Pakistan: The Security State

Spearhead Analysis – 26.09.2016

By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

democracy-in-pakistanHistorically, insecurity was defined as a peril to the sovereignty of a state, its territory, and the principles that defined it. This threat could take the form of a belligerent neighbor of imperial might, hence, either forcing the nation to expand its military resources, or strike back to establish a stronghold in the region. During the Cold War Era, security fell under the guise of the traditional approach, which focused primarily on dealing with security issues using military power and muscle, and since it was defined in terms of the state being the referent object that needed protection, sovereignty – according to the Cold War world – could only be protected by such means.

However, the post Cold War world has seen a shift in the understanding of security issues, triggered by the UNDP’s conceptualization of what security now encompasses, followed by debates on the broadening and widening of the approach to security– to include human and socio-economic security among many others – adopting a critical approach to security rather than a traditional one.

In Pakistan’s case, however, the concept of ‘security’ is incessantly fused with ‘national security’, requiring the defense of borders from external threats, leading to the national and foreign policy marred by a sense of paranoia. It is this fear that has made it difficult for the state to break away from the rut of a traditional approach to security, and has molded Pakistan into a ‘security state’.

Building Blocks

Pakistan’s greatest struggle over the past has been to switch over from a security to a development-oriented welfare state. However, marred by the incidence of military takeovers and backhand military led policies, the democratic system has long been at the mercy of top military elite, and the bureaucracy; national policies, and resource allocation, have both been steered in the direction of security, as opposed to social welfare and development.

Ahmed Rashid, author of ‘Taliban and Descent into Chaos’, identifies four major reasons behind Pakistan’s inability to break away from the straitjacket of a national security paradigm. These are: a) the Civil-Military imbalance, b) inability to curb ethnic rifts, c) non-state actors waging proxy wars, d) the incessant focus on India as a threat, and positioning the country as a national security state based on this fear. Added to this are the rocky relations with the Afghan government, and the drawn out Kashmir dispute. All these, if looked at closely, are intertwined, in that the omnipotence of the army is a direct result of Pakistan’s position as a national security state, with the military intervening in the democratic processes. This position is also nurtured by Pakistan’s inability to contain ethnic rifts, which has been conducive to the emergence of non-state actors like the Taliban.

Pakistan’s positioning as a state resting on the foundations of a security centered approach towards national and foreign policies, has also been aided by its center-stage role in major geopolitical struggles ever since its founding: the US-Soviet rivalry; conflict with India; Afghanistan’s invasion by the Soviets; and the post-9/11 wars, are a few examples of this. The reliability of the political elite on the downpour of foreign aid from major allies with vested interests in the region rid them of any pressure to spearhead domestic reforms bolstering democratic institutions, sustained growth, economic upsurge, and high standards of living – drawing away from the foundations of a welfare state.

The Pakistani political scene has been overrun by internal contradictions, pertinent to its identity, and has added to its instability and insecurity in the region. This has only powered the country’s reliance on the military for its services – in keeping with its survivalist model of national security, which has led the political realities of the country, and continues to be central to Pakistan’s strategic decisions.

Civil-Military Imbalance

With an emphasis on its dual fears of its future in its neighborhood – one of losing the race to India, and the other losing its upper-hand on Afghanistan – Pakistan’s military has taken on a ‘protector’s role’ – symbolic of a garrison state. This has left Pakistan functioning as a ‘hybrid democratic model’ with the military being called time and again to assume its role as a protector, having the final say on crucial decisions, and only ceding partial control to elected civilian governments.

While every country has security concerns, and resources are allocated accordingly by the parliament in a democracy, the Pakistani political scene is rife with examples of the military stepping in and deciding how big a chunk of the budget was needed to embark on its endeavors.

The abrogation of constitutional processes, and disruption of democracy, through repeated interventions by the military, is representative of its ideological beliefs regarding statehood, and how they differ with the civilian government. Military interventions have mostly been because of the incompetence of the political system and the failure to develop institutional capacity, and good governance to empower the people. While military interventions were ostensibly to save and correct the system, personal ambitions and interests prolonged their term – a result of which is a political system that was never allowed to mature, and inordinate military influence over policies.

The military’s role in channelizing civil society groups in the direction of geo-political projects, as opposed to economic development, rings true of its dominance in the political sphere. In the past, the military has used religion and ‘political Islam’ to garner support for its dismantling of the democratic process – leaving Pakistan, today, comfortably sliding into the category of a failing state, rife with ethnic cleavages, sectarianism, and religious extremism. The Afghan war, and the herd of jihadis willing to fight the ‘godless’ Soviet Union is an example of the marriage between an opportunist institution trying to gain political leverage by appealing to a reactionary agenda headed by the mullahs who needed popularity at the polls – the residue of which still plagues Pakistan.

Any study of the national security of Pakistan revolves around the military and its role in war and governance; it is for this reason that many believe the military influences internal and external politics, inclusive of choices regarding economic development and ventures, as well as foreign allegiances. While in recent years there has been a shift in the visible role that the military plays in the political decisions of the civilian government, many believe that this only comes from the realization that their position is better served as staying away from direct interference in politics, and meeting their institutional interests without taking the reins of power officially and facing the burn of a lack of performance later. It is evident that the military enjoys control of policies pertinent to national security, major economic issues like CPEC and its share in it, along with decisions regarding foreign policy and whether or not we should trade with India.

However, the military now has a better comprehensive understanding of security, where institutions like the National Defence University contribute to this shift. Human security, economic security and socio-economic factors, figure very prominently in the military’s thinking on security matters. It is fully aware of the need for human resource development and the focus on education and health. Recent and ongoing operations are meant to ensure human security and an environment for economic security and growth. The military is also making a direct contribution by establishing and managing facilities in remote areas.

In an environment of asymmetry, there is now full awareness of the futility of an arms race. This has led to strategic concepts like deterrence and avoidance of conflict situations. The military does, however, favor calibrated responses to threats so that there is reciprocity and not a submissive policy that could jeopardize national interests. And while it has failed to do so in the past, the military over the last eight years has actively supported democracy and has offered input in policies, and advanced to thwart threats where leadership lapses emerged. This has brought in a tailored model for sustained civil-military cooperation, giving space to the political institution to develop capacity in all institutions and consolidate the gains made – although this process needs to be speeded up.

Recently released statistics from authoritative studies indicate that almost 44% of the population is stunted, and when linked to uncontrolled population growth and a totally inadequate education system, the future looks bleak. DIFID and other organizations are working to improve nutrition and empower people by giving them capacity to monitor governance quality. However, there is a lot of ground that still needs to be covered to balance out Pakistan’s security interests with its welfare needs.

Instead of reaching out to its public by way of healthcare facilities, education, employment opportunities, and high standards of living, Pakistan has, with the help of history, produced itself as a security state devoting its capacities to proxy wars, geo-political projects, and the promotion of insurgencies. The civil-military divide has only helped strengthen the roots of a system that steps away from economic development, and draws closer to a habitual focus on security related projects.

Power Symmetry

Since independence, Pakistan has embarked on a neurotic quest for ‘power symmetry’ with India – transforming into a ‘hyper-national security state’. This has been at the expense of long-term political and economic reforms. At the time, the preservation of the state was of prime importance against an India that allegedly wanted to ‘undo’ partition. After the East Pakistan fiasco, the Indian fear looming in the minds of the Pakistani elite became justified, and became the main factor in the country’s efforts to arm itself with nuclear weapons. The hostilities in Kashmir, and Afghanistan’s failure to recognize the border with Pakistan and disapproval of its inclusion in the UN, only added to its fear of being cornered from the East and the West side of the borders.

The perception of threat, while considered by some as a tool to unite an ethnically diverse Pakistan, by others as a means to establish a stronghold by the army to command resources, and by most as a legitimate concern in a hostile neighborhood, only added to the civil-military bureaucracy’s reason to remove governments headed by inept politicians unable to handle the overt and covert expression of power by India. While the military establishment saw the democratic system and the civilian government as sources of instability, what it failed to grasp was that its interventions only weakened the system more than anything.

This threat perception exists till date, and with the Afghan government hurling accusations from one side over cross-border terrorism, and Indian politicians moving further away from the boundaries of civility with every passing day, Pakistan’s obsession with remaining a security state as a necessary evil is only legitimized. Modi’s recent statement regarding Baluchistan where he offered support to the Baloch separatist movement only affirmed the view of the Pakistani security establishment of India’s covert tactics in destabilizing Pakistan through polarization and insurgency in Baluchistan.

Although warranted, Pakistan’s discomposure only hurts itself. While India has whirled past us economically, and has managed to reap the gains of globalization, Pakistan remains trapped in its paranoia of a ‘mighty’ India, through which it filters its relations with Afghanistan. Where India is benefiting from projects like the Chabahar port, Pakistan is stuck in a position whereby it is left out of such projects on its own accord: the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata is blocked for travel between Afghanistan and India, Afghan trucks can’t go further than Peshawar, and Indian trucks have to unload in Wagah. It is interesting to note that Afghanistan had previously turned to Pakistan to use its land routes to be able to transfer goods from India to Afghanistan, but was supposedly hushed because it would have proven to be fruitful for India. Had Pakistan thought beyond its narrow security lens, it would have seen this as a catalyst for future negotiations and goodwill with Afghanistan, as well as being beneficial for the economic sector in terms of transit fees, growth of the domestic transport sector, and so on. Pakistan’s close allegiance with the US and its regional security systems is also justified by leaders on the grounds that it helps Pakistan save face in front of India.

Towards Welfare

Pakistan’s survival doesn’t rely on maintaining its existence as a security state. In no way does this imply that it should turn a blind eye to the political realities that surround it in the region – it means that there should be a more clear-sighted distribution of resources between security and welfare. A shift in our national priorities, to a more development-oriented approach focusing on the needs of the masses would improve the living conditions of the poor. For this, the mindset that warrants prioritizing security over welfare needs to alter. This includes the civil-military bureaucracy, parliament, judiciary, media, and the likes. A balance between civil-military relations, as well as other institutions, can only come into existence through good governance, and credible leaders. Additionally, the number of stakeholders in the power sharing arrangement needs to increase. This can be done by delegating powers to lower ranks and among other institutions.

Pakistan’s concerns over security are grounded in reality, but to find the roots of the threats that surround it would only send it on a cyclical journey where it would find that it has been working against its cause all along. Pakistan’s internal and external security issues, although an outcome of historical realities, have been caused by the decisions made by its leaders – sometimes for the right reasons, and at times for the wrong. It is time that it lets go of its historical baggage, and realizes it’s first and foremost responsibility to its citizens: welfare.