The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World
Rana Banerji ·       

For over six decades, the Pakistani elite have pursued a `hyper-national security state’ geopolitical approach, stemming from an almost continuous and obsessive `search for power symmetry with India’, which has laid a “geo-strategic curse” on the country at the expense of any lasting political or economic reform. This has resulted in `domestic stagnation and even chaos’. Though seemingly successful in the short-term, or from a tactical point of view, they distorted the country’s development in the long run, imperilling its national security.

This is the central thesis of the construct offered in `The Warrior State – Pakistan in the Contemporary World’, a new book by Dr TV Paul, Professor, International Relations, McGill University, Canada. 

Pakistan had its `great power patrons’ – the US and China – both of whom it received massive military assistance from; but even their policies and patronage discouraged the adoption of `painful economic and social reforms necessary for rapid, equitable economic and political development’. Dr Paul tellingly brings out how ever since its founding in 1947, Pakistan remained at the center of major geopolitical struggles: the US-Soviet Union rivalry; the conflict with India; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and most recently, the post-9/11 wars. Massive foreign aid kept pouring in from major powers and their allies with a stake in the region. The reliability of such aid defused any pressure on the political elites to launch far-reaching domestic reforms necessary to promote sustained growth, higher standards of living, and more stable democratic institutions.

Pakistan’s elite – primarily the military leaders who repeatedly usurped power, abrogating constitution-making and the evolution of democratic processes – had, according to Dr Paul, `both the motive and opportunity to pursue such policies’. Their strategic ideas and ideological beliefs about statehood, development and power became major factors in determining strategies they followed. However, these ideas were `devoid of prudence and pragmatism’ and produced `unintended consequences, that were often negative’.

Citing the European experience to understand the relationship between war and state building in the Pakistani context, the book suggests that Pakistan has unfortunately tended to slide into the category of `weak’ or `failing states’ as its elites showed a proclivity to dabble `in other regional conflicts, proxy wars or promotion of insurgencies’, instead of devoting capacities for `the creation of public goods to its citizenry by way of education, healthcare, employment and high standard of living’.

Tracing causes of this political evolution through its turbulent history, Dr Paul concludes that Pakistan has `ended up as a garrison or praetorian state’; whenever the military ceded power to elected civilian governments, it did so only partially. This left the country as a ` hybrid democratic model’ with the military remaining ` a veto player’ in crucial decision making. 

An interesting chapter is devoted to comparing Pakistan’s internecine civil-military conflict with similar situations in other Muslim majority countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, and even with `non-Muslim National Security States’ such as South Korea and Taiwan. Though acknowledging some similarities relating to the `existential nature of threats faced’, Dr Paul finds Pakistan’s wars were `limited in nature’ and were `never utilised by the elite to transform the country’s economic policies’. The military’s dominance `was never tamed’ and `the co-operation of civil society groups’ was channelised `in the direction of geo-political projects’, instead of garnering support for policies of economic development. Religion was repeatedly utilised in the quest for Islamic legitimacy and as a crutch to justify the military’s abrogation of democratic politics, in the process leading to the `misuse of political Islam’; rise of sectarianism; and endemic ethnic cleavages – all characteristics of weak, insecurity-generating states.

The book examines how Pakistan is coping with `the trap of the Warrior State’ today and whether it will transform in the near future. Though some signs of change are discerned, through growing introspection among some sections of civil society, Dr Paul says Pakistan’s `ongoing war-making efforts have deeply affected its prospects for emerging as a tolerant, prosperous and unified nation-state. He believes `ironically, that Pakistan’s democratic elections and political transitions made things worse domestically’, leaving civil society much weaker and the middle class `increasingly sympathetic to extremism’. The army has recently taking on the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), though this seems a reluctant and limited strategy conditioned by calculations of calibrated response in the context of Afghanistan. It still has the `temptation’ to play `good Taliban’ and `bad Taliban’ while pursuing tactical or asymmetric objectives. Offering a rather dour prognosis, Dr Paul suggests that things could improve `only if ideas and assumptions of the elite change fundamentally’. The state could otherwise fall apart `if they (the elite) persist in “double games”’.

The State’s long term policies have neither focussed on economic development nor shown political cohesion. Despite the impact of the internet revolution, enabled by a reasonably free media, the younger generation has not been allowed to globalise or benefit from economic liberalisation. The education and science and technology sectors have languished or remained bound under old narratives of insecurity.

Emphasising `twin fears for the future in its immediate neighbourhood’ – the fear of India and the fear of losing primary influence over Afghanistan –  Pakistan’s military is shown to have assumed a protector’s role – so typical in    `Warrior States’ [Charles Tilly, in “War Making & State Making as Organised Crime,” ‘Bringing the State Back In’, 1985]. The army is called upon again and again to assume the protector’s role from threats it has itself created in the first place – thus showing how `a protector can become a protection racketeer’.

Soundness of theoretical premises notwithstanding, this is severe castigation indeed and may not go down well with audiences in Pakistan, coming as it does from an academic of Indian origin, albeit now ensconced in hallowed climes. It also reflects, perhaps, an inadequate and unduly pessimistic appreciation of complex social and political factors influencing responses of various players in the Pakistan’s domestic arena.

After Musharraf’s last disruption of democracy in November 2007, the lawyers’ movement for restoration of the higher judiciary definitely reflected deep-seated changes in these relationships and a partial maturing of civil society in the country. Both former President Asif Ali Zardari and former Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani understood these changes and made interesting course corrections in typical behaviour patterns which determined civil-military interactions in the five-year interregnum (2008-2013). Thoughpolitical parties remained weak, the army too could not or did not voluntarily (sic!) exercise absolute power. The ignominy of the Abbottabad action by the US to eliminate Osama bin Laden was not lost either on a politically aware polity or among young officers in the Pakistani Defence Services, who were unhappy with their own impotence. Though berated by new found judicial activism, the civilian political leadership still sacked a retired General as Defence Secretary during the strained `Memogate’ phase, though having to dismiss their chosen Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, due to the army’s insistence. Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani nevertheless, lamented in a forceful speech in the National Assembly that no organ of the State could claim to be “a State within the State,” asserting that “decision-making is done only by Parliament” and “all institutions of the county remain answerable” to it.

Though civil society activism in Pakistan seems to have ebbed, real political power is today diffused and spread among several actors. The centre-right politicians who received an overwhelming popular mandate in the 2013 general elections have built their own patronage and connections with radical Islamic actors; and the latter too have emerged with increasing clout in civil society. 

The Pakistan People’s Party could not contest elections freely due to threats from the Taliban and suffered at the hustings due to anti-incumbency and mal-governance. However, it retains its mass base in Sindh, and could bounce back. As a national mainstream party, it extended solidarity to the ruling PML (N), when civil-military relations recently became strained. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-Altaf) has its own ethno-cultural clout, in the context of law and order management in Karachi. 

These factors place limits on the military’s ability to control things entirely, though the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) remains the key military institution for the manipulation of politics. This has been vividly demonstrated in the crisis after the attack on Geo compere, Hamid Mir, and the army-backed attempts to coerce or curb freedom of the press.

On the ensuing military interaction with TTP too, Dr Paul’s prognosis seems off the mark. With civilian political leaders still paying lip service to mediation and talks, how the army tackles what has been described as the newest `existentialist threat’ against the State perhaps needed to be explained beyond the parameters of `a warrior state’ construct.

That said, Dr Paul’s book offers a rich bibliographic canvas and is a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on political dynamics in Pakistan.