Categorized | South Asian Politics

Is Pakistani military undermining civilian institutions?

Posted on 29 January 2015 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari


  The increased role of the Army in internal security matters, especially the setting up military courts, has led to an interesting political debate inPakistan. A number of politically active people, including some lawyers, describe this development as a setback to democratic principles and values. That the military is gradually undermining elected civilian institutions and processes.

 Another section of population which appears to be larger in number than the first group argues that the decline of civilian processes and the inability of the political leaders to cope with the challenges has threatened the future of Pakistani state and society. This failure has led to the increased reliance on the military for addressing the current security problems. People are generally unhappy with the performance of civilian processes and political leaders.

  A large section of politically aware and active populace expresses disappointment with the performance of the elected government and especially its delivery of basic services to people. This kind of discontentment was expressed during the PPP rule (2008-2013) but it seemed to have deepened during the current rule by the PMLN. The latest non-availability of petrol on top of electricity and gas shortages has increased frustration and anger at the societal level. If these trends are not reversed the long term sustainability of democracy will be jeopardized inPakistan.

 This alienation is in sharp contrast to the pro-democracy disposition of politically aware and active population in 2007-2008. By 2007 the civilianized military regime of General Pervez Musharraf had run aground in terms of governance and political management.

 General Musharraf’s political blunders like the attempt to remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (March 2007), securing his re-election in October 2007 and, above all, the imposition of state of emergency on November 3, 2007, shocked the legal community, political parties and other activists. They took to streets in support of constitutional and civilian rule, civil and political and economic rights and participatory governance. There was much optimism about the future of democracy inPakistanwhen the elected PPP government assumed power at the federal level in March 2008.

 Now, much disenchantment from the elected civilian rule is visible at the common person level. This is typical of the societies where democratic aspirations repeatedly get frustrated by the poor performance of political leaders. The rulers view the electoral mandate as a license for their self-articulated agendas rather than addressing the issues that hurt them most in daily life. Another problem common with such rulers is that they personalize political power and give greater importance to loyalty over professionalism and merit.

 Pakistan is currently experiencing a conflict between the theory of democracy and its implementation in terms of governance and political management. Every political leader talks about constitutionalism and democracy. However, the political leaders engage in bitter power struggle without any regard to the principles of democracy. The party in power want to concentrate power in its hands and refuses to accommodate the opposition demands. The opposition opposes the government on each and every issue and does not hesitate to challenge through the street protest.

 The problem inPakistanrelates to the operational side of democracy. This concerns political leadership, parties and dynamics of politics. All these elements have not been helpful in translating democratic aspirations and principles into concrete policy measures that strengthen the ties between the ordinary people and the democratic political process.

 Elections provide electoral legitimacy to the party in power. However, it is important that the electoral process is generally viewed as fair, free and transparent by most political contestants. If there are questions about the credibility of the elections, these cannot ensure electoral legitimacy. The widely shared doubts about the credibility of the elections need to be addressed in a judicious manner rather than evading the issue or dismissing it as propaganda.

 Even if the elections are generally viewed as fair, free and transparent by a large number of political contestants, these do not give a free hand to the ruling party to govern the way it likes till the next scheduled elections.

 Electoral legitimacy needs to be supplemented by performance legitimacy if an elected government wants to hold power for its full tenure. The government must adopt concrete policies and administrative measures to ensure physical as well as socio-economic security to the common people. The people in general must perceive the government as helpful in addressing their socio-economic problems and personal security issues. Further, it must ensure transparency in official financial deals and the use of the state patronage.

  The performance ofPakistan’s federal and provincial governments is poor in socio-economic development, internal security and transparency and professionalism. The federal government has found it difficult to cope with challenges in the civilian domains and has drifted from crisis to crisis. It also suffers from wrong priorities for development work by opting for publicity oriented construction and road building and transport projects. It pays less attention to addressing the issues that hurt badly the common people, i.e. the shortages of electricity, gas and petrol, price hike for essential commodities, lack of attention to education and health care. There are strong complaints about the misuse of state resources and corruption in high offices.

 It is not surprising that there is a widespread alienation at the common people level from the elected governments, especially at the federal level. With the exception of the direct beneficiaries of the faltering democratic government, the doubts have increased about the capacity of the political leadership in power to handle the political, economic and internal security crisis.

The Army authorities have taken the initiative from the federal government for foreign and security policies and they are prodding the federal government to deal effectively with the civilian side of countering terrorism. It has not so far overcome its traditional slow pace and ambiguity about the Islamic hardline and sectarian groups based inPunjab.

 Therefore, the alienation and anger at the popular level is focused on the performance side of democratic institutions and leaders rather than the idea of democracy. However, anger against the rulers often delegitimizes the whole system, making democracy insecure inPakistan.

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