Pakistani Saga Continues Unabated

In Pakistan, the Army Establishment's firm grip on the nation undeniably confirms the presence of a Deep State in its governance.

4 mins read
Pakistani army vehicles take part in a military parade to mark Pakistan's National Day in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 25, 2021. [Photo by Muhammed Semih Uğurlu/Anadolu Agency.]

Pakistani saga continues unabated. Imran Khan and his political Party Pakistan Tehrik of Insaf, once favored by the army establishment, are banned from participating in the elections. Imran Khan is now serving fourteen years on corruption charges. In a letter to the famous British Journal, The Economist Imran Khan called the election a farce. His “ fault” was reading out to the National Assembly a coded telegram the Pakistani ambassador in the US had sent home. He is also accused of selling jewelry he and his wife received from places they visited which according to rules should have been deposited in government-maintained treasury. The Army Establishment has been in control of Pakistani politics either through martial law or through controlling the country from behind.


Except for a brief period of civilian rule after independence from British rule in 1947 the Army establishment has been in control of the country. The latest tally announced by the Election Commission on 13th February this year shows that the election of the leader of the house, or prime minister must win a simple majority – 169 of the 336 seats. There can be multiple candidates for prime minister. If no candidate secures a majority in the first round, a second vote is held between the top two candidates. Voting will continue till one person can secure a majority. Negotiations for a coalition government are taking place between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, with 75 seats. The party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of a former President and assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose father was also a former Prime Minister but was assassinated by the army establishment,  with 54 seats, as well as other smaller parties. Independent candidates backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan won the most seats – 93 – and they are also jostling for allies to form government. Candidates were vying for 264 seats out of the assembly’s 336 total number of seats.


This stranglehold by the Army Establishment on Pakistani politics brings in the question of the Deep State which scholars have variously defined. The Economist has observed that American pundits have often used “deep state” interchangeably with the bureaucracies of the military and spy agencies, especially those bits that leak against the government. President Donald   Trump’s relations with his spies have been tense since the intelligence community determined that Russia had tried to influence the election in his favor. He had publicly challenged their assessments of his team’s ties with Russia, chastised them for past intelligence failures, and compared leaks against him to practices in Nazi Germany. His supporters cite “deep-state” leaks embarrassing to Trump’s administration as evidence of a shadowy network of unelected government officials undermining the president. (The president has not publicly used the term.) But the deep state started life as something else entirely. Citizens in Turkey, where the term originated, have long worried about the derin devlet (“deep state”), which refers to a network of individuals in different branches of government, with links to retired generals and organized crime, that existed without the knowledge of high-ranking military officers and politicians. Its goal was purportedly to preserve secularism and destroy communism by any means necessary, outside the regular chain of command. Starting in the 1950s Turkey’s deep state-sponsored killings, engineered riots, colluded with drug traffickers, staged “false flag” attacks, and organized massacres of trade unionists. Thousands died in the chaos it fomented. In its present avatar, “deep state” seems set to go the way of “fake news” in American discourse, a once-useful term rendered meaningless by promiscuous repetition, often about quite different things. Turkey is a pioneer here too. After a handful of city councils in Germany recently canceled rallies in support of Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister offered a simple explanation: “This is a systematic move of the German deep state”.


Coming back to the US one could refer to the farewell address of President Dwight Eisenhower in which he warned future presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”. Following the tumultuous 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump and his supporters suggested that certain unnamed executive branch officials and intelligence officers were secretly operating as a deep state to block his policies and legislative agenda by leaking information considered critical of him. President Trump,


White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, along with ultra-conservative news outlets like Breitbart News claimed that Former President Obama was orchestrating a deep state attack against the Trump administration. The allegation grew out of Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that Obama had ordered the wiretapping of his telephone during the 2016 election campaign.


Current and former intelligence officials remain divided on the question of the existence of a deep state secretly working to derail the Trump administration.  In an article published in The Hill Magazine, retired veteran CIA field operations agent Gene Coyle stated that while he doubted the existence of “hordes of government officials” operating as an anti-Trump deep state, he did believe the Trump administration was justified in complaining about the number of leaks being reported by news organizations. “If you are that appalled at the actions of an administration, you should quit, hold a press conference, and publicly state your objections,” said Coyle. “You can’t run an executive branch if more and more people think, ‘I don’t like the policies of this President therefore I will leak information to make him look bad.’” Other intelligence experts argued that individuals or small groups of individuals leaking information critical of a presidential administration lack the organizational coordination and depth of deep states such as those that existed in Turkey or the former Soviet Union. Coming back to Pakistan one has to admit that the Army Establishment’s stranglehold on the country proves beyond doubt the existence of Deep State in the formulation and conduct of the country.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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