Hybrid Regime, Army Intervention and Failing Economy: Pakistan Needs to Go the Phoenix Way

Pakistan, situated in South Asia, is of significant importance due to its status as a nuclear-powered state in a geopolitically volatile region. The nation’s complex political dynamics involve a delicate interplay between the excessive intervening army, overarching judiciary and a civilian government marred by myopic vision and corruption

The complex political landscape of this nation is evident when reviewing its history, marked by three constitutions and three military coups. Despite the tenure of 30 prime ministers, none have managed to serve a full five-year term since its establishment. The recent arrest of ex- Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2023 isn’t an isolated incident; it reflects a pattern seen in past detentions of prominent figures like Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and currently, Imran Khan.

Pakistan finds itself trapped in a repetitive cycle characterized by electoral procedures, claims of electoral tampering, the emergence of military-supported regimes, corruption scandals involving the ruling class, interventions by the judiciary, collapses of government, and subsequent detentions or exiles of Prime Ministers. This recurring pattern has remained a constant aspect of the nation’s history since its establishment.

On the external affairs front, Pakistan’s foreign policy is narrowly focused, with its attention disproportionately fixated on Kashmir. Instead of assuming the responsibilities of a responsible neighbour and active global participant, Pakistan’s preoccupation with Kashmir has become the cornerstone of its relationships with major powers such as the US, China, and Russia. This limited perspective hampers Pakistan’s potential to play a significant role in global politics and the economy, ultimately failing to serve its populace while inadvertently fostering terrorism and inviting international condemnation for its irresponsible actions.

Pakistan must undergo a profound transformation akin to the phoenix rising from the ashes to ensure its survival to secure its future and thrive as a nation, breaking away from the relentless cycle that trapped it. This transformation requires three main steps: discarding the hybrid democratic governance model, reducing the influence of the army establishment, and implementing a thorough overhaul of the economy and its priorities. However, achieving these objectives is immensely challenging due to Pakistan’s historical roots and its ingrained perception of being a “victim state.” Let me explain these three formidable challenging steps and why it will be difficult for Pakistan to get rid of them.

The Three Formidable Challenges

Firstly, Pakistan must transition away from the current “hybrid democracy model” and transfer significant authority to civilian leadership, in line with the desires of the populace. In return, the elected government must pledge to fulfil its obligations, prioritizing the welfare of its citizens, fostering economic progress, and assuming the role of a responsible global player and neighbour. The recent election on February 8, 2024, saw a resounding victory for the imprisoned former Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) despite being blamed for corruption charges and removed from the position and arrested and put behind the prison. Last year, widespread protests in support of Imran Khan, including the storming of army establishment buildings, Army headquarters in Rawalpindi and infrastructure, sent a powerful message. This event was reminiscent of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789. Just as the oppressed common populace of France saw the Bastille Prison as a symbol of ruling elite oppression, the people of Pakistan viewed their actions in May 2023 as a call for change. They seek to break free from the constraints of hybrid democracy, a system where democratically elected leaders are often influenced by army generals. The people of Pakistan seem giving up and losing patience and getting rid of the excessive interference of the Army in electing and deposing civilian governments, election after election.

Furthermore, the army establishment must return to its designated role. It’s imperative to recall Jinnah’s 1948 address at the Army Staff College in Quetta, where he emphasized that the armed forces are servants of the people and should not dictate national policy. Civilian authorities, not the army, are responsible for decision-making, and the army’s role is to execute those decisions entrusted to them. Excessive army interference in internal affairs, spanning across all branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—undermines stability and hampers Pakistan’s progress. Continuous intervention by army leaders perpetuates instability within the government, hindering Pakistan’s development. The army’s inclination towards puppet regimes obstructs Pakistan’s democratic processes.

Lastly, Pakistan must revitalize its economy and reassess its economic priorities. Since its inception, a significant portion of resources has consistently been directed towards the army, a trend initiated when the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, allocated 75% of the inaugural budget to defence in 1948. This disproportionate allocation persists to this day, with a considerable portion of Pakistan’s economic resources dedicated to army expenditures, encompassing personnel salaries and maintenance costs. In exchange for this allocation, the army asserts its role in safeguarding Pakistan from perceived external threats, positioning itself as indispensable for the nation’s survival. By perpetuating a narrative of perpetual vulnerability, the army argues that its presence is essential to prevent Pakistan from being annexed by adversaries, thereby justifying the necessity for maintaining a robust army and continuing its nuclear program.

No Easy Ways to Exit the Trap

Paradoxically, the solutions to overcome these three challenges are also trapped in a vicious cycle. The civilian government is closely aligned with the army establishment. Ridden with corruption scandals and allegations, the civilian government depends on army support for its survival. It retains power only by adhering to the Army’s directives, but any attempt to question the Army’s extensive involvement in policymaking leads to retaliation. Corruption charges and various scandals are levied against them, and ultimately, the judiciary intervenes, resulting in the arrest or exile of the civilian government leaders.

Furthermore, political parties are embroiled in internal conflicts and feuds, leading to a narrow focus on their interests, party objectives, and ultimately, the welfare of the nation. Some align covertly with the army, while others seek support from religious figures or aim to uphold familial political legacies. This fragmented landscape lacks a unified democratic forum where diverse perspectives can converge to address common challenges. Exploiting this fragmented political landscape, the army exercises indirect influence, effectively governing through a hybrid democratic framework.

The Pakistan Army holds a prominent position in the political realm, driven by the persistent threat faced by the nation since its inception in 1947. Both the governing civilian authorities and the people of Pakistan are consistently alerted to the looming dangers posed by neighbouring countries, prompting the indispensable involvement of the army in all aspects to ward off potential territorial encroachment. This enduring atmosphere of threat and apprehension acts as a driving force behind the continued dominance of the Army in shaping policy decisions. As a result, a considerable portion of the national economy is channelled towards supporting the army and upholding the nuclear program as a deterrent against potential adversaries.

Pakistan’s economic strategy revolves around utilizing resources, loans and financial assistance obtained from major global powers and international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, instead of channelling these funds into initiatives that promote sustainable economic growth, Pakistan directs them towards activities such as fostering and training extremist groups, procuring weaponry, maintaining its nuclear capabilities, and supporting an oversized army disproportionate to its economic capacity and geographical scale. This skewed allocation of resources has resulted in a faltering economy, with significant distress predicted as per capita debt skyrockets and inflation spirals out of control. Once again, Pakistan finds itself in need of an IMF bailout, a familiar scenario due to its reliance on loans and foreign financial assistance, which it has come to depend on given its strategic positioning and geopolitical role in the volatile South Asian region, home to three nuclear-armed states in adversarial relationships.

Pakistan must move beyond its fixation on Kashmir and revise its foreign policy to reduce emphasis on the Kashmir issue. Instead, it should concentrate on fostering economic growth and creating jobs, rather than relying on external financial aid. Pakistan should refrain from portraying itself as a victim and seeking assistance from China, and the US, and instead position itself as a responsible neighbour and a proactive global member. It should cut expenditures on arms, ammunition, and nuclear weapons, focusing instead on resolving territorial disputes with India. The Pakistan Army should engage in a series of dialogues with India and neighbouring countries, prioritizing its role in de-escalating tensions rather than inciting violence or supporting terrorist organizations. However, immediate changes seem unlikely given the previously discussed reasons.

The Sole Glimmer of Hope

The sole glimmer of hope emerges from the citizens of Pakistan. The demonstrations, attacks on Army headquarters and army infrastructure witnessed in 2023, opposing the army interference in civil affairs, along with the recent electoral verdict, serve as promising indicators of imminent change. The people of Pakistan must transcend their political allegiances and actively seek alternatives to the current political establishment. Only by uniting under the banner of democratic principles can the ordinary citizens of Pakistan effectuate a paradigm shift in the political arena and propel Pakistan towards resurgence akin to the phoenix rising from its ashes.

[Photo by Uzairmaqbool, via Pixabay]

T. Velmurugan is a Lecturer in Geography at Directorate of Education, Government of NCT of Delhi, India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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