Likely Impact of Current Developments on the Pakistani State and its Army


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
To many people Pakistan is a state beyond repair. Its institutions are weak
and its Army literally owns the state. But recent events give indications of a
possible turn-around and a more stable future. India has very little leverages
in shaping a peace-ful, stable and friendly Pakistan but its own progress can
make Pakistani society, fearful of being left behind, force a change in the
state's policy orientation.

Pakistan suffers from limited capacities in all fields, particularly in its institutions except
the army (often and rightly used synonymously with its military), which has prevented it
from developing and behaving like a normal modern state. The problems it faces are too
many and too well known to bear repetition. Yet it is neither a failed state nor it is on the
verge of becoming one. In fact the trends are mixed leaning on to the positive side. Pakistan
will not turn into a democratic, prosperous and stable state overnight. There are far too
many critical uncertainties. But given time, and save for a wild card, it is likely that Pakistan
will stabilise and become more democratic wherein its army will find returning to barracks
a better option. The argument presented here is based on certain assumptions as listed
􀂓 The Army is perhaps the only functioning institution in the country and therefore
capable of articulating Pakistan's vision and view point. It will cede the extraconstitutional
space that it occupies only if the political system becomes stronger.
􀂓 Political parties, while being distrustful of the army, have often sought its help in
dislodging their opponents from power and coming to power themselves. Yet, there
is no love lost between the army and the political parties.
􀂓 Political parties, mindful of the army's proclivities, are incapable as yet of taking bold
policy initiatives in foreign or security policy.
􀂓 People at large have come to rely on the army to keep Pakistan together despite having
lost the wars that the army dragged the country into.
􀂓 People do not want the army to meddle in politics and blame it equally along with the
political class for Pakistan's plight.
􀂓 Religious parties do not have a large support base and without the army's tacit or
open support are incapable of mounting a serious electoral challenge. The mainstream
parties continue to enjoy the people's support even if not their confidence.
􀂓 The Army consumes a disproportionate share of economic resources of an
economically stressed state and the people are aware of it though presently incapable
of doing anything about it.
􀂓 The Army's paradigm is India centric and will continue to be so because it justifies its
importance in Pakistani state and society.
􀂓 It is not only Pakistani army which harbours anti-India feelings but the state as a
􀂓 Americans understand the power structure in Pakistan and are playing it to meet
their goals in the region but do not necessarily prefer the army over the political
􀂓 Empowered judiciary will be a check on political adventurism.
􀂓 Significant sections of the Pakistan army leadership and other establishment players
come from the same background.
􀂓 The sum of all these prevailing factors will ensure the continued salience of the army
in Pakistan.
􀂓 Despite an increase in overt religiosity among the rank and file of the army, Pakistani
military leaders are rational players. They are unlikely to cross a point beyond which
their country's interests will be mortally hurt.
􀂓 The 18th Amendment to the Pakistani constitution will make future army takeovers
more difficult by delegitimising the doctrine of necessity.
􀂓 There is jealousy about India at one level, but also satisfaction that not all things are
really going well in India.
􀂓 India does not have any direct leverage to shape a peaceful, stable and friendly Pakistan.
The rare unanimity displayed by political parties to usher in the 18th Amendment to
Pakistan's constitution bodes well for that country. It will satisfy the political aspirations
of provinces and empower them politically and economically while at the same time
testing their abilities to provide better governance with enlarged responsibilities. It will
also make military coups harder to stage by delegitimising the doctrine of necessity. It is
true that tampering with the constitution was to be treated as high treason even in the
past but that did not prevent the Pakistan army from staging coups. How are things
different this time? Security and external issues have been exclusive preserves of the
military any way.
For one, bread and butter issues and development are greater challenges today than in
the past and there is no military solution for these. Secondly, substantial powers having
been delegated to the provinces, because of which all political parties have become effective
stakeholders, the army will now have to tread harder on provincial toes and there is
likely to be a simultaneous resistance from all provinces, a challenge not faced by the
army before. Thirdly, the judiciary will find it difficult to justify abrogation of the
constitution. Fourthly, political stability will lead to the emergence of capable leaders in
due course. Fifthly, Pakistani people would not like to be left behind in a globalised world.
And lastly, Pakistani society has realized the dangers of militancy. There is a growing
realization that militancy has complicated relations with neighbours and impeded growth.
One of the reasons why the PPP government may complete its term is that the army is
unlikely to be instrumental in letting Nawaz Sharif gain power which is inevitable if the
present government falls abruptly. But then Sharif is likely to come to power in the next
elections because the present government is unlikely to be able to solve the problems that
the country faces today mainly due to lack of trust that its present leadership faces with
credible leaders sidelined. Zardari is expected to continue wielding power because he
controls PPP. The constitutional position he enjoys provides him immunity from
prosecution and the party presidentship affords him political control of the government.
The Prime Minister, therefore, is not expected to wield great power and in the short term
the army will continue to control security and foreign policies. The situation is only likely
to change after the next elections unless the Supreme Court decides that Zardari can only
hold either of the two offices he presently holds. This is a wild card here. Should that
happen, he will be faced with a grave choice either of forfeiting his immunity or the
leadership of the party. He is likely to choose the latter option in that case, since his
prosecution will result in loss of political power any way. Sharif has been no more democrat
than others but hopefully he has learnt his lessons.
As a well known Pakistani commentator has said, the Pakistan army is the best organized
group in the country, and a political force unto itself given the gradual destruction or
diminution of other institutions like the judiciary, the constitution, the bureaucracy, and
the legislature, and the transmogrification of a parliamentary system of government into
a highly personalized presidential system. Successive Army Chiefs promised to keep the
army out of politics, but some have brought the army to power to fill what they considered
to be a political vacuum.
The army has tried to wield this power to safeguard Pakistan's interests to the best of its
understanding and capabilities. That it has ended up compromising Pakistan's interests
because of its narrow security agenda is another matter. The political class has contributed
in no small measure in bringing Pakistan to the present situation. Neither the army nor
the political parties have bothered about the needs of the people at large. Yet it would be
a mistake to assume that the army is more popular than the political parties. Army is
popular in so far as it carries out its assigned role of keeping the country safe from internal
and external threats. The same army was being criticised loudly for sitting idle and
collaborating with the terrorists when Swat and FATA were burning. It is only after the
army got seriously engaged in countering the militants that it regained some prestige.
Perhaps the army is trying to over reach itself. It wishes to carve out a role for itself in
setting the course of talks between the Taliban and United States and facilitating the exit
strategy of NATO forces from Afghanistan. As reported in the press, the ISI Chief has
also indicated a desire to be involved in talks with India when he spoke to India's service
attachés posted at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. America is an important
player in Pakistan's politics thought it is highly unpopular because it is seen as supporting
the army. Since 2001, the United States has provided more than $10 billion in assistance,
mostly in military funding, with some amount for economic assistance in the field of
education, reconstruction and food distribution. This has produced gains in the war on
terror, but has also empowered the armed forces at the expense of civil society. America
is conscious of the fact that the democratic leadership does not have the capacity to deliver
at present and its own short term goals are important to be achieved. Being well aware of
the power realities in Pakistan, the invitations to General Kayani and Pasha to participate
in the strategic dialogue was simply a practical necessity. But by no means can it be
considered the America's preferred option. The United States was just being practical or
may be it also finds it easier to work with the army. But Kayani becoming the main
interlocutor with the United States will go against the army in the ultimate analysis. It
will also become unpopular by association. Doing business from the backroom has its
advantages. Coming upfront reduces the room for manoeuvre. The Army's tendency to
overreach and claim greater space for itself will bring it in conflict with the political
establishment going forward.
As regards the third infamous influence peddler in Pakistan, the mullahs, the fact is that
Islamist parties have never been popular in Pakistan. They have never fared well in
elections on their own except for the MMA in 2002 which was propped up and supported
by Musharraf. MMA benefited from the intelligence services' support and electoral
manipulation to garner twice the votes it did under civilian rule and become a force in
national politics. By preventing the moderate opposition from freely taking part in elections,
Musharraf created a vacuum that could be filled only by extremists. In the 2008 elections,
the religious parties suffered the most, revealing that even people from Pakistan's badlands
voted like anyone else in the world — for those who they thought could provide an honest,
efficient government capable of providing security, stability and development. The MMA
failed to provide any of these when in power. This is a reflection of peoples' political
inclinations. Basically they do not trust the Islamists and still favour mainstream political
parties despite their failings.
It is expected that popularly elected (as opposed to appointed) Prime Ministers in future
will always be trying to push back the army's influence. But the army will resist and
there are bound to be serious tussles particularly over security and foreign policy issues,
the turf of the army alone so far. Elements within the army will try to engineer incidents
both within and outside the country to bring the focus back on security and its own
centrality in the affairs of Pakistan. Trends worldwide would suggest that the political
establishment, unless thoroughly discredited, will prevail. Also, the army will have to
calibrate its reactions in light of the public response and international acceptance.
A democratic government enjoying popular support and caring for its people cannot be
overthrown without putting the country in grave danger. Such a government is always in
a position to follow a people centric domestic and a robust foreign policy which strongly
assert its national interest. This would result in the army's role becoming less intrusive in
matters of the state. A valid question can be asked here- will such a democratic government
emerge in Pakistan? The answer is yes, given time and patience. Developments since
2007 suggest that the people wish to see the army disengage itself from politics for all
times. One may actually find it rather difficult and unrealistic unless the army itself decides
to revert to its assigned task of being defenders of its frontiers and under state's control
rather than being controllers of the state.
The judiciary is finding its voice and discovering that it has a back bone. Lawyers'
movement and spontaneous public support it enjoyed have made this possible. It is
unlikely to willingly lose its new found voice and authority. The doctrine of necessity is
likely to be a bad word for it in future. Otherwise it will lose its credibility and authority
for ever.
A word of caution is warranted here. It is also important to look at the downside of one's
assumptions to build viable scenarios. The Pakistan army feels it is the guardian of the
state but it also has its corporate interests to take care of which will make it harder for it to
give up power and influence voluntarily. That it has been getting international legitimacy
soon enough after every adventure reinforces the self belief in its indispensability. Besides,
dynastic politics of Pakistan may make it difficult for a capable leader to emerge in the
short run. Even the judiciary may find it expedient to bend to the dictates of a dictator yet
That is why it is difficult to predict the only future facing Pakistan in the next decade and
beyond. Changes will come but only slowly. There are far too many imponderables and
concerns which cloud clear thinking. Baggage of (recent) history, poor state of institutions,
yet an articulate and bold media and reasonably vibrant civil society, an army fixated on
its own sense of importance and indispensability for not only Pakistan's security but for
the survival of the state itself etc. make clear predictions impossible. It can go either way
from stability to instability to abyss. But international trends and the aspirations of the
people are likely to lead it towards a better future; better than the present at least.
It will be in Pakistan's self interest to run the state by rule of law. The Turkish Armed
Forces are gradually yielding ground to the political leadership. A moderate Muslim
state with a growing economy and geo-political influence, maturing democracy and a
history of military coups behind it may well serve as a popular model for the Pakistani
state to follow. Yet, given the current state of affairs, Pakistan is more likely to be following
a Chilean model wherein the armed forces have a strong policy role under civilian
leadership. This is the price the state had to pay for stability in Chile. And so may be the
case with Pakistan simply because the other institutions will take time to organise
themselves to play a larger and legitimate role in running the state.
As far as India is concerned, it is not only the Pakistani army which harbours anti-India
feelings. Anti-India sentiment is strong in society as well, as a result of its nationalism
and contorted history. Pakistani nationalism is built on hating India. This sentiment is
unlikely to undergo an appreciable change in the near future. India has very little leverage
to shape Pakistan into a stable, democratic and friendly neighbour. Any attempt to even
suggest a way forward will be like showing a red rag to a bull.
However, what might change the paradigm is the peoples' fear of being left behind. It is
a great motivator for people to work hard and escape poverty. It is hoped that the fear of
endemic poverty and of being left behind will propel Pakistani society to strive for progress
and when it sees military competition as the reason for being left behind then it will
demand changes in Pakistan's policy orientation. It is the political dispensation that can
respond to peoples' demands and it will seek to make the necessary correction.
The quest for parity with a fast growing and strong India could be another strong motivator
for Pakistani society. India's rapid economic growth, internal stability and rising
international prestige are likely to have a major impact on how informed Pakistani citizens
will shape their country's destiny. Envy of India and a strong desire for parity is going to
force them to rethink and reorient priorities. But envy can be a double edged tool. It may
motivate Pakistan to change course and build a better future for itself or do everything
possible to impede India.
Vested interests will try to portray a different picture of India and try to impede it. India's
internal fissures will show India in poor light. Our own Lal Garhs and Dantewadas cannot
give hope to Pakistanis but a smug satisfaction that alternate choices are hardly any better.
Besides, a greater degree of strategic balance may also embolden the Pakistan Army to
encourage and support jihadi terrorism against India. The Pakistan Army realizes that
India has been able to manage the situation in J&K. But this by no means is sufficient for
it to abandon its policy of using militants to keep India unbalanced and to gradually
erode its conventional edge by tying down and tiring its army. It will try brinkmanship
hence India cannot neglect defence. Any perceived weakness in India's defence potential
will encourage the Pakistan army further.
By being a good role model, India can help shape Pakistan's future. Though, ultimately, it
will all depend on the people of Pakistan.

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