Soft states and hard power

By Saad Hafiz:

Pakistan is categorised as a ‘soft’ state, exhibiting symptoms of an advanced level of administrative breakdown. Under these conditions the executive functions of the state, namely policing, taxation and general administration, are performed poorly or not at all. In spite of having clearly defined territorial boundaries including land, sea and airspace, soft states tend to lose full control of their territory and suffer regular infringements of sovereignty. A soft state may contain elements of ‘soft’ power such as an attractive culture, political values, and policies, which give it the ability to ‘seduce’ (as opposed to coerce) other parties.

In contrast to being a soft state, Pakistan’s ranking as a ‘hard’ power is 13th of 193 countries based primarily on total population and military prowess. A country’s hard power is a rough aggregate of various factors, including its GDP, total population, defence budget, technological prowess, energy production and consumption, and others. Statistics that attempt to measure hard power include the National Power Index and the Composite Index of National Capability. These indexes list China, USA and India as the most powerful countries based on their criteria.

Despite serious concerns on its long-term effectiveness and sustainability, hard power has always been central to any discussion on the exercise of national strength and state power. Hard power was applied by the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Crusaders, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Turkish and even the British Empire etc, but all those empires lost their regional or global powerbase one after the other. Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, the two most notable practitioners of hard power applied it to conquer almost the whole of Europe for the purpose of expanding national territories, but could not sustain the conquest.

In Pakistan, the state has lost much of its administrative capacity in spite of a significant expansion in the country’s hard power capabilities. For example, the development of a formidable military and nuclear weapon capability has been unable to provide a sense of security to ordinary citizens. The secession of East Pakistan and the continued anti-state unrest in Balochistan confirm that the exercise of hard power does not work in solving internal political problems.

With its basic functions in disarray, Pakistan has found it very difficult to undertake complex development policies aimed at improving the well-being of its population, which could have helped in strengthening the state. The fruits of economic development have always failed to reach the exploited masses. The uneven development patterns have allowed a few to prosper and the rest to fend for themselves. And very often the people’s resentment has turned them to extremism and provided the justification to wage a war on the state. Balanced development is needed, which can act as a potent tool to quell internal dissatisfactions arising in country.

The past trend to fill the institutional vacuum left by the weakening state apparatus through hard power solutions also has to change. It may be worth trying political and economic solutions instead, which are more pluralistic and inclusive in nature. These democratic solutions could help in controlling society more effectively and contribute to its balanced development. The high levels of arbitrariness and irrationality manifested in the day-to-day conduct and policymaking has to be brought under control. The enhancement of institutional capacity and effectiveness will make it relatively harder for criminal elements, religious fanatics or other disruptive forces to carve out their own zones of influence and control.

Part of the process is for the Pakistani state to re-establish its monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its specified territory. Security of a nation does not merely lie in the arms of the soldiers or the policeman. The onus is on the judicial system as well. Hence, steps must be taken to create a further robust and stronger judicial structure. In this regard, a few steps that can be taken are: establishing fast track courts to adjudicate on matters that threaten the unity and integrity of the country, making stringent rules of punishment for those involved in perpetrating crimes against the state. Existing laws in the country should be strengthened and new ones should be framed, the face of threat today in the global context is changing, and hence the laws of the country too must be equipped to handle the changed context. The other aspect is for electoral democracy to function more effectively and cases of corruption exposed and prosecuted. The rule of law must replace corruption, as the main fuel keeping the political machine going.

The primary objective of this capacity building process must be the development of a shared sense of citizenship, a notion of citizenship not marginalised by the rise of ethnic and religious identity politics, but underpinned by the success of civil society groups in establishing political alternatives. The basic elements in place that can support civilian capacity building are: a flawed yet functioning electoral democracy; freedom of the press; a withdrawal of the armed forces from political and administrative institutions; no fear in giving voice to protest; constitutional reform, which makes the return of authoritarian rule unlikely. What is needed is bold economic reform and far-reaching administrative decentralisation, giving way to regional autonomy, and gradually bringing an end to the centralist state.

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