Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Institutional Crisis and Terrorism, by Ryan Harris

Institutional Crisis and Terrorism, by Ryan Harris
MARCH 10, 2014
The US has not seen any major terrorist attack since 9/11. They have the maximum capabilities and resources which a nation could possess. Wealth has certainly helped them but that was not the definitive factor. They devised a policy and then it was implemented. Pakistan is now doing the same but it will not succeed. The problem lies in governance and democracy will not solve this problem.

Freedom, liberty, democracy and religions are good principles for governing a nation but they are far from reality. Every system works under some presumed circumstances. China rose to the world's stage under a Communist flag. Singapore turned from a third-world country into a developed nation under a dictatorship. Vladimir Putin resurrected Russia under more of an autocratic rule and a lesser democratic regime. Pakistan saw its worst crisis during democracy, an era of chaos and heightened corruption under the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif's rule. The fact is that the process through which things are governed matter less than how things actually happen.

Institutions and their importance

Many think that the Industrial Revolution was the greatest achievement of the West, but the truth is, it was the modern concept of an institution which changed how they preserved and utilized knowledge. It was not the gunpowder or the steam engine which conquered the subcontinent, it was a company, the East India Company, created under British law. Corporate entities are so common and familiar that we often take them for granted and ignore them.

Institutions provide a system of governance. A marriage, which forms a family, is the first basic institution a man creates. The joint family system in the Hindu and Arab world were primary institutions which further transcended into sects and tribes. Political Islam provides another great multinational governing model. The problem with these natural institutions was that they were personal in nature. The death of a Caliph or a King ended an entire empire or changed the way they behaved. This problem was solved with the introduction of more superior and impersonal entities: A corporate body. It could survive hundreds of years, generate and maintain a vast amount of knowledge and yet still behave like a person.

Modern legislation gave birth to institutions. That is, they originated in law created by political elites. These corporate bodies had their own sub-constitutions which operated under national law. It is important to note that it was the same principle and philosophy which led to the creation of computer programming.

Muslims are immune to the written legislation. Hence, they cannot grasp the fundamental concept which led to the drafting of a constitution. To this day, many laws in the Muslim world are adopted from the West.

But an institution cannot be created in one day. It takes years and even decades to make them functioning. They usually require bureaucrats and officers to run them, who in turn are required to be competitive and educated. Here comes the basic problem: For a well functioning bureaucracy, it needs educated people and these educated men and women come from the middle class. Developing a middle class is no easy task. It requires generations.

The Pakistani dilemma

The Pakistan, as envisioned by its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah - due to weak institutions - barely survived a decade. It was conquered by the military. This is a harsh claim and certainly not receptive, but so is the reality. Pakistan may have survived as a state but the institutional and political system which was meant to govern Pakistan, failed. I am not implying that martial law and military takeover was an evil act, it was necessary. Had the army not taken over then, the political crisis would have turned into a national crisis which could have proven fatal for Pakistan.

As observed in most former British colonies, the military is the only institution which is fully functional and strong. An institution tends to behave like a person but it is not one in actuality. It does not have a heart and a soul. It is directed by its interests. It were not the military takeovers which made making Pakistan a failing state, rather it is in itself a consequence of failure. It is in the interest of an institution to outcompete each other. Hence, it is in the interest of the military to keep other institutions weak. It is not that they have a nefarious agenda; they are preventing things that will undo themselves.

When the military takes over in Pakistan, it replaces the civilian administration with their own Generals and Lieutenants, especially in the law enforcement domain. Counterintelligence operations are handed over to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). Military personnel engage in similar anti-corruption efforts replacing their civilian counterparts. Former military dictator, the late General Zia ul Haq, employed the same means to suppress the opposition as those employed by British masters. This creates the perception of a military running a 'state-within-a-state'. Soldiers are no longer seen as defenders of frontiers but simply as a ruling elite.

In a mafia state - where the government has little or no legal authority - the inhabitants affiliate themselves with other powerful parties in some way or the other. It is no coincidence then that the Pakistan Army has considerable public support. We have a large part of Pakistanis still praising the Mughals. People accepted Islam as it would affiliate themselves with the ruling elite. Exceptions included.

The military rule of late Field Marshal Ayub Khan ended with the uprising of the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The Musharraf era ended because of the populist lawyer movement.

Military dictators exploit weakness in the civilian institutions. Coups happen everywhere. Attaining power is the natural need of any individual who is capable of it. What deters the military from planning a coup is the rule of law, a legal mandate given to Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to detect miscreants and prosecute them without any hassle. For a functioning law enforcement institution, there needs to be a stable regime and zero political interference, something which can be observed in Turkey.

Terrorism and Institutions

Pakistan is footing on a complicated point when it comes to terrorism and regional geopolitics. Acting out of necessity, it cannot afford a hostile Afghanistan, but that policy is also undermining its own national security in the process. The policy of backing jihadist groups against opposition forces is an extremely cheap yet effective strategy but only when it is carried on foreign land. Saudi Arabia is a good example. The way they cracked the jihadist ideology in their kingdom yielded a positive return. The same happened in Egypt. The jihadists who went to fight in Afghanistan against the former Soviet Union were later denied entry to their own respective motherlands simply because they were a threat to their stability. They played cleverly. Those jihadists ended up with Afghani or Pakistani documents, some staying in the Af-Pak regions, others making their way into Iraq and Africa. This is also because the Pakistani military was itself penetrated with the same ideology.

The threat of terrorism will not subdue. It will be exploited by organized crimes and other foreign intelligence agencies. No matter what policies we make and no matters which Acts are passed, unless and until they cannot be implemented, they are of little use.

Politicians deliberately create loopholes. If they launder money and evade taxes, they do so because of weak institutions. The FIA is not capable to gather information and try these politicians in the courts of law. The jihadists too exploit these same loopholes.

Many analysts consider the Taliban - owning to their appearance maybe - as fools and illiterate fighters. They are not illiterate and certainly are not fools. Their intelligence capabilities run parallel to the ISI as both developed together in the late '80s. Their operations are as sophisticated as any top intelligence officer would devise. Pakistani strategists are of the view that as foreign forces will withdraw from Afghanistan, they will return in a situation similar to the '90s. This is a very risky bet. Pakistan cannot attack the jihadist ideology. This would mean cleaning its own house, filtering the military and intelligence apparatus. This is something which is not likely to happen. This would also mean going against the Afghan Taliban and anti-Indian jihadist groups. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and recently Egypt has done the needful. Pakistan Army, largely, is itself part of this ideology.

Terrorist acts are otherwise impossible to stop. No military in the world is capable of doing it. Pakistan does not have the sophisticated surveillance infrastructure as the West, to prevent such acts. Most importantly, it does not have the functioning institutions. 

It is hard to see what the future course of action would be.

The writer is a geopolitical risk analyst based in Karachi, Pakistan who writes under a pseudonym. He maintains contacts with Terminal X sources in the Middle East and Africa and is currently engaged in providing strategic consultation services to a defence contracting firm in Pakistan. He can be reached at: ryan.harris@terminalx.org

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