if only geostrategic objectives had not become the primary driver. Therefore, the reliance has as much of a history as the turbulence and mutual distrust, given regional geopolitics and security.

“Several wars were fought at the same time in FATA: a “greater war” between the Taliban and the state over lost territory; a war in Afghanistan with FATA as a safe haven for groups fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan (Waziristan, Bajaur); a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias in Kurram and Orakzai and between Deobandis and Barelvis in Khyber; tribal wars, for instance, between Wazirs and Mehsuds (South Waziristan); wars between minor and dominant clans of a tribe — examples can be found in every tribal agency — who instrumentalize external actors (the army or foreign fighters) to challenge their rivals; and factional wars over water, land and other resources. What is happening is a series of overlapping localized civil wars. Moreover, the fault line between pro- and anti-Taliban is much less relevant than social and religious cleavages.” Turmoil in the Frontier by Mariam Abou Zahab — Extract from the book

What made this relationship vacillate between lows and highs? The trigger: India and the newcomer on the world’s stage, China, writes Jaffrelot. The US began relying on Pakistan in the decade when the Cold War was at its height and Pakistan looked for help against India — both the US and Pakistan did not share the same enemy, which in later decades soured their relationship. Jaffrelot traces the evolution of the relationship between the US and India to demonstrate how the latter played the role of spoiler. Consider the period when Nehru turned to Washington for help after the Chinese attack in 1962 and acquired arms from the US. This prompted Ayub Khan to look to China — Pakistan believed it needed a supporter to counter India. So, essentially, relations between the US and Pakistan have periodically soured when both sides showed opportunism — because they have never shared ideological ties.

In present times, the transaction between both partners is clearly security-related at best and with indications that any kind of financial assistance and subsidised military hardware is linked to the fight against terrorism. Then, go back to the 1980s when Zia told one of his generals to relay to US Secretary of State Haig that “we would not like to hear from you the type of government we should have.” Haig responded: “General, your internal situation is your problem.” That not much has changed is obvious after 9/11. There have been periodic, half-baked attempts by the US to push for democracy. For example, he states Obama’s Pakistan policy is focused on security and not development because the military remains the main interlocutor. Declining civilian authority over foreign policy and, by extension, the US-Pakistan relationship is also a reason why the relationship between the army and the Pentagon remains strong. This is because short-term US priorities were different — finding Osama Bin Laden and dismantling Al Qaeda to begin with, and to protect US troops in Afghanistan.

In his essay on the military and democracy, Aqil Shah demonstrates how military coups have followed similar patterns for decades — the army takes power, hands over to its chief, replacing so-called corrupt politicians with some form of legitimacy granted to the new regime. The difference lies in how the ‘benevolent’ general asserts his authority. The Zia years, when contrasted with the Ayub and Yahya Khan era, were harsher and led by an Islamisation campaign that ensured state and religion coalesced; whereas Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ was, ironically, a period when the general kept all stakeholders on his side in the war against terrorism as militant sanctuaries grew in number and name. Shah locates military interventions and dominance in a historic context, seeking to underscore how the military has remained strong enough to intervene politically and how its entitlements have impeded the consolidation of democracy. With every intervention, what follows is crushing political opposition, controlling the media (ironic in Musharraf’s case because he opened up access to information and then clamped down), increased engagement with the US (and even China), militarisation of the state apparatus and the development of what defence analyst, Ayesha Siddiqa, has called ‘Milbus’ — military business — in her book (Military Inc). Referencing the military’s ‘clientalistic’ ties to the US, Shah expands Jaffrelot’s thesis — that is the military has sought to direct and front the relationship with the US.

The military’s media manoeuvring regarding the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill makes for interesting reading. While the civilian government welcomed the assistance, the military expressed outrage over a certain provision: military assistance would be provided after certification by the US secretary of state that the military was operating under civilian control and keeping out of political and judicial processes. The military made sure certain TV anchors mobilised public opinion against the law, stating that such conditions meant the US was interfering in Pakistan’s “internal matters” — the then PPP-led civilian government received flak for acting as “an American stooge out to sell the country’s honour”.

Worth reading are Mariam Abou Zahab’s research findings on Fata. Documented in an essay deconstructing reasons for historical turmoil in the frontier, including the state’s religious genealogy (Zia’s Islamisation policy), the deliberate marginalisation of Fata, and “the instrumentalisation of Islam by the state as a counterweight to the internal threat of Pashtun nationalism in the 1980s”, she explains the consequences of neglect in Fata.

History as evidence is useful when thinking of solutions. However, this volume does not look at why civilian control fails and what is needed to preserve the democratic project. How should the government strengthen democratic institutions, prioritise education and educate voters? Engrossed with politicking and inattentive to prioritising human development, civilian governments have failed to recognise that the growing numbers drawn to radicalisation promise vengeance on the democratic order. Mired in historic contradictions, Pakistan is somewhat like a tinderbox with the lid tightly screwed on. Averseness to past mistakes is why we fail to understand fully why we are where we are today — distressed at home and distrusted abroad.

The writer is a journalist.

Pakistan at Crossroads: Domestic dynamics and external pressures
Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot
Random House, India
ISBN: 978-8184007824

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 4th, 2016