The Pakistani government has proposed a law that will criminalize the criticism of the military, which has been approved by a panel of the National Assembly — the lower house of the country’s parliament.
The bill proposes to change the country’s criminal law and states that anyone who “intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames” the country’s military will undergo a two-year prison sentence or will be fined more than $3,200 or both. The bill, however, still needs majority approval in the National Assembly and the Senate (upper house) of the country’s Parliament.
It was introduced by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader in response to the growing criticism of the armed forces. Several members of the military have been subject to criticism for their alleged interference in matters related to governance. Anyway, some opposition leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistani Muslim League had opposed the law and said that it could be used against freedom of expression in the country. Human rights activists, politicians and other social media users have vociferously criticized the law. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet ministers have expressed reservations about the bill.
After Partition, Pakistan lost inheritance of strong political leadership and strong political parties because its basis of coming into existence was drenched in deceit at all levels of world power politics, religious politics and personal aggrandizement. India, on the other hand, had well-grounded politicians and political parties, and therefore, developed a kind of military that Samuel Huntington describes in his book The Soldier and the State as “a professional army under objective civilian control”. The Indian Army was made coup-proof. The senior-most Indian and Pakistani officers had all trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. They had served together before 1947. So why did this common professional experience lead the Pakistan Army officers to participate in a coup in 1958?
The Pakistan Army was bolstered by the USA in accordance with the threat requirement against the Soviet Union during the cold war period. High quality weaponry was given to the Pakistan Army. The army became powerful, and because it believed that it was an important mechanism in global affairs, the Generals started looking down on the politicians, demanding their own strategic and economic space. The political arrangements in Pakistan diminished and a military coup became inevitable.
The army disregarded the development of the people in order to control more assets. In order to justify its existence, it converted Pakistan into a security seeking state exaggerating threat from outside where a strong army was considered a necessity for the existence of the country. The first military coup happened early in its history — Pakistan President Iskander Mirza declared martial law on 27 October 1958, and appointed General Ayyub Khan as chief martial law administrator. Thirteen days later, Ayub Khan overthrew Iskander Mirza. That was the last time Pakistan ever saw democracy. After this incident, the army in Pakistan has always been in control. The Pakistani army is essentially meant to handle external threats, but it is also involved in domestic affairs of the State.
The Pakistani feudal class that now controls Pakistan wanted protection of their wealth, so they cultivated the army and recruited officers of their choice, resulting in a symbiotic relationship between wealth and security. This increased the interference of the army in domestic politics. Stephen Cohen wrote in 2004, “for the foreseeable future, the army’s vision of itself, its domestic role, and Pakistan’s strategic environment will be the most important factors in shaping Pakistan’s destiny”.
Since independence in 1947, the army has steadily intertwined itself into Pakistan’s economy: so much so that it’s hard to tell where the military stops and any semblance of free-market capitalism begins. Pakistan’s economy is controlled by a ruthless business conglomerate – the army that owns everything in the country, from factories and bakeries to farmland and golf courses.
With 620,000 soldiers, Pakistan boasts about being the world’s seventh-largest standing army, but its senior officers have long ago realized the perks to be gained from commercial ventures, writes Elliot Wilson for UK-based The Spectator.Military’s ‘internal economy’, is military capital that is used for the personal benefit of military personnel, especially officers, but is neither recorded nor a part of the defence budget. Its most significant component is entrepreneurial activities that are not subject to state accountability procedures. In Pakistan, the military is the sole driver of national economy – and is an example of the type of economy that intensifies military interest in remaining in power or in direct/indirect control of governance.
Experts say that under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, the Pakistani military is increasingly encroaching on the civilian sphere, with many generals now heading administrative and executive institutions.The number of military officials leading civilian institutions has dramatically increased since Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in 2018.The recent appointment of Brigadier (retired) Bilal Saeedullah Khan as director general of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has sparked uproar in the country.The Islamabad High Court issued notices to the Interior Ministry and NADRA regarding Khan’s appointment.
The military has nourished the religious right to consolidate military control over state and society. The religious parties, militant groups and the armed forces are bound in a process of reinforcing each other’s strength, bringing most benefit to the religious right.
The armed forces encourage policies and policymaking environments that increase their economic returns, and the accumulation of wealth also buys additional power, further contributing to feudal authoritarianism.Military’s financial autonomy hampers the growth of democracy in Pakistan. Therefore, internal democratic forces need to overcome their divisions. The structure of political parties needs to democratized and political actors need to be strengthened. Moral and political external assistance might help political actors to push the army out of politics.
Pakistan’s generals see themselves as the solution to Pakistan’s problems instead of realizing their own contribution to the country’s long-standing issues.
Pakistan’s military establishment has run the country since its inception on the basis of a narrow state ideology. There have been modifications, but the official worldview has shifted only within the narrow space between an Islamic nationalism and complete Islamization. At the heart of Pakistan’s state ideology is a constant sense of insecurity, the fear that external and internal forces are out to undo Pakistan.
The country has been caught in a vicious circle. The large army inherited from the British Raj must keep this sense of insecurity alive to justify the allocation of a significant portion of the country’s resources for the military. That leaves little money for social or human development, which in turn constrains economic growth.
Notwithstanding the disappointing performance of Pakistan’s mainstream politicians, still it is believed that Pakistan needs civilian supremacy and rule of law under constitutional democracy. That goal can be attained more easily if Pakistan’s political parties practice internal democracy and do not accept crumbs of power from the military’s table.Strengthening democracy in Pakistan will require a strong mass-based domestic political movement aiming to end authoritarianism, and such a movement will need external support. It is also important to investigate potential links between increased in religious conservatism and military predation.
Economic difficulties make Pakistan dependent on assistance from outside powers, which have their own expectations and demands. These demands become fodder for conspiracy theories, which further feed the national sense of insecurity. The insecurity strengthens the military’s hand and limits debate about what really ails Pakistan.