Origins of the deep state
SAMUEL P Huntington says (Political Order in Changing Societies), “military coups do not destroy parties; they ratify the deterioration which has already occurred due to fragmentation of leadership, the evaporation of the mass support, the decay of the organization structure, the shift of party leaders from party to bureaucracy, the rise of personalism, all herald the moment when colonels occupy the capital”.
Pakistan’s case exemplifies the notion. Besieged with the stress posed by radical groups demanding the Islamisation of the new state, separatism, and ethnic tensions—which were compounded by the problem of integrating autonomous princely states, such as Kalat and Bhawalpur—and above all, crafting a common nationhood scheme for a mosaic of cultures, governing Pakistan had become far more technically challenging for the All Pakistan Muslim League—a political party already facing a matrix of organizational and conceptual challenges.
Resultantly, it took nine long years, three Governor Generals, four Prime Ministers, and two constituent assemblies (1947-1954 & 1955-1956) to promulgate the country’s first constitution in 1956.
Even after, the document failed to arrest a national consensus, contested by Bengals’s ethno-nationalists and minorities.
From 1947 to 1958, 7 Prime Ministers were toppled or thrown out. Intrigues, turbulence, and intolerance of the political class left a governance vacuum—well taken by the ambitious General Ayub Khan who imposed the First Martial Law in 1958.
President Ayub’s decade, followed by the regimes of General Zia ul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf, consolidated a tremendous expansion in the material dimension of the civil-military imbalance.
Many retired and in-service officers were appointed to key positions in the civil setup. The saga of the military’s economic self-sustainability through running parallel business enterprises in civilian space strengthened the civil-military prejudice.
The higher ranks of the military arm went through disproportionate growth in terms of power and perks causing strategic supremacy for the military’s top brass over the civilian system to execute their political opinions and material interests without paying much heed to their constitutional limits.
Apart from material interests, starting from Ayub’s era, two parallel thought processes were petrified— inspiring the political and military classes with different indoctrination systems—yielding different realizations of the term “national interest”.
East Pakistan’s debacle in 1971 and the judicial assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977, two extremities of military humiliation and political demoralization respectively, left indelible scars of mistrust on the civil and military institutional memories.
Moreover, during the 70s and 80s, the social dissolution between the modernist, radical, and nationalist sections slowed down the social democratization process due to infectious intolerance and constitutional stalemates.
During the same period, Afghanistan War pushed the outer geo-strategic alignment of Pakistan into a security-oriented paradigm and further cemented the military’s role in the national decision-making process.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s greatest achievement was documenting the first consensual constitution of the country after 23 years of its inception.
He galvanized the downtrodden and bourgeoisie classes and established a political party with massive public support.
He undertook many far-reaching structural economic and social reforms – from land reforms to nationalization and social-sector interventions.
However, constitutional sanctity was damaged in his regime through the political victimization of his opponents.
He discarded his radical allies and turned towards his landed and feudal base, making him authoritarian during the last period of his government, abandoning the social groups that had been responsible for his phenomenal rise.
From General Ayub, 1958, General Yahya Khan, 1969, General Zia ul Haq, 1977, General Pervez Musharraf, 1999, to the confession of the last Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa regarding the military’s unconstitutional designs in politics, there has been an astounding similarity of cause and effect in civil-military patterns.
The constant factor in these patterns has been a consistent growth in Pakistan’s military machine on one side and organizational decadence in the political structure on the other with changing contexts and characters.
The highlights of these patterns are: First, the geostrategic stresses. Afghan Wars; Pak-India battles; the War on Terror; the domestic insurgencies in FATA, Malakand, and Swat; the adjacent Middle Eastern conflicts, and the recent China-US tussle in the Asia Pacific and South Asia, a continuous combo of internal and external strategic turbulence resulted in a justifiable need for retaining a strong defence machine with political fallout within the country.
Second, the military dictators blatantly exploited their systemic power of interjection against a discontinuous political skeleton with a weak or sometimes complicit judicial system to not only pursue their security-centred frame of national interest but also to fulfil instinctive ambitions of wealth, status, and power, at the cost of their oath of staying apolitical and subservient to the constitution.
Third, from 1940, until the last ouster of Imran Khan’s government, the political players failed to sustain the practicality and validity of their ill-planned, incoherent, and sometimes self-contradictory narratives—occasionally designed to climb up the top stratum of power using populist tactics.
The Muslim League’s slogan of an “Islamic Laboratory” Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s dictatorial management of social democratization; the ill-prepared dream-selling of Naya Pakistan, Tabdeeeli, and Riyast-e-Madina by Imran Khan are stunning examples to understand the inability of politicians to design politics as an independent system equipped with linearity and self-normalization.
Fourth, the political parties’ excessive reliance on hero worship and patronage. The major political parties could not devise a merit-based mechanism to identify, train and promote their future leadership.
The dogmatic outlook of the political system from the very beginning, family cults, personal egos, and periodic spells of acute polarization used to clamp down on the process of political liberalization.
Fifth is the lack of conflict resolution. During the stand-offs between PPP and Awami League in 1971, PPP and PNA in 1977, the PML (N) and PPP in the decade of 90s, and the current state of affairs between PTI and PDM, the political class mostly failed to rationalize their differences within the limit of common national goals.
Political polarization beyond limits destroyed the higher argument of collective strength in the political fabric.
Pakistan’s political leaders utterly disagreed with Nelson Mandela’s advice that “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. ” Sixth, unfair political play.
Political leaders make covert alliances with the military establishment to grab power through shortcuts, victimization, and rhetoric, (eg, Imran Khan) or to continue the vested interest of their dynastic politics and save it from the tyranny of the ruling opponents (e.g., PPP and PML N).
Unfortunately, these patterns have been consistently relevant for the last seventy-five years.
Pakistan’s civil-military imbalance is merely not an event-based, person-specific affair. Instead, it is systemically ingrained in the history of the political processes with much deeper cultural, historical, and material undercurrents.
Successful democratic systems draw enterprise by staying genuinely correct to galvanize a vibrant electorate than merely relying on a depthless generalization of heroism and delusional self-posturing.
Political systems derive power through consensus, collaboration, and competence. These Cs cannot be achieved without the institutionalization of political parties and a rational decrease in the role of hero worship.
Politics as a system yields well-aware citizens with high opinion mobility in healthy encounters on policies and operational strategies and narrows down the scope of military and civil authoritarianism.
Therefore, to fix Pakistan’s civil-military imbalance, it is imperative to reframe the democratic ingredients of Pakistan’s political processes.
The only sustainable way out is to pay off the debt that the political system owes to the history of this country since 1857—that is political institutionalism through the democratization of politics and well-prepared, pragmatic, and sincere reconceptualization of political narratives by taking on board all the relevant stakeholders.
—The writer is an academic, columnist and public policy researcher.