[Editorial Analysis] How the ‘deep state’ gamed the system

Mains Paper: 2 | International Relations

Prelims level:  Pakistan Election

Mains level:  Imran Khan’s election victory has ushered in a new normal for Pakistan.


• Uninterrupted democracy for the past decade has inspired hope that Pakistan is changing and that history might be a false guide to a new type of civil-military relationship inside Pakistan.

• The peaceful transition to a new electoral force represented by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is seen by some as further proof of an evolving system where civilian politicians.

• By drawing their power from mass electoral politics, are emerging from the shadow of an army-dominated state.

• Since civilian politicians do not have any apparent stake in confronting India, democratisation in Pakistan would eventually transform the geopolitics of the sub-continent.

• Is there any basis for such an assessment?

Why it’s called a complex backdrop?

• The enticing civil-military model that sometimes underlies Indian thinking.

• Pakistan’s tryst with democracy has always been a complicated affair.

• Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan is the closest we can trace to a genuine civilian advantage over the military structure.

• The Pakistan army had been thoroughly discredited after its defeat in the 1971 war.

• And yet, despite such favourable conditions, India’s quest to re-arrange the decks within Pakistan utterly failed.

• Bhutto was able to use his weakness and generate goodwill — and hope for a new Pakistan — in Delhi to soften its post-war posture.

• Ironically, one of the strongest civilian leaders in Pakistan’s history did more to salvage the Pakistan army — extracting the 90,000 prisoners of war from India and territorial losses on the western front — than a military dictator has ever achieved.

What are the two fundamental assumptions lies behind civil military struggle?

=> First assumptions

• The civilian elite must be genuinely committed to re-defining Pakistan’s identity towards a more positive nationhood.

• Many observers recognise that there is a general anti-India identity problem in that Pakistani nationalism coheres itself by projecting an opposite “other” — a secular India.

• This negative identity has been historically cultivated and sustained by the military establishment to fuel its own vast political economy privileges.

• But the last decade of democracy has shown little momentum towards a progressive discourse or quest by civilian leaders to question the idea of Pakistan.

• When in power, politicians have pursued far more modest goals. Rather than re-imagining alternative identities for Pakistan, they seem mainly interested in self-interest and survival.

=> Second assumptions

• It is presumed that the army cannot game the civil-military system or successfully neutralise any challenge to its authority or rival conceptions of the national interest.

• The Pakistan army’s successful co-option of institutions like the judiciary, the election commission and the media shows that it actually relishes its role as the unaccountable arbiter of Pakistan’s overall political destiny.

• But without being at the forefront of state governance, which constrains its hand and taints its prestigious position in the body politic.

• It is instructive that a October 2017 Gallup survey found that 82% of Pakistanis trusted their army more than any other political institutions even as a majority (68%) welcomed democracy as a political system.

• Such favourable ratings would quickly disappear with martial rule, as the army discovered first-hand during the Pervez Musharraf years.


• The recent election in Pakistan suggests a more sophisticated system — referred to as a ‘hybrid state’ — has come into being whereby the military establishment, acutely conscious of the costs of martial rule.

• It has promoted an alternative framework so that there is a ‘buffer’ between the army and society.

• The recurring backlash and legitimate grievances of the people are borne by expendable politicians absolving the real authority behind the scene from any responsibility for governance and developmental failures.

• The political parties and civilian elite seem to have embraced their role in this metamorphosis of Pakistan’s “managed” or “guided” democracy.

Link: https://tt93a.app.goo.gl/sNQTxtokQZU3A5WF7

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