The world seems more aware of a retrogressive Pakistan where adult females cannot marry of their own accord and are hounded and killed in the name of family honour if they follow their heart. It is also a country where organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Sipha-e-Sahaba (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and others operate freely. Prominent politicians, state dignitaries, journalists and academics fear for their lives.
So where is Pakistan going? Will the liberal project finally succeed or will the day belong to the religious right? Equally important is the question: will Pakistan ever transform in terms of civil–military relations? My conclusion is that Pakistan will continue to be a civil–military authoritarian state. There is also a possibility that it may become a hybrid-military-theocratic state.
A hybrid theocracy can be defined as an environment where pockets of liberalism will thrive in the middle of spaces formally or informally governed by religious norms or laws. This means that while there will be fewer places such as Swat where Islamabad eventually gave in to the demand of the Taliban and imposed Sharia Law but the larger part of the country will have informal application of the most orthodox forms of Sharia Law. The best example of this is the inability of the state to revise the blasphemy laws. In fact, any law with religious connotations cannot be really challenged by the state. The situation is not surprising since it is a ramification of almost three decades of state sponsorship of the religious right and militant forces in the country. The Pakistan Army built a partnership with jihadis of all kinds in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Initially, the objective was to make use of these jihadi forces in fighting India in Kashmir. Later, the Army developed a dependence on these forces as they proved to be a cost-effective mechanism to expand the military’s influence in the region, particularly Afghanistan. The linkage, however, did come under pressure after 9/11 but did not really come to an end. In fact, Pakistani military’s relationship with jihadis strengthened over time rather than weakened or ruptured. This refers to the strategic relationship and not the tactical linkage.
Despite the fact that the armed forces seem to be fighting certain militant forces, there are others that it partners with, especially those that are willing to contest the US and Indian presence in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi is averse to the idea of an Indian presence or/and influence in Afghanistan. Pakistani armed forces believe that an Indian presence in Afghanistan is mainly to weaken Pakistan through aiding and abetting insurgent and terrorist operations inside Pakistan’s territory.
Over the past three decades, militancy has become woven into military strategic thinking. This also means that militant groups have penetrated into law enforcement agencies and the armed forces. Although such penetration is limited to pockets, it is not possible to contain the cancer of radicalism from the military.
There is a segment amongst the security community and the ruling elite who find militants as the most potent tools to fight India and American imperialism in the region. The bulk of the generals continue to subscribe to a policy according to which the military will partner with militants who do not attack the state. The GHQ also hopes to use such connections with the friendly Taliban and militants to negotiate peace with those that are less friendly or openly hostile. Over the past three decades, militancy has become woven into military strategic thinking. This also means that militant groups
have penetrated into law enforcement agencies and the armed forces. Although such penetration is limited to pockets, it is not possible to contain the cancer of radicalism from the military as was obvious from the story of the involvement of a serving Army Brigadier and a few other officers with the global Islamic radical organisation Hizb-ut-Tehrir.
The senior generals seem so involved in their tactical games that they are oblivious of what the encouragement of militants has done to the larger society. The jihad project has had deep impact on society such as increasing the level of radicalism which can be defined as the inability to imagine the other or use of violence against the ‘other’ on the basis of religious and sectarian divide. The less critical form of radicalism means a growing suspicion of all other faiths and civilisations. The more perverse form translates into the use of violence against all other communities on the basis of religion. Over the past decade or more Pakistan had experienced an increase in sectarian violence against its Shiite population. There is, in fact, a general increase in radicalism which some link with poverty, poor governance and lack of education.
However, as recent studies have shown, the phenomenon of radicalism has enveloped the urban educated middle class as well which means that the malaise of radicalism is deeper than we imagine. Besides the peculiar military strategic objectives, the systematic surrender of successive civilian and military leaders to the demands of the religious right has influenced the thinking of both the rural and the urban middle class. There has been a gradual decrease of liberal space in Pakistan which will continue to be the case despite the claims that Pakistan will not turn radical because of the dominance of the Sufi culture. However, there has been the strong emergence of pockets of militancy that cannot be eroded by the traditional Sufi culture due to the inherent weakness of Sufism as an institution and the absence of a powerful alternative narrative that could counter a post-modernist Islamism. One of the problems with the Sufi institution is that it is so much part of the traditional power structure that it cannot counter the growing, though still unorganised, radical force created due to the combination of power state actors that are complicit to the radicalism and jihadist project and an emerging middle class that sees religion as a force to re-negotiate power with the traditional centres of power.
Hence, radicalism as a trend grows unabated. Instead of finding an effective counter-narrative and agenda to such radicalism the ruling elite, especially the liberal component seems to have surrendered to the idea of surviving in liberal ghettos. Over the past decade the liberal–conservative divide has got sharper with the religious right referring to the liberal as ‘liberal fascists’. In any case, remaining engaged with both the liberal and the conservative elements of society is a powerful ploy for the military to remain relevant to all ideological streams of the society. A major segment amongst the liberals tends to consider the armed forces as the security valve against the religious right and the militants. The constant reference to the loss of over 3,000 military personnel in the war on terror makes for a powerful narrative which eventually contributes to strengthening the military’s control of the state and society. This is not to suggest that soldiers have not died but that the narrative built around the military’s sacrifice creates an environment in which the organisation’s top leadership remains insulated from any pressure that would force it to revisit some of its inner contradictions.
A multi-faceted narrative, which cuts across the ideological spectrum, is what partly explains the military’s power. It continues to be the most powerful institution despite the challenges it faces at several levels. The only way that the military will surrender power is when it feels the benefits of doing so greater than the cost of it. Thus far, the situation does not predict a change.