Who rules Pakistan?

Published: April 21, 2013
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The writer is an independent political and defence analyst

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst

Pakistan is approaching the 10th general elections. It is, therefore, pertinent to ask who rules this country. There is no brief and single answer to this question. If we focus on the elections, we can argue that the people are the ultimate rulers of Pakistan. From another angle, a small group of civilian elite, top bureaucrats and the top brass of the military rule this country. They are tied to each other by shared power interest or by family, tribal, ethnic linkages. The third perspective is that the military rules this country with the help of the bureaucracy. Civilian political elements may be coopted to create a semblance of civilian political order. The actual and operational power is exercised by the top brass of the military.

There are people in Pakistan who argue with much conviction that key policy decisions for Pakistan are made in Washington. The United States government, the IMF and the World Bank often force their political and economic preferences on Pakistan.

Looking at the judicial activism on the part of the Supreme Court and the high courts and their periodic attempts to micromanage administrative and political affairs, it may be appropriate to argue that the judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts rule this country. The elected civilian government at the federal level has often found itself under pressure from these courts. One prime minister was removed from office and the other managed to survive. Now, after the end of the PPP rule, two of its ex-prime ministers have been taken to task by the Supreme Court for some of their decisions. Should the state institutions respect each other’s autonomy or should one institution set-right all other state institutions?

The issue of who rules Pakistan becomes more ambiguous when we examine how transnational militant Islamic movements have used violence and terror to establish their exclusive domains of authority at the expense of the Pakistani state.

The Taliban and other militant groups have become so entrenched that they virtually rule parts of the tribal areas and the adjoining districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Islamic-sectarian and other militant groups based in mainland Pakistan are linked with the Taliban and facilitate violent activities in addition to pursuing their partisan narrow and dogmatic religious agendas. There are dissident and separatist groups in addition to Islamic-sectarian groups in Balochistan that pursue violence and killing of people as an instrument for asserting their primacy in Balochistan. Karachi is another example of how the state appears helpless in front of various armed gangs, hardline religious outfits, violent political workers, drug mafia and real estate grabbers.

As the Islamabad High Court has taken the initiative to nail down former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, most civilian political leaders are happy and blame him for Pakistan’s political ailments. The Senate passed a resolution on April 19 asking for initiation of legal proceedings against him on the charge of high treason that carries the death sentence. Some of the civilian leaders want Musharraf to be tried as a common criminal so as to show that everybody is equal before law.

It is interesting to note two ironies of history. First, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has never delegitimised a military ruler when he was in power. Yahya Khan was declared usurper in April 1972, four months after he was forced out of office. General Pervez Musharraf was declared to have acted in violation of the Constitution in November 2007 by imposing what he described as an emergency, in a Supreme Court judgment delivered July 2009, only 11 months after he lost power.

Second, whereas Musharraf who demonstrated the arrogance of power while in office is now down and under, the key issue is to maintain a distinction between justice and revenge on the part of the political forces who suffered during the Musharraf years. There is a long tradition in Pakistan for seeking ‘exemplary punishment’ or death sentence for former rulers. In all such cases, the argument is that it would establish the supremacy of law in Pakistan.

The caretaker federal government is currently dealing with the uphill task of supporting the Election Commission for holding fair and free elections and providing security to the candidates of the ANP, the MQM and the PPP who are faced with terrorist threats by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Additional administrative and security challenges are to be dealt with in Balochistan and Karachi. Now suddenly, this caretaker government is faced with the unexpected question of the arrest and trial of Pervez Musharraf. The Supreme Court wants the caretaker federal government to explain its position on initiating the trial of Pervez Musharraf on high treason under Article 6 of the constitution.

The latest development threatens to divert the attention of the caretaker federal government from holding fair and free elections. The two long-term challenges also get neglected, which are the troubled economy and religious extremism and terrorism. The political leaders appear more concerned about securing a technical knock-out of Musharraf, preferably before the political governments are installed, rather than coming out with concrete and practical proposals for addressing these problems. The election manifestos are strong on promises and weak on plans of action for fulfilling the promises.

Given Pakistan’s delicate civil-military relations, it is important that the political leaders and civilian state institutions ensure that overenthusiasm to pin down Musharraf does not turn into a propaganda drive against the military. Any strain in civil-military relations can be destabilising, especially when the military is doing election duties and fighting terrorism.

Pakistan’s state institutions and processes cannot adopt clear-cut policies on these issues unless the question of who rules Pakistan is settled for ever. If the state institutions pull in different directions or one state institution takes upon itself the task of rectification of all other institutions of the state, or if the political leaders cannot think beyond their immediate partisan interests, Pakistan is not expected to overcome its acute internal crises even if the elections are held on time.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Falcon
    Apr 22, 2013 - 1:48AM

    Doctor Sahab – I must say that you lost me after first few paragraphs since the discussion went from the power brokers of Pakistan to why prosecuting Musharraf is not a good idea…keeping it more focused on the topic with your own conclusion at the end would have been far better (rather than leaving it open)

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  • Nadir
    Apr 22, 2013 - 3:38AM

    So basically, we shouldn’t say anything to the military, because they are ever so sensitive, and if politicians try to correct the unconstitutional imbalance, the military might threaten to overturn the cart?

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  • Khadim Karrar
    Apr 22, 2013 - 6:28AM

    You have missed the essence of Pakistan since you fail to realize that it is a highly pluralistic society. It survives because everyone has freedom. The Government governs the least and therefore people, groups, institutions, have power wherever they can successfully assert it and the balance of power between various forces continually shifts and new equilibrium keeps taking place and is constant dynamic of Pakistan’s politics.
    Much can be explained if Political Scientists analyze Pakistan politics from the perspective outlined heretofore.

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  • Aahjiz BayNawa
    Apr 22, 2013 - 6:37AM

    “The political leaders appear more concerned about securing a technical knock-out of Musharraf, preferably before the political governments are installed, rather than coming out with concrete and practical proposals for addressing these problems.”
    One would agree that political leaders should come up “with concrete and practical proposals for addressing these problems,” however WHY should they not try for a “technical knock-out of Musharraf?”
    And, how does all this relate to “who rules Pakistan?”

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  • Well Wisher
    Apr 22, 2013 - 6:41AM

    Is the digression from the topic “who rules Pakistan” to defend Musharraf, albeit in a veiled manner necessary?

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  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Apr 22, 2013 - 9:14AM

    If we are experiencing a significant political turning point in Pakistan’s history, which I believe we are, by trying Musharraf in a court of law to determine whether the former president and army chief is guilty as charged of violating the constitution, the politicians are then duty bound to make the necessary noise, build public pressure to ensure that the army does not once again try to either divert or derail the political process and the wheels of justice keep turning without hindrance or fear. It seems to me that by appealing for justice in Musharraf’s case the politicians have reignited a hitherto latent national urge for a shift in the military-civilian balance of power in the country.

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  • Muneer
    Apr 22, 2013 - 10:19AM

    A sensible and correct analysis.

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  • z.khan
    Apr 22, 2013 - 2:42PM

    Not that convincing article relative to title chosen. Even in last 5 years of so called democracy no one knew who is ruling the country. Current is total chaos and confusion. It is not easy to pin point who is ruling and who should rule. Lot many reforms are required prior to putting the things right. No such nation reformation efforts are in sight as such I, in near future, at least see no light even at the end of the tunnel.

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  • observer
    Apr 22, 2013 - 3:35PM

    Pakistan’s state institutions and processes cannot adopt clear-cut policies on these issues unless the question of who rules Pakistan is settled for ever.

    This puts the cart before the horse. In the rest of the world it is the clear cut policies/ rules/ constitutional provisions that determine who rules, or rather who is competent to do what. In the absence of clear cut policies and rules how does the author hope to settle this question? Is he proposing a bout of wrestling between the institutions or what?

    If the state institutions pull in different directions or one state institution takes upon itself the task of rectification of all other institutions of the state

    But then this is what the Institutions are supposed to do. All of them are supposed to have their own demarcated area of competence and are supposed to enjoy upper hand in the designated area. For example the Legislature is supposed to make laws, if the Bureaucracy including the Army, or the Judiciary tries to take over this function in the name of pulling in the same direction chaos will reign.

    Similarly, the Judiciary is supposed to discharge the function of maintaining the institutional boundaries and to that extent this one institution has to ‘rectify’ other institutions of the state.

    or if the political leaders cannot think beyond their immediate partisan interests

    How does the author know that the politicians do this? Does he have some objective data to prove this? Does he believe that 18th Amendment, which was an unanimous piece of legislation and which led to voluntary reduction and devolution of powers, was an exercise in ‘immediate partisan interests’?

    Looks like the author is presenting an apology for the ex-dictator, disguised as analysis.

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  • Parvez
    Apr 22, 2013 - 3:52PM

    Putting aside your views on the present Musharraf situation., with which I do agree.
    On the topic at hand the situation is confused. The best I can come up with is that countries are governed by governments that function in the interest of the country and its people. Pakistan is governed by individuals who look after their own interests and therein lies our problem.

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  • ishtiaq
    Apr 22, 2013 - 7:30PM

    agreed with the author….. plz dont confuse it with the current mush situation… author has always given non partisan analysis

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  • gp65
    Apr 22, 2013 - 9:41PM

    “Should the state institutions respect each other’s autonomy or should one institution set-right all other state institutions?”

    Both. The executive, judiciary and legislature are the 3 branches of government in most mature democracies and they each have defined roles that should be respected but also one of the roles is to provide a check and balance on the other 2 branches of government. Oh and army is not an independent branch of government in ost countries and actually rolls into the executive branch with the COAS reporting to defence minister/Secretary defense.

    “Pakistan’s state institutions and processes cannot adopt clear-cut policies on these issues unless the question of who rules Pakistan is settled for ever”.

    /huh? Would it not be policies that determine who rules rather than other way around?

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  • Well Wisher
    Apr 22, 2013 - 10:17PM

    @ishtiaq:
    His name is included among journalists who received secret funding from the Government. So how can you claim that he is non-parisan? See:
    “Secret funds case: List of 282 journalists made public”
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/538900/secret-funds-case-list-of-282-journalists-to-be-made-public-today/

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  • Obaid
    Apr 22, 2013 - 10:34PM

    @ishtiaq:

    I do not contend your observation of him being non partisan, but him making the list of 282 journalists that received favors from the Govt, I wonder if he received similar favors from PTI and PML-N?

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  • Khadim Karrar
    Apr 22, 2013 - 11:16PM

    @Obaid:
    One is also apt to wonder if he received favors from the Musharraf Government also?

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  • K B Kale
    Apr 23, 2013 - 8:30PM

    @gp65:
    Looking at the way soldiers protected their Ex-boss & Ex-dictator escape from the court when he literally ‘ran’ to his farmhouse after the court rejected his bail & his arrest looked eminent clearly shows that Military doesn’t respect judiciary or the government. If Musharraf had not been (house)-arrested, he might have ‘taken powder’ on board a submarine of Pakistani Navy!Recommend

  • KTShamim
    Apr 23, 2013 - 8:39PM

    In the end the people elect/select their leaders. Bottom line is that Pakistanis rule their country and have the power to control and change the direction of their country by choosing to forego corruption and adopting honesty and true fear-of-God. Unfortunately, they continue to adopt hypocrisy and so the leaders.

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  • gp65
    Apr 23, 2013 - 10:54PM

    @K B Kale: Your comment is reasonable but I am unclear why you have directed it to me.

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  • K B Kale
    Apr 24, 2013 - 1:07AM

    @gp65
    I addressed it to you to bring out how your statement-cum-quote, “army is not an independent branch of government in most countries and actually rolls into the executive branch with the COAS reporting to defence minister/Secretary defense” is correct in most of the mature democracies but in the nascent democracy of Pakistan, it is not true because the Pakistani Armed Forces don’t report to the Executive Branch but it is likely to be the other way!
    Presently I am visiting USA and would love to meet you.

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