The Turkish and Pakistani experiences are quite similar on one essential level and that is the pivotal role of the military institution within the political game even if the backgrounds and the results of this role vary in the two distinct contexts.
Perhaps the scope of difference is related to the nature of the political project in the two Asian Muslim countries that were founded upon variable determinants; however, in both cases, the army was assigned the task of protecting and strengthening the national project.
Turkey’s modern experience was set against the backdrop of secular nationalism by adopting the European approach and adhering to it. On the other hand, Pakistan that was separated from its Indian roots for religious reasons, adopted a clear Islamic identity, the actual content of which the state has failed to identify in spite of the bold and pioneering attempts that were initiated by the distinguished philosopher Mohamed Iqbal.
Ever since the birth of the new nation-state built on the ruins of the Ottoman Caliphate, Turkey sought rupture with its eastern Muslim surroundings and integrated into the European space. Conversely and since the birth of the Islamic State, Pakistan wanted to separate from Central Asia and compensate such ties with the Eastern Islamic bloc. In both cases, the two countries paid a heavy price for their denial of the historical and geographical realities. The two countries, since independence, had chosen the democratic system so that they would be able to manage their political diversity and in both cases, the army intervened four times to overthrow elected regimes in order to save the deteriorating political situation against the backdrop of severe internal and regional crises. We conclude from this comparison that when it seemed clear that Turkey had achieved a decade of political stability and social democracy for the first time in its history and its democratic experience was no longer a source of fear or concern, Pakistan has currently entered its most severe political crisis of its contemporary history and it does not seem that it will be resolved in the foreseeable future.
In Turkey, the army was able to achieve an implicit and important reconciliation with the political class that maintained the country’s stability after years of turmoil. The secular identity of the state is no longer subject for political conflict; even moderate Islamic leaders who rule Ankara today adhere to this unanimous principle that still has not prevented them from taking Turkey to its cultural, regional Islamic milieu whilst maintaining the goal of joining the European Union.
The same situation has not taken place in Pakistan where conflict between political forces had reached a stage of civil war with its sectarian sedition and volatile tribal fires. Perhaps the fundamental difference between the Turkish and Pakistani experiences is the success of political elites that allied with the army in building a national state with an integrated national identity. It is known that the historical roots of this country are solid and established, contrary to the modern Pakistani entity which suffered a brutal birth that was imposed by religious nationalistic conflicts in the Indian subcontinent. Given the background of its statehood, the military institution, which delivered and developed the rising entity, had assumed the role of government in the tense political scene. It had even forcibly possessed power four times; the first was in 1958 and the latest was the coup that was led by General Musharraf in October 1999.
The military institution had maintained a pivotal role within the power structure even during short periods of civilian rule. Some Pakistani researchers attribute the army’s fixed role to the colonial background that endorsed the feudal tribal domination of chieftains and leaders governing difficult terrains that were characterized by rebellion and disobedience. This model had led to the emergence of a pattern of “patrimonial bureaucracy” along with military dominance. At the same time, the political class failed to create active national parties; in fact such parties shifted into some sort of loyalty networks that are regulated by tribal contradictions.
It is noticeable that all civilian governments have not been able to complete their term in power from independence until today; besides, periods of democratic openness were characterized by severe turbulence.
After the sudden withdrawal of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988, the duality of the Pakistani Muslim League party led by Nawaz Sharif and People’s Party headed by Benazir Bhutto was endorsed. The two parties had practiced rotation of power for short periods before ending in exile and being charged with accusations of corruption as well as being embroiled in the political impasse that the country had witnessed.
To a broad spectrum of the Pakistani people, Musharraf seemed to be the long awaited rescuer. To the United States, he seemed to be the indispensable ally in its war against terror, yet he failed to create a new political equation in Pakistan. He ended up tightening the military grip on the reins of governance.
Apart from the dominance of army leaders upon the National Security Council, state governors (with the exception of one) are also generals. Also the official in charge of the office assigned with legal and constitutional reforms introduced by Musharraf is also a general. It is clear that the reconciliation which General Musharraf had established with his archenemy Benazir Bhutto did not lead to easing the tension of the political situation. There is no doubt that the new element in the equation this time is the emergence of civil society as an active player in the political conflict under the frameworks designed by the judiciary system and lawyers syndicates. Thus General Musharraf has failed to find an alternative option to circumvent the crisis of the legitimacy of his election except by declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution after it seemed certain that the Supreme Court would abolish the results of the ballot. It is true that extremist fundamentalist parties had joined the battle of confrontation with the isolated military government that it described as secular and westernized. Nevertheless, these parties are marginal and they have no electoral weight as proven by all previous experiences. Hence, we can say that the future of Pakistani democracy will be determined by the equation of the military conflict and civil society and not the losing deals between the army and the corroded traditional political class.