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Pakistan's Military Dominance: Threat to Democracy and Regional Stability

Updated: May 28

Pakistan's persistent economic, political and internal security challenges have many facets, the dominance of its military, however, is the most crucial of them all.

Supporters of Imran Khan attacked military buildings and state buildings to protest his recent arrest [Sabir Mazhar/Anadolu Agency]

Pakistan's struggle towards establishing a stable democracy has been a persistent challenge since its creation in 1947. It has a long history of political crises, and this is primarily due to the failure of the country to strengthen democratic institutions and establish stable state-society relations. Despite adopting a democratic system based on the Westminster model of constitutional and parliamentary democracy, the country's experience with democracy has been fraught with difficulties. The military has often dominated the political landscape, with only a few brief interludes of democratic rule. This has led to a widespread belief that in Pakistan, "while states have armies, the army has a state," using its power to maintain control over the government. Despite the presence of various democratic institutions, such as the executive, judiciary, and legislature, they are all ultimately controlled by the military. The current political quagmire that Pakistan is facing began in 2022, when opposition parties jointly tabled a no-confidence motion against the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly. The military control in Pakistan over the government has always created an environment of uncertainty, where the military can intervene in the democratic process whenever it sees fit. This not only undermines the authority of elected officials, but also creates a sense of mistrust between the government and its citizens.

The no-confidence motion against the former Prime Minister and Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf in 2022 sparked a series of crises that had a significant impact on governance at both the national and provincial levels. The aftermath of the motion was felt beyond Islamabad, as Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was asked to resign by Prime Minister Imran Khan, in favor of PTI's ally Pervaiz Elahi, adding to the political instability. These events triggered a wave of uncertainty that continues to this day, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan also facing a no-confidence motion from opposition parties in the provincial assembly. To make matters worse, the PTI submitted a motion of no-confidence against their own Prime Minister, further adding to the complexity of the situation. The political turmoil in Pakistan has serious implications for the stability of the country and the region as a whole. The absence of a strong democratic system and the failure to build robust institutions have left the country vulnerable to political crises. The current situation has increased concerns among the people about the country's direction and raised questions about the government's ability to address the challenges it faces.

POK Reclamation:

The situation is undoubtedly turbulent and unstable in Pakistan especially after the ousting of Imran Khan last year. With this chaotic situation, some believe that this presents an opportunity for India to strike and reclaim Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. However, this unstable situation does not necessarily mean that India can take advantage of the situation to reclaim Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India won't make any such misadventure. Such a scenario would have catastrophic consequences. Even if India fires only a single bullet on the border now, Pak army will have the perfect excuse to take over civilian control officially via emergency. India won't get dragged into this abyss. India's interests are served by the reduced role of the army and this movement could lead to that scenario if pursued by pakistan political forces honestly. The army wouldn't want to do such a thing. Instead they would want to engineer an electoral defeat for Imran Khan than ban his party altogether.

Consequences of Militarized Political Setup:

The military's interference in democratic affairs is a longstanding issue in Pakistan. The country has been ruled by military dictators for roughly half of its history since independence in 1947. The current political crisis in Pakistan, which led to the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has raised concerns about the military's role in politics and its impact on democratic institutions. The arrest of Khan also raised concerns about the rule of law in Pakistan. The Army has gained a disproportionate influence over state institutions, political leadership, and the electoral process. This has resulted in the creation of what can be called a security- centric garrison state. The latest arrest of Imran Khan is just the latest manifestation of the ongoing political instability in Pakistan. This is not a new phenomenon, as political instability has become an obvious feature of Pakistan's militarized political setup. This has become even more pronounced in a nation that is caught in a persistent and diabolical political narrative. The current misrule and suppression of democracy by the army resembles fascism. The impact of this instability is not limited to Pakistan alone, but it also poses a cause for concern for South Asian politics as a whole. The situation in Kashmir is one example that feeds into the political ideals of this diabolical narrative, which is based on radicalism. The militarization of Pakistan's political setup has resulted in a power imbalance, where the military exercises disproportionate influence over political decision-making. This has led to an environment where political instability has become the norm rather than the exception.

Perils of Pakistan's Militarized Politics:

It remains the fact that the military's disproportionate influence over state institutions, political leadership, and the electoral process has systematically undermined the democratic process over the years. Former Army Chief Qamar Bajwa even acknowledged this on the record. Imran Khan's persistent criticism of the military establishment, which gained popular reception, threatened the interests of the powerful Pakistani Army and shattered its much-sanctified holier-than-thou image. Political Analyst and Research Fellow International Centre for Peace Studies (ICPS) Dr Mohamad Waseem Malla says that, The recent arrest of Imran Khan represents a continuation of the Army's political interference model to the public. However, the militablishment sees it as a necessary pushback to ensure its supremacy and protect its interests, especially given how the former prime minister made pointed attacks on senior army officials. If the Army, through the surrogate civilian government, continues to suppress popular protests and restrains any relief to the former prime minister through the Supreme Court, there is a likelihood of a long military-civilian showdown. This is due to the commitment of Khan's supporters, he concluded. However, if this could push the military further on the back foot and relinquish some of its power, it could serve as a significant step toward democratic consolidation in the country. At the same time, this does not bode well for Pakistan and broader South Asia because of the country's strategic importance. Anything that starts in Pakistan will never be limited to its borders and will eventually affect the region, given its entanglements. Therefore, it is critical for Pakistan's stability to be maintained, and for the country to work towards reducing the military's role in the political sphere, ensuring that civilian institutions are able to operate independently and with accountability.

Democracy Crucial for Maintaining Peace in South Asia:

A stable Pakistan is crucial for maintaining peace in South Asia. The country's stability is directly linked to the governance system, where the elected government holds power instead of the military or establishment. An unstable Pakistan means that the military or establishment is in control of the country, which can lead to an increase in Militant groups and its activities. Pakistan is hometurf to several militant organizations. If the country becomes unstable, the commanders of these groups will have a free hand to unleash terror in South Asia, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. This region has been a subject of dispute between India and Pakistan for decades, and militant activities in the area can escalate tensions between the two countries. That is why, a democratically elected government is essential for maintaining stability in Pakistan. A government that is elected by the people will have more diplomatic power and will be able to engage with other countries more effectively. The military, which is stronger than the government in Pakistan, will have less say in the country's foreign relations. This means that a democratically elected government will have more control over the governance and politics of the country. For India, it is imperative to have a democratically elected government in Pakistan. India has been facing the brunt of terror activities emanating from Pakistan for years. The sustained diplomatic pressure from India has led to the accountability of several militant groups in Pakistan in recent years.

A stable Pakistan with a democratically elected government will ensure that the militant groups are kept in check, and the diplomatic relations between the two countries can be improved. A democratically elected government in Pakistan will ensure that the country is governed effectively and will have a positive impact on the region's stability. It is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to work towards a stable and peaceful South Asia. These strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary will ensure the rule of law and will protect the rights of all citizens. However, that stability won't come until its military stops interference in politics, and uses the civil governments and their leadership as pawns. Today the hostility against the army has grown more than ever primarily because of its intractable power, its wanton desire to stand above the rule of law. No country can prosper with two states running in opposite directions. The deep state of Pakistan has to commit itself to the rule of law and stay away from political engineering and manipulations in politics. With ample nuclear warheads, the army has a responsibility to safeguard the interests of the country, and not expose itself as an irresponsible state that could go rogue anytime. The sensibility lies in allowing civil govts to function and not impose its will over the people. Therefore, It is imperative that democracy flourishes, and the dignity of civilians. In the interest of progress and peace, any attempt at a coup must be rejected.

Nasir Khuehami is the National Convenor of the J&K Students Association. He is pursuing Masters in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. He can be reached at

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