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The Parameters Of Power In The Military Regime
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Dated: NOVEMBER 5, 1999

Pakistan's history has demonstrated that the legitimacy of a democratic government is drawn not so much from the formal or legalistic structures of power, but by its ability to achieve a minimum of three objectives: (1) Initiating a process of economic development in which an improvement in the economic condition of the deprived sections of the populace becomes palpable. (2) A rule of law which can at least ensure security of life to the citizens. (3) Building institutions through which the will of the people could become operative in the system of national decision making.

The government of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif lost its legitimacy because it had demonstrably failed in achieving these minimal objectives. This failure to deliver, intensified to a critical level, the three key elements of the crisis that threatens the state: (i) A collapsing economy (ii) The emergence of armed militant groups as rival powers to that of the state within its formal territorial domain (iii) The erosion of many of the institutions of the state through which effective governance is exercised.

Given the dynamics of Pakistan's power structure and the relatively greater institutional strength of the military, when a democratic regime fails to deliver, both power and legitimacy would be expected to flow to the military. (An analysis of these dynamics was attempted in my 1991 paper titled: The Dynamics of Power: Military, Bureaucracy and the People, published in K. Rupasinghe and K. Mumtaz e.d.: Internal conflicts in South Asia, Zed Books, London 1996). Before its end Mr. Nawaz Sharif's government was unable to comprehend this structural feature of power dynamics in Pakistan. It attempted to wrest back power in its favour not through better performance, but through juvenile aggressiveness, deception and intrigue against the military, (the last remaining institution), and in so doing brought the country to the edge of civil war.

The regime of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif like the earlier regime of Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto, with a huge electoral majority in Parliament had a golden opportunity to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. It could have been done by delivering to the citizens, economic well being, security, and institutionalized expression of the popular will. Tragically in both cases the leaders sought to personalize power instead of building democratic institutions and empowering the people. The Nawaz regime represented the paradox of an elected government attempting to internally divide, demoralize and subordinate to executive authority those institutions of state and civil society which impart the checks and balances to governmental power so essential to democratic rule. Thus governance became a process of eroding the democratic structure to a point where it became a thin façade for authoritarian rule. Inspite of the adverse international environment for a coup, power did flow to the military when the crisis of the state had reached a critical level, and the democratic government was seen to be exacerbating rather than resolving the crisis.

The question that now arises is what are the constraints and challenges which will condition the form and functioning of the military regime in this interregnum before the next democratic dispensation. Just as in the preceding democratic government, the legitimacy of the new military regime will be determined by the extent and pace of its success in resolving what has now become an interlocking crisis of state and economy. Four constraints appear to constitute the parameters within which this regime can find the space for maneuver. (As Hegel pointed out, "freedom is the recognition of necessity"):

1. The international community has demonstrated considerable understanding of the circumstances under which the military intervention had become necessary. However they will apply continuing pressure on the military government to lay the ground work for ushering in democracy in Pakistan.

2. There appears to be a wide spread sense of relief amongst the people of Pakistan that the military may have pulled back the country from the precipice. At the same time they are impatient for efficacious government actions which could bring them security, and relieve them from the crushing economic pressures of unemployment, poverty and lack of basic services. In a situation where Pakistan's polity is polarized along various sectarian, linguistic and provincial identities, the sense of relief that accompanied the army take over could be replaced by violent social upheaval, if this regime does not initiate a credible process of improving the economic conditions and the provision of security to the citizens. Thus the second constraint is time. The military regime must not only deliver but be seen to be delivering quickly.

3. Given the unprecedented magnitude and complexity of the crisis that the military government faces, it may be prudent to limit its agenda to objectives which it can achieve by a time bound set of actions. The government does not necessarily have to announce the time frame, but it must work in terms of one, in its internal councils. It must take quick surgical actions to steady the ship of state and economy and then withdraw. It cannot afford to get bogged down into the minutiae of an open ended agenda. In any case even the task of restoring the writ of the state and reviving the economy is a herculean one It will require the finest talent to devise a strategy to achieve these objectives and then manage their implementation. The best and the brightest must be mobilized for what is nothing less than the battle for Pakistan. Let us make no mistake about it. If the military does not succeed in stemming the rot then there is no institution left to shoulder the burden. To turn a phrase from De Gaulle: Apres Vous, le-deluge (After you, the deluge). The third constraint therefore is to acquire the expertise to devise and implement a strategy for resolving the crisis of state and economy.

4. In a situation where the people within the country expect quick results on the economic and law and order fronts and where the international community expects a return to democracy without much delay, the question of effective communication by the government becomes important. Truthful and effective communication regarding the performance and effects of the government's crisis resolution actions, may be vital for winning both time and financial space.

It is an irony of history that leaders in successive democratic governments in their lust for power and wealth have so undermined the institutions of state and society and have so exacerbated the crisis of the economy that now the people expect a military regime to lay the foundations of a new democratic order. Socrates was once asked, "How will the state of Greece decline?". His answer resonates through Pakistan's history: "When two kinds of individuals come into government: Those with a lust for power and those with a greed for wealth". The crisis of state and economy in Pakistan today is sad testimony to the validity of Socrates' insight. Once grasped, it also signifies the challenges for the military regime and civil society respectively. For the military regime the challenge is to initiate the process of economic reconstruction and re-establish the writ of the state. For civil society the challenge is to build a political culture and the institutions of a democratic polity through which leaders of integrity and competence can emerge, to sustain democracy when it flowers again.

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