FOR many years some of us academics have heavily criticised the nature of the Pakistani state for being overly militarised and dominated by the military. While other social groups, entities and institutions have jostled for dominance over the state, there has been little disagreement that Pakistan’s military determines key decisions related to the state.
Decades ago, when institutions and social categories such as the landowning class were also said to be one of the three main forces which controlled or determined power over the institutions and arrangements of the state, it was understood that the military — specifically the army and its elite — dominated the nature of Pakistan’s state and was the more powerful of all social institutions and classes present at the time. There was little contention about this fact.
When the hold of the landowning classes began to fade on account of changes in the ownership of land and due to changes in the relations of production which determined the extent of economic and social extraction and coercion possible, the political power of the landowning elite also dwindled completely.
Despite the clichés parroted by most journalists that the ‘feudals’ control Pakistan — whatever that means — it has been many years now since that power shifted away towards urban and rural entrepreneurs and members of the services sectors. A business and service sector elite emerged in the 1980s for numerous reasons related to the structural change in economic and social relations of production, and has played a key role in determining the nature of Pakistan’s state and its society.
The social conservatism one has seen growing over the last decades in Pakistan is also on account of the class characteristics of this new elite and the middle classes which have consolidated their presence in the power structure of Pakistan. Those who have no reading of history have blind faith in the middle classes as always being a revolutionary or progressive force.
The middle classes are equally likely to be reactionary, undemocratic, authoritarian and exceedingly religiously bigoted. The changing nature of Pakistan’s state reflects contestations and contradictions in its social formation.
The military is not a social class but an institution which reflects changes that take place in society and amongst social groups.
Hence, just as Pakistan has become more urban and more middle class, so has Pakistan’s military leadership. However, despite the changes in the composition of Pakistan’s military from the landowning classes to the more modern middle classes, its power as an institution, for the most part, has remained dominant and usually unchallenged. Not just under direct military rule, which has been the norm for most of Pakistan’s existence, but also whenever there have been civilian interregnums, Pakistan’s military has determined the nature and direction of Pakistan’s state.
It has been the military’s material might which has led to this domination which has given rise to the military reinventing itself as the sole guardian of Pakistan’s many boundaries, frontiers and terrains. It has assumed the right to speak for the nation and its constituents and to even represent the nation. The justification for the national security state was created by Pakistan’s military and the numerous civilians in positions of influence and power who have provided support to the military in one way or another. Whether using the threat from India, or more recently as the defenders of Pakistan in the war against terrorism and against militancy, the military in Pakistan used its power and position to create the narrative of the national security state, a state where the military defends the people, the frontiers and the interests of all Pakistan.
However, the abject and humiliating failures of the military have been well-documented by scholars and historians.
Most recently, the military’s bluff has been called and it is clear that it has been unable to determine whose interests it serves, what those interests are and, hence, its inability to defend those interests. Moreover, this lack of clarity and ambiguity of what exactly Pakistan’s interest ought to be has cost the military dear in terms of its reputation and image. It has, in fact, seen another layer being removed from the facade of what was justified as Pakistan’s national security state. The falsity of the notion of the national security state has once again been laid bare.
Pakistan’s state, in fact, is a national insecurity state and has been for some years now. The military’s inability to protect anyone’s interests other than its own narrow ones, in terms of economic and material privileges, underscores this impression.
However, an important point which needs to be highlighted is that the military’s invention of itself as the saviour of Pakistan and as the defender of the land and the faith is completely justifiable when one examines the interplay and positioning of different social forces.
Why would the military not defend the interests of its large constituency and why should it not claim to speak as the nation itself? Institutions which are allowed to dominate will enforce that domination, and this should not come as a surprise.
However, the problem in this relationship of power between the military and civilian and (for once) democratically elected institutions is not so much the strength of the military, but more importantly, the cowardly, dithering and weak civilian elites and the compromises they make with military power. They are equally implicated in making Pakistan a national insecurity state.
The writer is a political economist.