O What Ails Thee, the Polity adrift?

As per US scholars, too much cultural, political separation between military and civilians also leads to the trouble

Dr Raashid Wali Janjua April 30, 2023
The writer is a PhD from NUST and Director IPRI:rwjanj@hotmail.com


There is a general pall of gloom and foreboding in the air these days. Many pundits and commentators, some for right and some for wrong reasons have been prognosticating a state meltdown. Their reasons could be challenged but sentiment cannot be faulted. Some call this a perfect storm and some a poly crisis, but everyone is convinced that the security, politics and economy have all nested themselves in the payload portion of the missile, hurtling at breakneck speed towards our national survival. Default, terrorism and political disintegration are the gory apparitions marring the dream of our national psyche.

As we cruise merrily on the Titanic of rents accrued through elite capture and socio-economic inequity, oblivious of the horrors of the impending doom, the band plays on insouciantly the haunting strains of Sibalius’s Fourth Symphony reminding of times when people were so poor they ate the bark of trees in lieu of bread. We are not there yet but the portents shine a sepulchral light on the possibility. Why have we come to such a sorry pass and is there a redemption possible? The above question is one most of the minds nowadays and very interesting article by Ahmed Bilal Mehbub of PILDAT shed light on some of the casual factors to the instability. In a recent Op-Ed piece titled ‘Is there a wayout?’, he argues that the country is suffering a withdrawal syndrome like an addict where tendencies like violence and despondence grip the human psyche.

The country in his opinion has endured crises like 1958 martial law, 1968 uprising, 1971 dismemberment, and a terror wave from 2004 to 2017 with an equipoise and resilience overseen by the Praetorian Guard. The civilian political leadership, in the writer’s opinion, was not given adequate leeway to blunder through the problems of its own making to achieve the desired political equilibrium and consensus for good governance. The military’s propensity apparently to descend down from the heavens as the proverbial deus ex machine to solve problems of political and economic stability, according to the writer, had kept the polity addicted to the extra-constitutional props. Now when the present military leadership had kept a clear distance from the rough and tumble of politics the addict was confused and adrift. This was leading towards socio-political polarisation, economic meltdown and anarchy.

Could this state of affairs be remedied through another military intervention or its complete political abstinence from political decision making to allow the quarrelling civilians the chance to muddle through the conflict, violence and economic instability to find the desired politico-economic equilibrium? The answer the civil-military relations’ scholars like Huntington give is to allow adequate space to the civilians to run the policies with the military acting as a modernising force. He wrote this about Pakistan Army in 60s in his magnum opus, ‘The Soldier and the State’. Harold Lasswell, another contemporary of Huntington, prescribes a material change in the security environment to bring about a desired balance between the civil and military components of the state. As per US scholars like Rebecca Schiff, too much cultural and political separation between the military and the civilians also leads to the trouble.

According to recent scholars like Richard Kohn and Risa Brooks, even the militaries like the US Army in advanced industrialised democracies are facing the dilemma of “abstinence or involvement” in political decision making. The political abstinence, according to these scholars, is creating problems in the present era due to blurring of the boundaries between the military and civilian tasks. For example, any international military commitment has several political dimensions which, if not shared with the military, render the military’s response too insular. The reconceptualisation of the military leadership’s role in political decision making even in countries like USA therefore indicates the underlying complications of complete insularity from national decision making.

Then there are several capacity and structural reasons why our polity has remained addicted to military tutelage and prone to infighting sans that. The structural reasons include a perpetually high threat security environment, weak democratic credentials of political parties, strong organisational discipline of the military and absence of strong civilian oversight institutions for giving policy guidance to the military. Out of three factors identified above, the implacable foe i.e. India is not giving any reason for optimism while the politicians do not show any signs of changing the dynastic flavour of politics. The third factor also remains unaddressed as no meaningful capacity building of Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Committee of National Security, and National Security Division has been undertaken.

The capacity reasons include non-performing democratic institutions and the expertise gap between the civilian and the military leadership in national security affairs. The national democratic institutions have consistently failed either to provide good governance or to assuage the concerns of the population. We have a Westminster polity where the Prime Minister is perpetually blackmailed and forced to dole out goodies to influential legislators in the shape of political favours like ministerial slots, development funds and sinecure jobs at the expense of national exchequer. It is a system that promotes elite capture and the ever-increasing discontented, jobless and frustrated youth bulge detests the system. On expertise gap front, there is little desire or effort to churn out better educated and intellectually equipped politicians capable of giving meaningful guidance to the armed forces.

In the absence of above capacity deficit and the immanence of the structural factors there is little hope that the military would be able to maintain its present political insularity. Soon the polarised national scene would throw up a fresh round of mutual recrimination and violence begotten out of hardened political stance of rival political factions which would imperil the already unstable economic situation. The military would have to play a role that would be a consequence of civilian inability to address the capacity and structural factors in the ailing national polity.


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