The exceptional discourse of security in Pakistan

After taking the lead role in defining threats to the security interests of the state, the security elite takes the driving seat and accumulates social mileage by galvanising support for a state-centric militaristic conception of security discourse

In November 1946, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah advised [future] India and Pakistan to join hands as friendly neighbours and warn the world, “Hands off subcontinent”. It was supposed to be a Monroe Doctrine of South Asian version. But, three developments – bloody communal riots, a dispute over the distribution of civil-military assets, and the dispute over the accession of Kashmir and Junagarh and resultant 1948 Indo-Pakistan war obscured Pakistani security elite’s quest for peaceful co-existence with India.

These incidents along with Afghanistan’s irredentist claims shaped the strategic culture of Pakistan,the characteristics of its regional engagement with neighbours, and the dynamics of the domestic institutional structure of Pakistan.

Pakistan, an infant state, was confronted by acute threats emanating from aggressive India and unwelcoming Afghanistan – eyeing on Pakistani territory. Against this backdrop of existential threats, Pakistan responded by demonstrating optimal faith in defence capabilities than economic ones. Resultantly, security became the top priority and defence transcended development.

This was the start of security seeking discourse of Pakistan that tipped the balance of institutional power in favour of the military. This was formally rationalised by extremely politicising the survival of the country, leaving Pakistan a security state.

A security state always operates under emergency where formal rules are replaced by exception and politics is replaced by security because security dealing is a special category of engagement that necessitates urgency, necessity, and exception. Resultantly, the presence of ‘existential threat’ enables the security elite to gain the lion’s share of the budgetary allocations.Knowingly,no nation can afford to turn a blind eye to the threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Under these ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, the domestic power structure becomes hierarchical. The security elite enjoys overriding powers over civilian apparatus because the one who manages security pedals the total control of the state.

This could not have been possible without the discourse of danger and fear that does not exist in a vacuum and happens to be an effect of interpretation. It is impossible to know ‘what threatens us.’ Then who informs Pakistanis what the threat they face is and who threatens Pakistan, is subject to interpretation. It means no one can perceive something as dangerous unless it is interpreted by someone.

This interpretative aspect is politically inspired and discursive in nature. The security establishment incorporates some dangers into the security agenda and leaves other threats aside for any other time. This list keeps muddling endlessly from India and Afghanistan to Bengali nationalism, Communism, Baloch separatism, terrorism, Afghan refugees, and corruption etc.

This discourse of fear is inextricably related to the discourses of the state that shape identities in oppositional terms, like good versus bad, positive versus negative – Hindu India versus Muslim Pakistan.

The fear of enemy acts like shock therapy and sways the subjects to accept the security state and help security elite arrange their priorities by making people imagine the life without defence apparatus.

Security discourse determines what and whom we should fear, what to live and what to die for, what to love and what to defend. It also claims to express the general will, official past and present, heroes and villains. Evidently, this discourse is significant in foreign relations of Pakistan that de-legitimises its ties with India and renders legitimisation of its military posturing against the latter.It otherizes Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch separatists,de-legitimises human rights norms and legitimises Afghan refugees’ expulsion from Pakistan. It de-legitimises terrorism and its connections with politicians to the detriment of the latter.

Additionally, this discourse has always highlighted a glorious Muslim rule over Hindu India, Pakistan – a fortress of Islam – a resistance force against imperialism, a country besieged by enemies bent on dismembering Pakistan, has Punjabis as heroes; whereas, Pashtun and Baloch are reluctant Pakistanis.

A security state always operates under emergency, where formal rules are replaced by exceptions and politics are replaced by security concerns. This is because ‘security dealing’ is a special category of engagement that necessitates urgency, necessity, and exception

After taking the lead role in defining threats to the security interests of the state, security elite takes the driving seat and accumulates social mileage by galvanising support for a state-centric militaristic conception of security discourse.For social capital,storylines like ‘Shukria …Shareef’ are generated to position security actors over political actors.

This exceptional security discourse operates under emergency and urgency, demands extraordinary measures with security managers on top and becomes a hegemonic discourse by dislodging the normal politics. Therefore, exceptional security practices act against the spirits of liberal democracy because political methods of security discourse are always troubling for normal functioning democracy. Like in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush administration married terrorism with the war that prompted the speedy passage of patriot act that gave unprecedented powers to the security establishment that they could not have enjoyed under normal political conditions. The establishment of military courts after Army Public School Peshawar massacre in 2014,believing in extraordinary measures for extraordinary situations, is yet another example that not only gave extraordinary powers to military men but also depicted the failure of the traditional justice system and glorified the military institution as a better delivery mechanism.

In the case of Pakistan, this tilted balance of power in favour of the security establishment is deeply embedded in our past. It is not solely about the construction of threats rather the expedient use of threats and occupying the space in the political spectrum of Pakistan because enemy construction is not a one-sided affair rather inter-subjective bilateral affair, where identities are constructed based on the type of relationship grounded on the concepts of amity and enmity. Pakistan’s acrimonious relations with India and troublesome relations with Afghanistan demanded more investment in defence at the expense of development. This arrangement under cold war vested international system undermined democracy, as survival and security were considered more preferred objectives than self-rule and individual liberties.

Incapacitated political elite with powerful bureaucracy – accustomed to serveastute colonial masters than neophyte indigenous politicians, could not comprehendr egional and global security environment faced with no choice but to rely on military men in security affairs, is yet another cause of the weak civilian apparatus vis-à-vis security elite.

In a nutshell, in security states, the one who deals security calls the shots. Under democratic rule, if political institutions are to change the equation, they need to shift the paradigm by pulling the state out of emergency status to normal politics, from defence to development, and they must smell and sense strategic environment themselves without leaving space for men in uniform. For that purpose, they must alter the rules of the game because in security states political rules do not apply.

Unfortunately, while Donald Trump, least interested in democracy promotion, is in the White House, the coming great power competition between US and Russia/China with Pakistan and India in opposite poles, grinding war in Afghanistan, daunting domestic security issues, China – a friend that favours authoritarian form of government over liberal democracy, and ailing civil-military relations say it all.As long as threats are here and around, the discourse of security is here to stay.

The writer is a PhD candidate at National Defence University Islamabad

Published in Daily Times, March 5th 2018.