Can Use Of Force By State Be Legitimised?

Can Use Of Force By State Be Legitimised?
The state must take steps to bring non-violent rights movements back into the mainstream before they turn to violence, writes Umer Farooq.

Pakistan faces two key security challenges today. First, the state does not seem to enjoy a complete monopoly over legitimate use of force. There are other groups or non-state actors, which have the capacity to use violence with equal effectiveness. Some of these groups include Taliban, Baloch separatists and banned militant organisations, which have been involved in terror activities in the country.

Ever since the military started a campaign to eradicate militancy and terrorism in the tribal areas, the country’s political and military leadership has maintained that all these efforts are meant to restore the monopoly of the state on use of force.

This means that the state is trying to deprive the illegal and illegitimate groups of the capacity and capability to carry out violence.

In a fractured society like ours, simply restoring the monopoly over use of force and legitimising the expansion of military action is not enough. The tools of ‘force’ that state employs to maintain order in the society has to be legitimate in the eyes of the public.

This brings us to the second challenge the state is facing when it comes to internal security: Legitimising the use of violence and the tools of violence it is employing to restore and maintain order in the society.

In order to understand this challenge, we need first to realise that Pakistani society is highly complex society from a religious, sectarian, political and ethnic standpoint. If we look at the history of use of violence in Pakistani society by the state machinery, there hardly has been a general social and political consensus behind this use of force by the state.

Pakistani state and especially military made special efforts to build political consensus before it employed their firepower against the religious militants in Swat and South Waziristan. The political consensus they achieved through the convening of All Parties Conferences (APC) was only skin-deep.

The social and political unrest experienced by the society, after the use of force against the religious militants in the last years of last decade, clearly indicated that consensus of amongst the political class, largely dependent on state patronage for its survival, can hardly provide stability to the society at such momentous hours.

After Pakistani state started going after the urban based militant groups in 2014, another attempt was made to achieve political consensus among the same political leaders, although this time it was made only half-heartedly.

Perhaps the security planners of Pakistan have realised by this time that the social and political forces they are dealing with are beyond the capacity of these parasitical leaders to control. One glimpse of these social and political forces became visible in Pakistani society when the fan clubs of these TV personalities who are opposing the use of violence against religious extremists started to run into millions.

This was one clear indication that there was a section of the society who are more interested in listening to the arguments, which challenge the legitimacy of state’s use of violence against the militant groups.

According to official estimates, Pakistani security forces have conducted some 21000 intelligence led operations in urban areas of Pakistan and countless number of operations against tribal militants in the tribal areas. Most of the 21000 intelligence led operations were carried out in Punjab province and as was expected no large scale violence was involved in these operations. So therefore in Punjab you don’t see any social and political reaction towards these operations.

The PTM Question


The biggest challenge to the legitimacy of use of force by the state came in the tribal areas where a group by the name of Pukhtun Tuhafuz Movement (PTM) emerged to pose a potent political threat to the legitimacy of state’s violent methods. The fact that this movement itself is only using political methods to question the legitimacy of the use of violence adds credibility and acceptability among the public.

The state should realise that this is a group, which is in complete contrast with the armed militants they have been dealing with since 2004. They are not armed, they are not talking about revenge or violence, but are demanding their rights under Pakistani constitution.

Taliban wanted to overthrow the political order to which military was providing the security. To this date, I have not come across any statement of PTM leaders hinting at the overthrow of the order.

This group, however, is challenging the use of violence by Pakistani military in the tribal areas.

The thing Pakistani security planners need to understand is that restoring the monopoly over violence is not the only task they have to perform in this gravely unstable security situation. They have to restore the legitimacy of the use of violence by the state in this situation. In case monopoly is restored and legitimacy is not, we may arrive at highly unstable political and social conditions in our society.

Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that restoring legitimacy is more important than restoring monopoly.

Unfortunately, 2014 was the year when military arrogated to itself the twin task of flushing out terrorist from North Waziristan and going after their domestic political opponents. Even if we put aside all the conspiracy theories that have been doing the rounds in Islamabad, we can easily say that the events between August 2014 and July 2018 parliamentary elections, brought the then ruling party, PMLN and the military into a state of direct confrontation.

This kind of confrontation between the military—which is the main tool of violence against militants—and country’s major political party doesn’t augur well for consensus building to achieve legitimacy of violence in the society.

It is high time that the military leadership should realise that petty and institutional political interests could directly and negatively impact the project to restore legitimacy of use of force in Pakistani society.

Excluding non-violent political forces—doesn’t matter what kind of political ideology they are pursuing—will only further destabilise the political system. We must take steps to bring non-violent political forces back into the mainstream before it is too late.


Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.