Institutions versus organisations

Published: March 17, 2012
The writer is Executive Director Jinnah Institute. The views expressed are his own

The writer is Executive Director Jinnah Institute. The views expressed are his own

At a farewell reception some days ago for outgoing Chief of Air Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is reported to have said that institutions are built over a long time and criticism must not undermine them. He specifically referred to the so-called Mehrangate scandal and also the harsh criticism in the media of the army and the ISI with reference to Balochistan etcetera.

Kayani is right. Institutions are indeed built over a long time and painstakingly. They are the rules of the game that hold organisations, which is what Kayani was referring to, together. This is a near-axiomatic truth. But behind this truth lies a long process that determines the nature of the institutions, in other words the scope, extent, efficacy and the normative acceptance of the rules of the game.

Please note that what Kayani referred to as institutions I call organisations. The evolution of institutions also impacts the overall environment in which organisations within a state and society will develop and interact.

Many factors go into the evolution of the institutions: culture, tradition, history, geography, social development, legal structures, even serendipity. But while this mix is structural in many ways, what gives it agency and makes evolution possible in the right direction is criticism and accountability.

The military is an organisation. Like all organisations within the system it has to, and must, function according to the rules of the game. That’s the institutional framework. Criticism, far from undermining institutions, strengthens them by holding accountable the functioning of the organisations, as also their interaction with other organisations.

So we have two types of evolution: that of institutions, the rules of the game, and of organisations that must operate under those rules of the game.

I’d be the first to concede that there’s no formula to determine what percentage of criticism would be good and what bad. But the complexity and greyness is precisely what necessitates the debate. And by debate I do not mean the vitriol and invective that now informs our discourse and gets accolades from partisans. In fact, though it is difficult to quantify it, the invective might just be hindering rather than helping our struggle towards evolving the institutional framework.

A broader benchmark can be used perhaps. Is the criticism of an organisation or an act of accountability against it likely to improve its organisational culture and functioning in relation to the rules of the game and make it accept the institutional framework? If yes, we have our accepted and acceptable benchmark.

The military in Pakistan has repeatedly flouted the institutional framework. It will have to live with that reputation for a long time as it struggles with its own ethos as well as other centres of power emerging in Pakistan. When Kayani notes that the US media is far more careful in its reporting of the US military or when the Indian media takes the line presented to it by the Ministry of External Affairs, he should also remember that those states are not informed by the two fault-lines that define Pakistan: state-society and civil-military.

These two fault-lines I have been agitating as the biggest security threat to Pakistan repeatedly and in vain. The right wing, which the state supported, has turned against how the state is currently configured and the left-liberals are pathologically opposed to the military. The country has no centre and the responsibility for that lies squarely on the military. Things have changed for the right in some ways and will change more but transitions are always painful. The military wants to lock away the skeletons of the past. The people want catharsis, through criticism and accountability, even abrasive behaviour.

One can understand the military’s frustration but this is the rite of passage it has to undertake and also the punishment that comes with it in the liminal phase. In theory it would be easier if the military could be barracked for the period of transition but that’s not possible. It will remain tightly coupled with the people and continue to function in an environment that requires it to face many challenges.

Makes it more difficult for the military for sure, but then that’s part of institutional evolution.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (15)

  • Babloo
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:54PM

    i read twice and was searching for any criticism and condemnation of the agencies/military for the billions looted as part of Mehrangate scandle or the Baluchistan disappreances or the discriminatory and suppressive laws that have been formulated when the army ruled under Zia. I could not find any. It just stated that Pak army has supported the right ( euphemism for support to militant religious parties from LeT to Difa-e-Pakistan ) . It almost made it sound like Pak army was just doing right. Excellent.


  • Falcon
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:04AM

    Of all the people who usually comment on the issue, I find your analysis the most balanced one. I think as you have always pointed out, our dwindling center and ideological polarization resulting from reactionary mechanisms is an ideological threat since it becomes difficult to achieve consensus on a reasonable framework for solving problems in the near-term.


  • Parvez
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Excellent analysis. Change is never easy especially for an organisation that is rigid in its self-righteous thinking but it is necessary if harmony is to prevail.


  • Insaniyat
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:24AM

    the left-liberals are pathologically opposed to the military.

    Had this been the case while the ‘military, had all along been an advocate of peaceful coexistence with the ‘left liberals’, one could have called it ‘pathological’. But given the fates of countless’ left-liberals’ including Faiz and the victims of ‘operation searchlight’, the ‘pathology’ appears to be well founded and perhaps mutual.
    By the way, what percentage of the Pakistani population and intelligentsia, as seen on TV, can be termed ‘left-liberal’?

    The people want catharsis, through criticism and accountability, even abrasive behaviour.
    One can understand the military’s frustration

    If one is sensitive enough to ‘understand the military’s frustration’. what prevents one from appreciating the people’s frustration too.


  • elementary
    Mar 18, 2012 - 1:43AM

    Fully agree.Accountability never weakened any institue.If they have been meddling in political affairs ,taking charge of reigns of power every so often, then what’s wrong if they are asked to answer some questions in court of law or to the people.


  • Malaiz
    Mar 18, 2012 - 3:33AM

    Have done some research on institutions and organizations myself. From the academic point of view, you are spot on. Good article. I reckon some people will find it difficult to understand though – requires academic depth.


  • faraz
    Mar 18, 2012 - 4:39AM

    Generals wants to be seen as messiahs despite defeat in all four wars against India, massive defence budget leading to poverty, interference in politics, use of civilian jihadi groups causing extremism and terrorism and utter failure in maintaining internal and external security.


  • adeel759
    Mar 18, 2012 - 5:16AM

    @Insaniyat. Liberals do not oppose military, they too,want a strong, powerfull, pre emptive, responsive, lethal military to react to any arising eventuality but WE THE LIBERALS want is military plays by the book, military respects the holiest of the Holy (Constitution Of The Motherland) and the will of the People of Pakistan. If you go thru its history it has unfortunately failed on almost every undertaking from Kargil, Mumbai Attacks, GHQ, PNS Mehran, Slala to abbotabad let alone their political shenanigans. So all we want is Military let the civillians do their job. Thats it.


  • Haris Chaudhry
    Mar 18, 2012 - 6:44AM

    Mr Haider:
    Those criticising the military and its various intelligence organisations are not doing it out of an ideological stand point that you refer to as “left-liberals being pathologically opposed to the military”.. This is over-simplification and akin to stereotyping a vast majority into “left-liberal-in-army-bashing” category.

    Pls note that those that are criticising the army are doing so for the following obvious reasons:

    Creating the jehadi monster through its blinkered and short term approach that has wreaked havoc throughout the country
    Supporting various factions of taliban through its good-taliban-vs-bad-taliban policy
    Being kingmakers in the political process and openly involved in horse-trading
    Creating havoc in Baluchistan through its kill and dump policy
    Creating a large empire of industries and asset base – for the benefit of its elite class of generals
    Missing people saga (doesnt need explanation)
    Saleem Shezad and others (doesnt need explanation)
    Billions of dollars worth of embezzlement and channeling funds meant for fighting wars into an India-centric acquisitions of weapons
    Flouting Pak’s constitution in usurping power, killing of many leaders including ZAB, Bugti and countless others
    Not subjecting itself to accountability and scrutiny that has made a sitting PM appear in court many times over ‘contempt charges’.
    Inability to purge its own ranks from jehadists and inability to protect its own critical infrastructure through brazen daylight attacks
    Bullying and intimidating tactics by its agents and the free run they get in return. Sitting MNAs, MPAs and Senators have been sent to judicial remand these days for flouting rules, high handedness and beating up public servants
    Telling the nation that wars were imposed on it and it won all wars, however the truth is that Pak launched all wars and lost all..
    Not being able to control its borders through the nurturing and exporting of terrorists globally (where is the ISI, MI, IB et al which were meant to be keeping tab on these offshoots)

    Now this is just the tip of the iceberg and anyone that disagrees with the above and registers its protest is considered as “left-wing-pathological-military-basher”in your eyes..

    Need I say more..?



  • vasan
    Mar 18, 2012 - 7:31AM

    I think a major point is missed, Had the military stuck to its duties and not got involved in the internal affairs, politicking etc, criticism would not have come. Now that this has been happening, the military has to face the music irrespective of the source, content and degree of criticism. I agree with the author that it is impossible to draw a line between constructive criticism and demoralising criticism. I would tend to think that line is drawn by the receiver than the criticizer but after drawing such a line, he just have to take it. The only way to stop the criticism and get a pat on the back will be for the army to come clean, empty its closets and ask for a national apology with a promise to work under the Ministry of Defense and also to handover the ISI to the civilians. And never to cross this Lakshman Rekha.


  • Feroz
    Mar 18, 2012 - 10:38AM

    Left liberal is a term anathema to Islam and finding a leftist and liberal in such an society is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Islam says do not question, just obey. If you are talking about neighbouring India it is a different matter because being a leftist liberal has been a fashion for over 60 years. That an Indian state had the longest serving democratically elected Communist Government ever also means the Leftists are still in Business. Mind you that Indian state had a Muslim population of over 20% who voted no differently from the masses. The difference in behaviour can be ascribed to – born again Muslim vs secular Muslim.


  • Mirza
    Mar 18, 2012 - 11:17AM

    Multiple acts of high treason, protecting OBL and other terrorists, killing and dumping their own citizens, throwing judges and their families in detention, hanging elected PM, killing nationalist leaders, spreading fundamentalism, supporting jihadist culture all require your soft apologist approach to understand and give them more time. However, the elected govts should never be given even a full term. Can a general even dream of driving a tank in the lawn of White House? They are there to open the limo doors for the elected reps. The reason they do this in the US is they would be shot dead if they do not obey the law.


  • anticorruption
    Mar 18, 2012 - 5:18PM

    This is a good article, but unfortunately most of the comments suggest that people are more interested in reading something full of adjectives rather than a somewhat more down to earth piece. Not surprisingly, what has upset some here the most is the sentence about the pathalogical hatred of the left-liberals for the military.

    It is true that a lot of this hatred has to do with the way the military has conducted itself, but this is only half the story. The left was equally pathalogical right from the 1950s and 1960s before the military created the monster of militancy in the 1980s. What really upset the left was the decision of the state to align its foreign and economic policy during the cold war period more with the west. The kind of anti-America slogans that are today the hawlmark of the right were once the speciality of the left. Even now when our left lening intelectuals speak about the 1950s and 1960s, they often use terms like ‘Amrica ki godh main baith gaay’ etc rather than engaging in a more mature analysis of the various foreign policy options available to Pakistan at that time and their pros and cons.

    Had the military imposed a foreign policy that was oriented more towards the Soviet block and had the state adopted a policy of keeping key sectors of the economy under greater state control, the same left would have been much less hostile even if this meant an encroachment by the military into politics. The first coup plot was in fact a leftist one. Someone here mentioned how the military treated people like Faiz without mentioning the fact that he was involved in the Rawalpindi conspiracy.

    In short, while the military is very much to blame, the left too needs to do a lot of introspection about its role.


  • aatif ehsan
    Mar 18, 2012 - 10:15PM

    Freedom of speech is a right…but you know and better understand that excess of everything is dandgerous…kiyani advocated that version…


  • Insaniyat
    Mar 19, 2012 - 7:43PM


    In short, while the military is very much to blame, the left too needs to do a lot of introspection about its role.

    We come back to the same question. What percentage of the Pakistani population is Left? In other words after decades of active elimination what of the Left has been left in Pakistan?

    More importantly, how come the Army is less worried about the rising tide of the Terrorist/ Extremist ranks and is more concerned with the ever dwindling Left?

    Any guesses?


More in Opinion