Opinion | The Deep State In Pakistan

Naveel Hamdani

Pakistan has been flirting with democracy since its inception. The country has experienced political turbulence and violence more often than it's eastern neighbours. The seventy-one-year-old country saw its second democratic change of Power in Pakistan in recently held Parliamentary elections when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), led by former Pakistan cricket team captain, Imran Khan, managed to secure the majority in National Assembly and formed the Government. The credibility of these elections has been questioned by many.  Opposition parties and many political analysts have alleged that these elections were "managed" by Pakistan army. It is also alleged that even the  Supreme Court was sabotaged by Pakistan Army which delivered some controversial judgements on the behest of Pakistan Army to secure the PM post for Mr Khan.

The question arises as to Who actually rules Pakistan? Is it the common electorate of Pakistan? If not, then who?  Does there exist a deep state in Pakistan which is ruling?  Various people who have worked in this area actually differ in their conclusions about this issue.  Some have been too optimistic and suggested that after General Musharaff's tenure, it is the people of Pakistan who decide everything through the power of Vote. Most of the international commentators subscribe to the notion that in Pakistan there exists a Deep State, a clandestine network entrenched inside Army,  ISI, and Bureaucracy and various religious far-right groups.

A brief constitutional history of Pakistan

The first Constitution of Pakistan Came into effect in 1956, nine years after the partition of India. Attempts were made to give it a secular outlook but it too contained various religious elements to satisfy the aspirations of the general public. The second constitution was approved in 1962 after a military coup and this constitution institutionalised the role of Army in Politics as it made mandatory for President/Defense Minister to have an army background. The third and the present constitution which came into force in 1973 after the creation of Bangladesh brought many changes in the nature of Pakistani State. Pakistan was for the very first time declared an Islamic Republic and Islam as State religion was explicitly spelt out. Pakistan has had three constitutions since its coming into existence in 1947 and ironically, every constitution defined the State's relation with Islam differently.

It was probably due to the horrific partition experience that Pakistan, soon after its creation, developed the typical psyche of a small neighbour of a large unfriendly neighbour. And Wars with India over Kashmir issue set out the perception among Pakistanis that only army could save Pakistan in case of aggression by India. The moderate political leadership was seen less charismatic and, incompetent. In such state of affairs,  it was natural for the Army to gain prominence and become a "Holy Cow" in Pakistan.

It was natural for a country founded on the idea of two nation theory-that Muslims and Hindus Constitute two different nations, to succumb to the religious orthodoxy as preached by hardliners. The consequence of this has been that successive governments had to keep an Islamist outlook in order to satisfy their religious constituency. The liberal and western educated present PM, Imran Khan, few  years back, too, sided with a radical Sunni group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)  over the issue of killing of Salman Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab by one of his bodyguards,  Mumtaz Qadri, for former's criticism of Pakistan's Blasphemy laws.

The recent protests by right-wing organizations in Punjab led by TLP leader, Kahdim Rizvi against the Supreme Court's decision to release Asia Bibi (Original: Asia Noreen) and subsequent bowing down of government to their demands also speaks volumes of the domestic compulsions and highly complicated power centres in the country. The removal of an eminent Pakistani Economist Atif Mian from newly constituted Economic Advisory Council under the pressure of orthodox Sunni Islamists is another such example of deep state at work in the Pakistani power structure.

Dr Farzana Shaikh,  the author of "Making Sense of Pakistan", explains how Pakistan's experience of mainstreaming radical groups is different from others' experiences.  In neighbouring countries like India and Srilanka, the mainstreaming of radical groups has resulted in the moderation of their agenda to more liberal and secular values. In contrast to this,  Pakistan's attempts to mainstream the religious hard-liners have resulted in the mainstream political parties taking up religious agenda to satisfy their voters, thereby strengthening the role of religion in State politics.

What lies ahead for Pakistan?

The youth population of Pakistan is currently highest than ever recorded in its history. According to the comprehensive National Human Development Report(NHDR), 64% of  Pakistan's population is below 30, making it one of the youngest countries in the world. The good news for Pakistan is increasing political consciousness among youth who form major support base of  Moderate politics. They have rejected the hard-line religious far-right groups like Allah-u-Akbar Tehreek led by Hafiz Saeed who has been accused of orchestrating the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. His newly formed political outfit failed to win or take lead in any of the National Assembly seats. To free Pakistan of its deep state and restore the faith in democratic institutions is the need of the hour and youth can serve as one of the agents of this expected change. This has the potential of moderating the mainstream on liberal and secular lines which can help the realisation of the dream of "Naya Pakistan". 
Pakistan also needs to re-work its relation with democratic ideals, religion and military establishment since its identity as a nation is complicated by the dominance of different power wielders and consequent different power centres in Pakistan.

Till now, it has been very difficult for India to deal with Pakistan. With whom should  New Delhi engage to address various bilateral issues between the two countries?  The answer to this is not unambiguous. The anti-Pak rhetoric by Indian politicians to secure their electoral constituency is further worsening the situation.

The war of words in which top leaders from both sides are quite often engaged is very unfortunate.  It further strengthens the radical groups in Pakistan and their anti-India rhetoric gains momentum.

Since the premieres of both the countries have their electoral compulsions, it is less likely that their public posturing against each other would soften any soon. The backdoor engagements with elected representatives could be the possible way out. Strengthening democracy in Pakistan is even to the best of India's interests as her aspirations of becoming a superpower is hard to realise until the whole Indian subcontinent is stable.

Disclaimer: Author's views are strictly personal and do not in any way represent the views of Pir Panjal Post.

About the author: Naveel Hamdani, a post-graduate from University of Jammu. Presently preparing for CSE and a part-time columnist and political analyst.

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