Military and Democracy Deficit in Pakistan: Time to Change the Status-quo
The political chaos in Pakistan signals that military-political deadlock will persist lest the military establish works in compliance with political establishment. The unchecked command of military has stifled the institutional development, exacerbated corruption and political instability in 75 years of its independence from British rule. Its dependence on external assistance in terms of finances, the usage as launch-pad of Islamic jihad in Afghanistan during cold war and beyond as front-line state during war on terror has produced insecurity, deaths and a crippling economy. Therefore, Pakistan must revisit its domestic and foreign policy with the aim of boosting its global trade partnerships and ensuring its security and political stability, by replacing robust military intervention and proxy politics with dialogue and mediation.
The domestic politics of Pakistan has been dominated by two equally strong players; the Army and the religious establishments which have made it structurally dysfunctional with limiting performance of the democratic institutions. The army encouraged and utilized religious establishment at different points, be that Afghan Jihad or in the domestic sphere to creating pressure on regimes in power. From the time Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1970s to Imran Khan in 2018, army establishment have patronized political leaders in an attempt to balance dissident political voices. The army has controlled the coup-prone nation for more than half of its 75-year history, and it continues to exercised tremendous clout in security and foreign policy concerns. The recent political drama for ousting democratically elected prime minister Imran Khan was yet another reflection of its attitude and intolerance for an alternative narrative. it is the Army that decides which political dispensations will be in charge of state affairs despite its rhetoric of neutrality. The establishment certainly not acclimatize a civilian narrative rather popularize a framework that protects its business interests. In spite of unceasing debt economy and political chaos the military and civilian elite control much of business and industrial sector. It is the IMF economic bailout that is once again rescuing fiscal deficient and foreign reserve from sinking.
The Army exploits this nexus in such a way that it is never held responsible for institutional decay and democratic deficit Pakistan has been experiencing for decades. It tactically puts blame on political elite when the public pressure begins to build up especially in terms of economic mismanagement. It must be reiterated that Army establishment is both an economic actor besides being a political constituent. The Army elite’ own factories and undertakes mass of infrastructure works, therefore its economic prosperity runs parallel to overall growth of the country. Amid the recent economic recession during covid-19 and Ukrainian conflict, the khan’s administration adopted a civilian centric approach while addressing growing disparity and inflation. Khan further began to spindle and highlight the invisible and compromising forces that were responsible for under-development of Pakistan’s economy. Hence becoming a major cause for rift between establishment and Khan, in which former advocated for change in political leadership.
In Pakistan, the institution of the army is seen as holy and sacrosanct, and its shortcomings have never been brought up in public. Regular attacks on security personnel, the Pakistan army's incapacity to quell the bloodshed in unrest-plagued areas like Baluchistan and Khaybar Pakhtunkhwa, and the nation's western borders are a few instances of how the army has fallen short in its duty to maintain peace and stability. Instead of interfering in political matters, the army should concentrate on protecting borders, providing civilians security, and supporting the political establishment to ensure the smooth operation of the system. its invasive strategy led to the creation of a political elite with insufficient expertise, a faulty foreign policy, and a rustic political culture. It is unusual that a nuclear power like Pakistan, which carries significant geopolitical weight, has no strong global trade alliances and geo-economic vision required to be a dependable actor in the regional and international system.
The military elite has benefited much from its manipulation of the civilian-military relationship. The army has proclaimed itself the rescuer, lawgiver, and upholder of political order. Secondly, the lack of inspirational leaders in Pakistan following Jinnah's death allowed the military to strategically gain the support of the public. Third, the people have traditionally looked to the Army establishment as a stable institution that can defend the values upon which Pakistan was founded. On contrary it has been enabler of chaos besides interleaved disorder into the system.
The overtly dominance on foreign policy is additional aspect where disagreement has resulted in the imposition of militaries draconian will on the political reality of Pakistan. The Bhutto’s and Khan’s overthrow are similar examples in this regard. Bhutto who gave Pakistan a democratic constitution, considered transformation of foreign policy away from United States had to face death. Imran Khan in similar fashion advocated modernizing of foreign policy including strengthening new alliances away from US centrism. The Pakistani generals have been closer to foreign administration than its political leaders. The situation seems like the political leaders have to get prior approval from establishment before making any foreign policy move.
Analysts have praised Imran Khan as a progressive and development-oriented prime leader, and his election in 2018 ushered in a new era in Pakistani politics. The prevailing military narrative, through which opposition coalitions engaged in intra-elite power struggle, was met with popular skepticism by Imran Khan's civilian-oriented narrative, which urged public vigilance. Khan has so far relied on a strategy of citizen mass mobilization. However, Khan himself came to power with the support of the military after successfully arguing the case for "Naya Pakistan" on the streets. This was a notion of a corruption-free nation that had been stolen by thieves in the shape of the PPP and the PML-N.
It is thought, however, that Pakistani politics would gain from Imran's removal from office. For the first time in Pakistan's history, an alternative discourse is emerging, one that has exposed the Army establishment and its history of co-opting political leaders and determining political results. It has to step back and allow the political system take care of itself, and the people of Pakistan need to realise that they are the driving force and ultimate arbiter of politics in their country. The public has shown its considerable force on the streets since Khan's removal- the birth of Pakistan's first large-scale democratic movement in the country's 75-year history.
The strengthening of the grass-root democracy and true participatory parliament is a requirement given that political instability increases threat of nuclear theft and persistence of danger-the danger US president Joe Biden spoke about. Pakistan lacks cohesion and the democratic wave offers a positive feeling, that if it succeeds Pakistan will be able to balance its domestic and foreign policy. the Political instability may be exploited by the extremist groups as there are active militant groups waiting for moment to inflict violence with suicide bombings like happened recently in Peshawar Shia Mosque. Therefore, it further highlights the need to streamline democracy and economic development through civilian participation. Thus, democracy strengthening must become priority for people of Pakistan and Imran khan so that institutions including military are operationalized for nation building and making Pakistan a reliable and peaceful country.
In Pakistan, there is a growing sentiment that the army should be brought under the jurisdiction of the constitution, which would need revisions to current legislation, and only a democratically elected government will be capable of doing so. To get out of this predicament, Pakistan must follow the Turkish example. Following its electoral victory in 2002, Erdogan's administration implemented constitutional amendments that rendered the army subject to the civilian government.
(The Author is a Research Scholar and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).