By Feroz Khan
The reality has a way of obscuring the obvious. As the nation of Pakistan deals with the multiple threats facing it, it seems doubtful if it even understands the full gravity of the existential challenges, which face it. For too long, the state of Pakistan has identified the identity of its problems in terms, which seemed alien to the nature of the problems themselves.
This article is not about Pakistan’s “place in the sun” or why the dreams of greatness, nourished for so long and wished upon so fervently, never materialized, but rather it is about an explanation that seeks to answer, why Pakistan is tottering on the brink of failure as a nation. This article is not about Jinnah or what Jinnah wanted and neither is it a mea cupla or an instigation of blame, but it is about those imponderables of power which make up the very soul of a nation and provides it with the very breath that sustains its national persona.
In order to understand the root causes of the problems facing Pakistan presently, it might make sense to revert to the mists of the past and discern the logic, which would shape the evolution of Pakistan’s destiny from its creation. Again, this article is not about the origins of the idea of Pakistan or the struggle for Pakistan as much as it an article that seeks to ask why the idea of Pakistan could never be fully defined and explained; to the world and to the Pakistanis themselves. The purpose of this article is not to debate the meaning of Pakistan but to comprehend the thought by which Pakistan sought to characterize itself as a nation-state and one, which would embody its policies both domestically and internationally. If the argument is to be made that Pakistan is a failed state or is on the cusp of failure, then what the discourse needs to emphasis is the totality of the genesis of a nation-state, in its modern lexicon, and how Pakistan chose to interpret the very definition of a modern-state.
It would seem that the arguments of Pakistan’s success or failure reside in Pakistan’s own understanding and perceptions of its own role as a nation-state and what it wished to attain and more crucially, how it sought to achieve those goals. The most basic goal, which Pakistan sought to attain, at independence, was not establishment of a homeland for the Muslims of India per se, but the survivability of its existence as a viable nation and to deal with the multitude of birth-pangs it was forced to confront; from the refugee crisis to forming a government to matters of paying for it and to the issues of defending its independence from the very onset of its existence as a nation-state. Pakistan, from the moment it came into existence, was shadowed by a phobia of Indian intentions and therefore, it instinctively would portray itself as an existential response to India, but this did not necessarily mean that it was physically threatened by India.
There is no denying the fact that upon its creation Pakistan faced daunting challenges to its existence and it would be in the midst of these problems that the debate about the future nature of the Pakistani polity would be forgotten. The debate that should have taken place in the early years of Pakistan, and which still has not been fully debated, is what is role of a military within the politics of the state. On the surface, it might seem clear as to what is the proper role of a military within a nation, but the answer is a lot more nuanced than simply staying away from politics or not intervening in it. Pakistan is presently engaged in a series of debates arguing the role of constitutionalism; of an independent judiciary; of a free media and the nature of a civic society’s responsibility to the state, but it has not yet began to debate the role of the Pakistani military within Pakistan.
The role of the Pakistani military, within the politics of Pakistan, needs to be understood and the role of the military within Pakistani politics needs to be crafted concisely in a manner that avoids any ambiguity. In order to formulate such a role, but more importantly determine the place of the military within the Pakistani state, it would be instructive to understand the evolution of the military’s role in politics since the time of Machiavelli in the 1400s. The simple reason for this historic regression is that Pakistan inherited a system of government from Great Britain, which was a system of governance that was alien to the experience of the governance in South Asia and as Pakistan persisted with its imperial legacy, it never bothered to understand the reasons that lead to the civilian control of the military.
Whether one is willing to admit it or not in Pakistan, the fact of the matter remains that at the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, nearly four hundred years of war fighting experience and intellectual thought had shaped the perceptions of a modern state and its role vis-à-vis war and politics. Hence, the idea of the military’s role within a modern nation-state, which Pakistan gained from Great Britain was one in which role of the military was clearly defined and categorized as being subordinate to the powers of the state itself. Five hundred years ago, when the edifice of feudalism was crumbling in Europe, it was common for a monarch to exercise both military and political powers within his reason and European history has recorded many instances of great kings, who were also great captains of war.
As Europe was transiting from medievalism to the post-medieval world, the continent was fraught with wars of succession and national consolidation and from these conflicts would emerge a new understanding of the forces of war and politics. It soon became clear to many who were critically observing this interplay of war and politics that wars resulted from a failure of diplomacy and the bedrock of all future wars would be economic and not the military prowess of the state or the size of its army. In this sense, the nature of war and its conduct all underwent a change because wars were no longer considered as the exclusive rights of monarchs but rather as the instruments of the state to be used by the state in pursuit of its interests.
The last sentence of the preceding paragraph was pregnant with far-reaching possibilities, because if war was an instrument of state power then questions arose as to who would guide the application of that state’s power? The answer would not be so easily forth coming and it would take the experience of the First World War to convince the Europeans that military power had to be controlled by the representatives of the state – the parliament – and that its direction and guidance in times of war had to be clearly defined by the civilians rather than the military men. It would take the Europeans nearly four hundred years to come to this stage and during this time, as Europe was still debating this issue, Great Britain’s parliament was gradually solidifying its control over the politics of war and by the time Napoleon Bonaparte would dominate Europe in the early nineteenth century, the issues of “supremacy of parliament” in Britain were already settled and Great Britain would fight the Napoleonic wars as a constitutional monarchy.
The salient caveat is that of all the nations that entered the First World War, only Great Britain’s army was under the control of its parliament. This meant that the British parliament was not easily influenced or even impressed by the logic of “military necessity”, which was used successively by the general staffs of Germany, France, Austro-Hungary and of Russia to circumvent the parliamentary control over the conduct of the war. As the French premier George Clemenceau once said “war is too important to be left to the generals”, the lessons of the First World War convinced the Europeans, and validated the British believe, that the end result of all wars were political and the force used in wars had to be proportionate to the political needs of the state.
It goes without saying, as the experience of the First World War proved, that the military should come always under civilian authority, but that statement belies a bigger realization. Wars may be the continuation of diplomacy by other means and that maybe the nature of wars as Karl von Clausewitz might suggest, but the purpose of wars is more specific. There is a difference between the nature of war and the purpose of war; and there is a difference between a military force and its raison d’ etre, which has hardly been debated or understood in Pakistani politics.
Military force is the instrument of the sovereign – the state – and its purpose is to advance the political interests of the state through the application of violence. This application of the force, otherwise known as war, has to be determined by the state and the state alone must judge it value; its usage and its intentions. The aim of a war, in a military sense may be considered as the defeat of the enemy’s armies, but in a political sense the aim of a war should not simply be the defeat of an enemy’s armies, but to exert a level of persuasion that lessens the enemy’s will to resist the political demands being made on him. A good example of this thought, in practical terms, would be the operations of the Indian army in the war of 1971 against Pakistan and where the political aim of separating East Pakistan from West Pakistan was achieved by the defeat of Pakistani forces in the east. Once that aim was attained, the hostilities were ended because India was in a more favorable position to influence the post-war politics; a reality that was embodied in the Shimla Agreement.
Therefore, the purpose of a war is to reestablish the levels of political engagement between two states and the purpose of a military is to allow it’s sovereign power to re-enter the diplomatic discourse from a more advantageous position. Hence, the idea of war; to fight a war itself must be politically considered and the manner in which a war is persecuted must be politically controlled. Politics must limit the duration of the war to the extent that wars must be ended once the political aim of the fighting, to bring an opponent back to the discussion table with amenable intentions, is gained. Consequently, military strategy must follow from within the political reasons for a particular conflict and as political interests tend to be flexible; military strategy should be adaptable to the changing political needs and must not be rigid in its execution of the state’s interests.
What this implies is that the “doctrine of military necessity”, whereby the military seeks to justify its independent nature from politics, must never be tolerated. The reason being that military’s need to exist outside political control is, and can be, an existential threat to the nature of sovereign power itself because of one of most enduring hallmarks of sovereign legitimacy, in international relations, is the ability of the state to make war and peace. A military that tends to remain outside of a civilian control might endanger the safety of the state by embarking or giving the state a certain set of policy choices, which might not be easy to defend diplomatically.
A military force, which is allowed to create a set of policies, or influence policy decisions of a civilian government, on the basis of “military necessity” in a polity and which is unwilling to amend those policies in the light of changing political circumstances, tends to diminish the sovereign power of a state to make peace with its neighbors. This, should it be allowed to remain unchecked, can force the state into a realm of perpetual war, which may adversely affect the long-term security interests of a state. Pakistani politics needs to understand this thought as it prepares to fight an insurgency within its country and defend the existence of its “writ of sovereignty”.
A successful Pakistani response to the present insurgency will not manifest itself from the military destruction of the insurgents per se, but from the use of intelligent political policies in Islamabad, which effectively uses the Pakistani army to gain a particular political aim and more importantly, which understands what it hopes to achieve. A successful conduct and completion of a war implies that it must be politically guided and the military power must be proportionate to the attainment of a political goal, but it also strongly suggests that politics must never ask the military to do what is not possible to achieve. Wars are not, and never have been a solution to political problems and for politicians to think that a military can solve a political problem through the application of violence is highly disingenuous.
Therefore, as Pakistan prepares to confront the issues of insurgencies in Baluchistan and the FATA and as it prepares to fight them, Pakistani political thought needs to pay attention to the causes of the insurgency itself and ask a few pointed questions. All armed insurgencies, historically, have originated from a political reason and until and unless those political grievances are not addressed; the insurgencies have continued. Pakistan needs to decide whether the problems it is facing, in the guise of the present insurgencies, is of a political or a military nature? Is the solution to the present insurgencies a military response that seeks to destroy the insurgents and if it does; then it should be remembered that the physical death of insurgents in an insurgency will not mean the death of the idea or the political grievances, which are fuelling the insurgents.
What this means, in a larger sense, is that the entire contract of sovereign power in Pakistan needs to be revisited. It does not simply mean a restoration of the 1973 constitution to its original form, but what it suggests is a new understanding of the political, economic and social and cultural forces within Pakistani politics and the realization that Pakistan is a nation of heterogeneous interests. It means an awareness, within Pakistan by all the Pakistani interests, that Pakistan needs to understand the nature of sovereign power and it needs to respect the limits of that power as constitutionally defined and more importantly, it needs realize that Pakistan, as a nation, is too diverse to fit into anyone or any groups “idea of Pakistan”.
However, before it attempts to do all of this, the issues of the role of the military within a modern nation-state and the interaction of war and politics and their place in relation to another has to be clearly defined in Pakistani politics. It will on this issue, as Pakistan seeks to define the parameters of its civilian-military relations, that real issues of the “sovereignty of Pakistan” will be eventually decided. The future issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty will be decided on the basis of the following premise; is the military in Pakistan an instrument of sovereign power or is the sovereign power a hand-maiden for military power Pakistan and until Pakistan answers this question within all its socio-economic and politically cultural permutations, it will be always at a loss to define itself as a modern nation state and will be always remain imbalanced on the knife’s edge of failure and success