Military Rule, Islamism and Democracy in Pakistan

By Nasr, Vali | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Military Rule, Islamism and Democracy in Pakistan


Nasr, Vali, The Middle East Journal


Pakistan's politics has been shaped by the dynamics of civilian-military relations and Islamism's relation to the state. This has created an ongoing negotiation for power in which the military, civilian politicians, and Islamist forces have individually and in alliance with one another vied for control of Pakistan's politics. General Pervez Musharraf's regime has been no exception to this trend. As its claim to secular military rule proved untenable, it has turned to rely on Islamist forces to manage civilian-military relations.

Over the course of the past three decades two issues have been central to Pakistan's political development: first, democratization and civil-military relations; and second, Islamization and Islamism's relation to the state. The two issues have been separate and yet interdependent as they have unfolded in tandem to shape Pakistan's politics. In the 1980s Islamism supported the military's drive for power and suppression of democratic forces. Since 1988, the military, Islamist forces, and democratic parties have cooperated and competed with one another, jockeying for power and position in defining the rules of the game. The complexity of the interactions between the three actors during the decade of civilian rule (1988-99) precluded the institutionalization of democracy and facilitated the return of the military to power in 1999. The case of Pakistan is instructive in what it reveals about the changing role of Islamism in determining the balance of power between civil-military relations, and how democratization and Islamization - civil-military and Islamism-state relations - are influencing one another, deciding how Pakistani politics will unfold from this point forward.

THE ISLAMIST FACTOR IN PAKISTAN'S POLITICS

Islamist forces have played an important role in Pakistan since the 1970s, providing the framework through which the country has defined its national interests and provided cadence between its domestic and international politics.1 Islam has also increased Pakistan's regional power by opening new foreign policy possibilities before Islamabad, most notably in using Islamist activism to deal with developments in Afghanistan and Kashmir.2

The growing importance of Islam to Pakistan's politics has been closely associated with mainstream Islamism, as defined, advocated, and led by parties such as the Jama'at-i Islami.3 The Jama'at was particularly successful in articulating a coherent Islamic ideology that effectively organized social action around the struggle to attain a Utopian Islamic state that would embody and implement the core values of Islam, and thus solve sociopolitical problems just as it attained the goal of development.4

The Jama'at's success in instituting many Islamist assumptions in popular political culture and framing key debates in an Islamist frame of reference eventually weakened the grip of secular politics in Pakistan, contributing first to the fall of the Ayub Khan regime (1958-69), and ultimately to the collapse of Zulfiqar AIi Bhutto's experiment with socialism (1971-7V).5

The Islamist vision became ensconced in the state during the Zia ul-H aq era (1977-88).6 The Zia period witnessed the Islamization of laws, public policy, and popular culture, producing a unique case of systematic propagation of Islamism from above.7 The Zia regime embraced the Islamist vision of state and society and used it not only to shore up state power by ending its war of attrition with Islamism, but also to expand its own powers domestically as well as regionally.8 The alliance provided legitimacy to military rule - which justified its suppression of democratic forces by claiming to be building an Islamic order. The alliance between Islamism and military rule produced stability, but was ultimately fraught with too many inconsistencies and divergent interests of its key actors to survive.

The end of the Zia period in 1988 also ended the formal alliance between Islamism and the state. …

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Military Rule, Islamism and Democracy in Pakistan
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