The unitary nature – or lack thereof – of the Pakistani government and military

December 29, 2007 at 6:31 pm (Pakistan)

We, Westerners and South Asians alike, are wont to make statements along the lines of “Musharraf should do this” or “Benazir should do that” or “It would suit Nawaz Sharif to do this” or, for that matter, statements such as “Why did the police do this?” and “Why doesn’t the Army do that?” such statements reveal that we assume that the Pakistani government and military are unitary. In other words, they act as one (whether the government and military together or each by itself). This assumption of its/their unitary nature is prompted by official statements and appearances by the concerned entities. (This is to be expected: no government would admit it holds less than total control.)

Our familiarity with such a unitary character comes from our experience with and understanding of the state apparatus of Western states. For example, when in The United States the Department of Defense formulates policy, the military will follow it. It will not turn around and say, “Yes, well, we’re actually going to do something different. Thank you and good day.”

However, the reality is that Pakistan is not unitary at all. It is quite divided, fractured, and disjointed. Each faction goes after its own agenda and plans. Each faction listens, in reality, to its own leaders. The government is one faction; the military is another faction; the intelligence services is yet another faction. And there are more factions, parties, and divisions even within these factions.

Because of this reality, it is exceedingly difficult for any person or entity to control others. Thus, whereas the President may want something to be policy, it is very likely that it will be ignored.

Now, another aspect is that in such countries, the law is an instrument of the state, its apparatus, and its various factions. There is, thus, no rule of law: the law is whatever best serves those appealing to it or invoking it.

This offers to the government of Pakistan a significant challenge: Western norms dictate that states be unitary in policy and imposing and abiding by the rule of law. To remedy this, the various factions of Pakistan resort to face-saving acts and statements. Regarding the latter: statements may be complete and utter lies, but if it fosters the image of being unitary, united, or law-abiding, it will be used. Thus, statements are not used to clarify policy or declare reality but rather to make respectable the governing and prevailing authorities. As long as they say they are doing the right things, it will not matter what they do.

How about an example. In the tribal areas of Pakistan’s northwest, the military was having an extremely difficult time flushing out extremists. This came to the point that the military decided it will no longer prosecute the War on Terrorism in that area of Pakistan. Faced with this decision, the Pakistani government hastily concluded an accord it had no desire to enforce. On paper they did an honorable thing, but in reality they went through a pantomine to grant the tribal peoples de facto autonomy. What they said they would do, and what they later said they were doing, both clashed with reality. But no problem: the Pakistani government had a thousand soundbites if challenged on its actions.

This lack of unity results into a lack of control. No one can control another, and so Pakistan is full of nothing but interfactional intrigue, agenda-implementing, and competition. In all this confusion, compounded with contradictory statements and announcements, it become difficult to determine what is going on or who did (or is doing) what.

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