Democratic Forces Must Strive To Make Pakistan A Welfare State
Saad Hafiz writes about how Pakistan has deviated from its original goal of becoming a social welfare democracy and has instead turned into a national security state. He argues that the threat of India, the Kashmir issue, and the military’s ability to keep religious extremists at bay has given it a central role in the country.
Instead of a becoming a social welfare democracy as envisaged by the founding fathers, Pakistan has turned into a national security state. Sixty years after the coup d’état that brought General Ayub Khan to power in 1958, the civilian leadership is also entirely servile to the military now. The first of many missteps by Ayub was his short-lived 1962 constitution which imposed a presidential dictatorship and caused irreparable harm to the country.
A review of Pakistan’s history tells us a few facts. Firstly, it describes the way the establishment works. Much like the Roman legions, the first loyalty of a soldier is to his commander, then to the institution, but never to the elected parliament. Importantly, the military has forced a buy-in from civilians that its institutional interests are synonymous with national interests.
And ‘venal’ politicians, not generals, take the fall for military defeats. Z. A. Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, for example, both incidentally brought up under military tutelage, were blamed for East Pakistan and Kargil. The current military-backed Prime Minister Imran Khan should take note, as war with India is on the cards once again.
A question often asked is whether the Pakistani military is genuinely interested in peace? My view is that ideally, the generals have a vested interest in the status quo (no peace, no war). The ‘existential’ threat posed by India and the lingering Kashmir issue ensures the military’s centrality in the country. Another factor that helps the military to maintain its dominance is that it has convinced Western partners that it is the only bulwark against chaos. A crucial element of this strategy is the military’s ability to manage religious extremists and non-state groups, as and when needed.
A major result of weak civilian institutions has been that the national priorities reflect an anti-people agenda. There is a misplaced and regressive concentration on national security. The state has failed to offer its citizens the promise of economic development or security. The country can’t just take pride in rich elites lording over a poverty-stricken and ill-governed people.
The cost of maintaining the bloated national security state with nuclear weapons is a significant obstacle to progress. A country with a perpetual begging bowl in hand can’t take care of its people. Pakistan’s military expenditures represent 25–29 percent of government expenditures, 6–7 percent of gross national income, and 42-43% of tax revenues. And over 20 million children are out of school, less than 30% of women are employed, and the country suffers from low export growth and a persistent balance of payment crisis.
Pakistan has also failed to find much-desired cohesion. Instead, authoritarianism has exacerbated the existing fault lines in society. But the generals can’t understand that a state can’t force unity. East Pakistan is a case in point. It also applies to insurgency-affected Balochistan and to the simmering ethnic grievances in Waziristan. Military solutions can’t resolve political problems. High-handed methods have arguably harmed the country more than any external enemy.
Over the decades, the civil-military bureaucracy has convinced the populace that they are essential to protecting the national interest above the bickering and narrow self-interest of corrupt politicians. The civilian leadership has grown used to living under the military’s jackboots. Politicians assist the military’s unwarranted influence in matters of the state. They readily give in to its every wish and command. But they only harm themselves and democracy by pursuing this self-defeating strategy.
Despite profound challenges, democratic reformers in Pakistan must remain united. But popular support for civilian leaders and the democratic system will depend on the ability to deliver on its promises. We need a qualitative change to make a difference in the lives of the people. It requires the right to justice and avenues for social and economic development.
The country needs to strengthen the political system to ensure a better future. Changing the national security state and discarding praetorian tendencies must remain a key goal. It can lead to the growth of a stable political system and a country at peace with itself. It is worth the travail and struggle.