The Cost Of Neglecting Political Values
Pakistan is a security state—its ruling elite devote much resources, energy and time in preserving and protecting national security. Everything is seen from the perspective of national security—whether it is type of philosophy employed in designing educational curriculum or the construction of highways, everything is designed primarily with national security or military aspect of security in mind.
Our youth should be strong and healthy, after all how will they fight the enemy if they are not strong? There should be more industrialization, more engineering and metal related industry in the country, which is necessary if we want to attain self sufficiency in weapons production. State even promoted religious preaching activity among the believers in order to make them more pious to attract more recruits for the armed forces from traditional groups, which have been providing military manpower to the armies in this region since the first World War.
One thing we, however, skip in this larger debate about national security is our political system or our political and social values that are considered to be, throughout the world, primary tools in the hands of anyone managing national security to keep the nation together or to create cohesion among different segments of the society. There are now modern nations around the world, which put their domestic political system, political and social values foremost among their national priorities to be safeguarded and protected.
For this, these nations devise national security policy—defense and military affairs are only one aspect of national security—and foreign policy.
So the prevailing tradition among the modern and advanced nations of the world puts the preservation of political system and political values as the first priority and national security policy or foreign policy are seen only as a tool to protect and preserve the political system and political values.
In Pakistan, priorities are in reverse order. It’s the national security that defines what kind of political system we should have or what kind of political values we should promote. Political values are of secondary importance and political system is a plaything of the powers-that-be. Politics is considered as filthy, dishonest and harmful for the nation.
Unfortunately, the four military coups in our history have relegated our political system to the status of a necessity that is accepted only reluctantly by our power elites. Political and social values are not accepted in the form they exist in our society, but are taken as something imposed out of the reformist streak of one or the other ideologue. Or they are imported from the military alliances that we inherited as a result of our Cold War military pacts.
Sometimes these imported values came to us through expediencies of our financial dependence on our powerful allies as Deobandi Orthodoxy or the Salafi militancy came to us from our Arab financers. Economic modernity ensuing developmental policies of the state came as a package from Harvard School of Economics during Ayub Era and along came an over-sized military establishment with the stated objective of meeting the Cold War military requirements of Washington.
Theorists of this economic modernity from Harvard justified the imported authoritarianism values in Pakistani society as part of the requirement of western-led modernity.
Contrary to what we imported from abroad we have deeply egalitarian, humanist and proto-democratic way of running our governance affairs in pre-modern times at the local level—for instance tribal system was deeply egalitarian in Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhawa before the arrival of British, whose machination introduced chief led tribal system in its wake.
Punjabi society used to run its affairs at the local level through Punchayat system in pre-modern times, with Mughal State’s inability to penetrate deep into these agrarian societies. Even during British period the foundation for parliamentary democracy was laid with gradual and systematic devolution of power to the native representatives, so parliamentary democracy has a history of 150 years in this part of the world, at least.
The neglect of political values and political system came with a huge cost: firstly we failed to construct a cohesive nationalism as a political force in our society, primarily because we failed to evolve viable political institutions. What had happened in East Pakistan and what was happening in Balochistan was not only failure of Pakistani nationalism, it was our failure to devise viable political institutions that could keep economically backward areas of the country within our nation’s fold.
Even from our national security perspective, we have lost a lot because of absence of viable political institutions, fully functioning and vibrant decision-making political institutions not only forced us into a situation where we failed to coordinate our efforts in national defense, it deprived us of the capacity to develop a response to national security threats, which could be called fully national in character.
Examples: There were no national political decision-making institutions in place during 1965 and 1971 wars, due to which the decision making process broke down in the midst of war. Whatever the officially sanctioned historian might tell us, there was no national awakening during 1965 and 1971 war— the periphery remained aloof from official efforts during the wars.
Another example is our clumsy diplomatic and military response to OBL raid in Abottabad on May 2, 20111. Effective and vibrant political system can ensure effective national security and defense. Primary responsibility of national security policy should be to preserve our social and political values—defending barren lands, concrete buildings and tanks, aircraft and bombs is meaningless exercise.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.