In Pakistan’s context, the national security establishment originally meant civil-military bureaucracy. Though over the years, civil bureaucracy has taken a backseat and now “the establishment” is defined as military’s top brass that has dictated Pakistan’s security and defense policy since its inception.
Paradoxically, security establishments do not have ideologies, they simply have interests. For instance, the General Ayub-led administration in the sixties was regarded as a liberal establishment. Then, the General Zia-led administration during the eighties was manifestly a conservative Islamist establishment. And lastly, the General Musharraf-led administration from 1999 to 2008 was once again deemed a liberal establishment.
Similarly, the Egyptian and Turkish military establishments also have a liberal outlook but they are equally capable of forming alliances with conservatives if and when it suits their institutional interests. In fact, since military’s top brass is mostly groomed in urban milieus, therefore its high-ranking officers are more likely to have liberal temperaments.
The establishment does not judge on the basis of ideology, it simply looks for weakness. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will form an alliance with liberals to perpetuate the stranglehold of “the deep state” on policymaking organs of state.
The biggest threat to nascent democracies all over the world does not come from external enemies but from their internal enemies, the national security establishments, because military generals always have a chauvinistic mindset and an undemocratic temperament. An additional aggravating factor that increases the likelihood of military coups in developing democracies is that they lack firm traditions of democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism which act as bars against martial laws.
For the last several years, two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the American-occupied Afghanistan.
The Pakistani neoliberals fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, but when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give the security establishment a license to kill, why? It’s only because the tribal Pashtun insurgents use the veneer of religion to justify their tribal instinct of retribution.
The name Islam, however, is such an anathema to core neoliberal sensibilities that they don’t even bother to delve deeper into the causes of insurgency and summarily decide that since the Pashtun tribesmen are using the odious label of the Taliban, therefore they are not worthy of their sympathies, and as a result, the security establishment gets a carte blanche to indiscriminately bomb the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen using air-force and heavy artillery.
The Pashtuns are the most unfortunate nation on the planet nowadays because nobody understands and represents them; not even their own leadership, whether religious or ethnic. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are represented by the Western stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani; and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) loves to play the victim card and finds solace in learned helplessness.
In Pakistan, however, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which has become obvious after the 2013 parliamentary elections in which the Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out of its former strongholds.
Now, there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: first, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; second, the religiously inclined Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and finally, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistani nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some of have also joined Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League.
It would be pertinent to mention here that the general elections of 2013 were contested on a single major issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen who have been rotting in refugee camps in Mardan, Peshawar and Bannu districts since the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009.
The Pashtun nationalist ANP was routed because in keeping with its supposedly “liberal” ideology, it stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas; and the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his PTI because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.
Though Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif both have failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy after they endorsed another military operation in North Waziristan in 2014, the public sentiment was, and still is, firmly against military operations in the Pashtun tribal areas.
The 2013 parliamentary elections were, in a way, a referendum against Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region and the Pashtun electorate gave a sweeping mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pashtun nationalist ANP.
As I mentioned earlier that security establishment does not have an ideology, it simply has interests. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will strike an alliance with liberals to weaken civilian political forces and maintain its grip on its traditional domain, the security and defense policy of a country.
All political parties in Pakistan at some point in time in history were groomed by the security establishment. The founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was groomed by General Ayub’s establishment as a counterweight to Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League during the sixties.
Nawaz Sharif was nurtured by General Zia’s administration during the eighties to offset the influence of People’s Party. And then, Imran Khan was groomed by General Musharraf’s establishment to counterbalance the ascendancy of Nawaz Sharif.
In order to obtain permission for the North Waziristan military operation in 2014, the security establishment executed its divide and rule strategy to perfection by instigating Imran Khan to stage street demonstrations and mass protests and Nawaz Sharif’s government was eventually subdued to an extent that it once again ceded Pakistan’s defense and security policy to the establishment.
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.