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“Hybrid theocracy” – a liberal Pakistan is a pipe dream?

May 8, 2012

By Tim Foxley

1. I attended this interesting seminar courtesy of DIIS yesterday and thought I would write the notes up, given that there was some pretty powerful criticism of the Pakistan state and military going on.  The seminar’s intention was to deepen “the understanding of Pakistan’s security challenges”, with the aid of two speakers: Ashraf Ali, formerly of the BBC World Service and now President of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Research Centre and Ayesha Siddiqa, a political and military analyst; author of Military Inc.  Her biography mentioned that she had been the Director of Naval Research in the Pakistani Navy, so I was kind of expecting an apologist for the military.  She had some particularly challenging and pessimistic things to say about the direction Pakistan is heading and I shall concentrate on her thoughts.

2. She said that Pakistan was not failed or failing, but changing.  Within this new state that was evolving, she sensed a new sense of nationalism, less patience with marginal groups (for example the Baluchis) and a more prominent religious state – a “hybrid theocracy”.  Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a “liberal” Pakistan was a “pipe dream”.

International/neighbour relations

  • India – she suggested that India remained the main threat (in Pakistanis perception) and no significant shift was likely
  • Iran – Pakistani suspicion over Shia/Iranian politics
  • USA – “the end of the high end of a cyclic relationship”.  Overall support with the Pakistani military for the US has reduced (the opinion formers are anti-US).
  • China – A growing Chinese economic presence in Pakistani society.  The strategic relationship will continue, but there is no real “state to state” relationship, only the military/strategic side

Pakistan internal

Civil – Military balance

  • On the surface there is change (?i.e. towards more civil control over the military?), but there is no real incentive for it and the change is not really sustainable.   The military control the narrative.
  • Kayani (Army Chief of Staff) did not have the “moral capacity” to launch a coup, despite the poor performance of the civilian government.
  • But the military doesn’t need a coup if it controls the main aspects of policy anyway.
  • The military’s preferred goal was to keep the civilian government “extremely destabilised”.

The Pakistani military and the media

  • The military was “wonderful” at controlling the narrative and that this “was not even funny”.
  • There is no university or thinktank or media outlet – not in Islamabad or in some other critical area – that is not linked to the military in some way.  The prospects for the next generation of scholarly analysis is poor – “complete darkness” for the next 4 – 5 years.  All are part of the propaganda machine.
  • This is the same for the so-called “vibrant” Pakistani media.  If you take any key storyline and see how it is covered in 10 Pakistani newspapers and you will essentially see them all reflecting the same single opinion.
  • Similarly the military has influence in all the political parties – they are all “penetrated”.


There is a growing middle class (perhaps 50 – 70 million people).  This might imply the potential for a growth in liberalism.  But there is little research into the politics of the middle class, and a “hybrid theocracy” is developing – with a strong right wing narrative and a strong right wing world view.


  • Pakistan was caught in the narrative of its own victimhood.  It had an absence of policy towards militant groups and the state had in fact integrated with these “proxy” groups.  The militant groups were too important for an “End Game” and for strategic objectives.  The state is currently trying to give some of these groups a political role – not sure this is a good idea.
  • But militancy has penetrated society – there are hardly any convictions in terrorist cases.  Part of this is down to bad policing, no witness protection programme, etc, but the mindset is crucial above all.
  • There is a bias in the judiciary and an absence of religious discourse.

Ms Siddiqa listed what she described as “Five Myths”:

1. That the end of the war in Afghanistan will mean an end to terrorism
2. That force was the key to ending terrorism
3. That the solution to Pakistan’s internal problems was an end to terrorism
4. That terrorism is only linked to poverty and lack of education
5. That the society has a huge capacity to counter terrorism

Society has been penetrated by militancy – the state includes militant groups as actors inside the state.

“Secularism is not a bad word – the politics of the state does not have to be connected with religion”

“One of the most threatened minorities [in Pakistan] is the genuine liberal – under severe threat from the state and the partners of the state”

Pretty strong stuff and not the sort of thing that makes you particularly popular in Pakistan, I would guess…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 7:36 pm

    Moderately disturbing stuff, Tim. I was in a UI seminar (maybe you were there too?) where it was asserted that Pakistan’s identity seems to be that it is not India.

  2. May 9, 2012 9:31 pm

    Hi Ron – I heard something similarly cynical – if you scratch an Iranian you find a Persian, if you scratch a Saudi you find an Arab and if you scratch a Pakistani you get an Indian…

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