Security before democracy

January 01, 2011


DEMOCRACY is an obsession with the West. Perhaps, rightly so because after the failure of communism and socialism, democracy has emerged as the only successful form of government.

However, when one looks around in the Third World which is experimenting with democracy, one sees an unacceptable manifestation of the same — a democratically elected government is in place but taking the country towards disaster. Therefore, clearly, politics/democracy needs to be reconciled with national security — progress/development of the state and welfare/wellbeing of its people.

What are the imperatives of democracy? Are fair elections and an elected government the only requirement of democracy? To me, that is merely a label. How the elected government governs is the true essence of democracy. Democracy’s primary functional concern ought to be: ‘Are people masters of their own destiny? Are they empowered enough to look after their own interests?’

People implies masses belonging to all segments: vertically, the rich and powerful, feudal lords, tribal chiefs on top and the grass-roots common man at the bottom; horizontally, all provinces/states, tribes, religions, sects, castes, men and women.

I strongly believe the danger lies in denying power, not in sharing or giving power.

How does national security affect democracy? First and foremost is security against external threats implying the maintainance of adequate forces to pursue national interests with honour and dignity. Clearly, no state, no democracy.

This is the ‘traditional security element’. Pakistan has suffered from an existential threat from the east since independence, after its first war with India in 1948. Therefore, for its security, it adopted a military strategy of minimum defensive deterrence quantified into force levels for the army, navy and air force.

But when the armed forces, well-organised and well-managed as they are, also become strong in numbers, they tend to acquire a voice in national governance.

Next is security from internal threats or centrifugal forces acting against national security, homogeneity or integrity from within society. This is the ‘non-traditional security’ aspect; its various elements which are confronted for functional democracy to evolve are ethnic, tribal, religious or sectarian disparities and discord; regional or societal development inequities; poverty, joblessness and economic disparities; illiteracy; food and water issues.

Let’s discuss how to ensure national security to protect the state in all its dimensions and tailor democracy to suit a typical Third World environment. I will quote examples from my practical experience.

The people’s destiny must be entwined with that of the state so that they develop a stake in it. This is possible when the state rises economically and its wealth is distributed equitably among all regions and peoples.

With the economy put on the upsurge, we have to ensure its benefits trickle down to the people. In Pakistan we identified poverty and joblessness among the rural uneducated, the urban educated unemployed and the urban uneducated unemployed. We tackled each systematically.

For the rural uneducated unemployed, we focused on agriculture and agro-based industry, dairy and livestock. For the urban educated unemployed, we focused on the telecommunication and information technology sectors. For the urban uneducated unemployed, we emphasised building and construction which is labour-intensive. We reduced poverty from 34 to 17 per cent in seven years.

Education and skill development needs to be pursued vigorously. Public-private partnerships can pay rich dividends. We created the National Commission on Human Development; the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission was created for skill development which in turn led to innumerable vocational training centres imparting three- to six-month turnaround courses for construction skills. The overall strategy was for universalising education up to middle class and then diverting the people towards skill development.

Food, water and energy should be considered as the inalienable right of all. Sixty per cent of diseases in Pakistan are water-borne. We initiated a project of installing water-filtration plants down to the union council (15 to 20 villages) level. Electricity was provided to all villages with more than 50 houses. Simple food kitchens for the poorest segments need to be provided with public-private philanthropic participation.

These are the main areas of human security as part of non-traditional security which will reinforce national security and enhance the people’s stakes in the state. This brings me to the aspect of sustainable democracy.

First and foremost, democracy must be tailored to fit the environment in which it is to function. There is no set formula. No country’s example can be superimposed on others without adjustment.

In Pakistan, democratic institutions are under-developed, and democratically elected governments have always failed to deliver. Whenever there has been a dysfunctional, elected government running the state aground (which invariably has been the case), people take the only recourse of appealing to the army to take over. The army’s response to this mass national appeal can only be unconstitutional. There is no constitutional salvation.

In such a crisis, which has struck all too often, the question that gets debated is whether upholding democracy is more important than rescuing the state. An institutional role, therefore, has to be evolved for the military to voice its concerns to prevent any unconstitutional act, which the public pressurises them to do.

This I call checks and balances.

The other important factor is the empowerment of the people. We must devolve authority to the lowest level — empowerment and authority devolution to the district level and below means giving them political, administrative and financial authority.

Empowering the people is inadequate if women and minorities are not integrated into governance. They must appropriately be represented at all tiers of political authority so that they feel the satisfaction of belonging and participating in nation-building. We empowered women and minorities by giving them reserved seats in the district, provincial and national assemblies besides their right to contest openly from any constituency.

The ultimate factor behind all development of the state, welfare of its people, the country’s unity and integrity is collective economic wellbeing. Economic strength is the mother of all development and the guarantor of national security and sustainable democracy.

The writer is a former military ruler.