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Pak Tea House » Drones, liberal Pakistan, Terrorism » Liberalism and Military Action: Are these Really Incompatible?

Liberalism and Military Action: Are these Really Incompatible?

Raza Habib Raja

Dedicated to Some Urban Middle Class Pakistanis who have suddenly discovered liberalism and due process

Right now the question most under discussion on the electronic media is whether we should negotiate with militants or go for an army action. Supporters for negotiations are far more numerous and their point of view is being constantly parroted by the electronic media. However, the supporters are not an ideologically monolithic group. These include so called nationalists ( politically spearheaded by politicians like Imran Khan) and some liberals also. On the other hand opponents of negotiations also include liberals.

Why is there a schism between so called liberals? Why some support a military action and others oppose it. Those liberals who oppose a military action claim that such a step is against the very essence of liberalism. Liberalism is not war mongering and is underpinned by resolution by peaceful means. But above all, a military action is indiscriminate as it does not distinguish between the actual culprits and the innocent population. In fact even the so called culprits are not culprits unless proven in the court of law. The strongest argument against military action ( for that matter against drones also) is that it is contrary to liberalism’s emphasis on “Due Process”. Their argument is that liberalism is ultimately underpinned by individual freedom and rights. Getting proper due process is the fundamental right of an individual.

Of course their stance is being supported by many PTI workers/supporters who have suddenly discovered liberalism and evils of war. While many of them want MQM workers to be dealt with military means but TTP in their eyes should get “due process”.

But this irony apart, the question is how congruent is the above assertion ( that military action is illiberal in Pakistani context) with the overall doctrine of liberalism? If it is consistent, then why a substantial chunk of Pakistani liberals are backing a military action?

Before I begin examining these issues in the context of liberalism, let me make it clear: I support a military action even if it is illiberal. In my opinion, under the given circumstances where we are facing an irrational enemy who believes in overthrow of state to impose a completely parochial and oppressive regime, military option has to be considered really seriously.

But is it really that illiberal to begin with? Frankly in my opinion, it is highly debatable at least even if considered from liberalism’s paradigm.

Liberalism is a philosophical doctrine underpinned by individual rights and freedom . This is the fundamental and single most important founding principle. In fact everything else emanates from this fundamental principle.

The role of state emanates from this very principle. For example, liberalism envisages protection of individual rights and for this purpose proposes limits on the power of the state in the sense that no single institution is allowed too much power. There are institutional checks and balances. Power is in fact dispersed between Judiciary, Legislature and the Executive.

The limits to power are even extended to the concept of democracy. A liberal democracy is not merely majoritarian rule but places some constitutional checks on majority also. For example US constitution prevents simple majority through disproportionate representation of its States in the Senate as irrespective of population each State has equal representation.

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to amend US constitution unless a supermajority is achieved which in practical sense is nearly impossible. Consequently, US Bills of Rights which are protecting individual rights and freedoms become difficult to repeal and in some ways almost permanently enshrined in the constitution.

But liberalism does not envisage a powerless state either. While it tries to put limitations on the concentration of power in one branch or institution, it also wants the state to be effective and powerful to play its role in safeguarding the individual’s interests. Liberals want the state’s role to be enhanced in economic and social sphere. Modern democratic liberalism, in fact both constraints and enlarges the scope of power of the state BOTH for the protection of individual freedom and provision of better facilities across the board so that individuals can reach their potential.

Liberal state while constrained is NOT a weak state with very limited scope. In contrast, it has a huge responsibility of: protecting its citizens’ life, property and freedom; and ensuring them access to education and health.

Consequently preservation of State against threats (both external and internal) becomes fundamentally important. Disintegration or for that matter even weakening of State’s writ would lead to erosion of state’s capacity to protect its citizens ( to which it owes responsibility) Liberalism would never advocate that writ of the state and its ultimate monopoly over physical violence is undermined. For this purpose, it would thwart any efforts which try to create state in a state.

It is said that liberal democracies do not make war on each other. The rational for this is that democracies are fundamentally concerned with the welfare of the majority of their population and would also try to avoid going to a war unless cocksure of victory. Moreover, due to so called democratic culture existing on both the sides, the impulse for violence at a national scale is pretty low. When there are democracies on both the sides, then war becomes highly improbable. This has been empirically found to be largely true. However, liberal democracies while avoiding fighting with each other have fought totalitarian and fascist regimes. Liberal democracies have also fought internal threats particularly when these challenge the fundamental liberties of its citizens.

In short liberalism does not advocate undue pacifism when adversaries, whether external or internal, are of illiberal nature. This tendency is not merely an outcome of the liberal nature but is in fact consistent with the liberal emphasis on protection of individual freedom.

Yes, liberalism would try to negotiate resolution in case of secession driven ethnic movements. It will as a first resort negotiate and for the preservation of its territorial boundaries aim to offer more autonomy and better access to basic facilities. However, if the threat is aimed at the very foundation of the state with the aim of overthrowing it and replacing it with a regressive regime then even liberalism’s first resort could be of war. There is nothing inconsistent to the principle of liberalism there. In short, if aggression of few is completely undermining individual liberties of many, then a military action becomes liberal as it is undertaken for the protection of the latter.

There is from that perspective a case for war. In Pakistan, militants are not some ethnic outfit but a group which wants overthrow of the state and replace it with a regime which is a very anti-thesis of individual liberties, then there is actually a moral case for a military action. This case is particularly strong in the liberal context as exercise of power is to preserve even the existing freedom.
Now a stronger case against the military action ( and for that matter drone attacks) is based on “Due Process” argument. Now if a military action is undertaken, it would also kill those who are not at all extremists but happen to be just living in the area. Military action would also punish people without giving them a proper chance to defend themselves.

Advanced liberal democracies even give criminals like serial murderers full right to defend. In fact the liberal jurisprudence is grounded on the following philosophy of William Blackstone: “It is better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffer”.

US constitution requires that the police consider the individual rights of the accused in respect to many of the individual rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Some of these rights include: 1) a right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, 2) a right against arrest without probable cause, 3) a right against self-incrimination, 4) a right to an attorney, and 5) a right to fair questioning by the police themselves.

Liberal democracies gave this right to even Nazi war criminals who were provided a fair chance to defend themselves at Nuremberg Trials. In fact, some of them even got acquitted.

So will a military action against militants ( many of whom are not even identifiable individually)is fair considering the fact that it entails collateral damage?

Here I would like to draw attention to an important point which is often curiously absent in the discourse: Writ of the state. This is an important point because due process can be only be applied where writ actually exists. Only then you can round up the accused and bring them to trial where they can arguably be given a chance to defend themselves.

In a war, whether external or internal, a state first has to establish victory and then bring people to trial. The military action precedes the trials. It is different for criminals in urban centers where state’s overall writ already exists. There you have to capture the militants and bring them to trial. It is simply POSSIBLE to do that where effective writ exists.

You cannot apply due process or any such doctrine if through barrel of a gun, the militants have created state within a state or have carved out a territory where their own rules apply and monopoly on physical violence is entirely theirs.

By the even Nuremberg Trials occurred AFTER the war when Allies had defeated Nazi Germany. If this due process is logic is accepted, then Allies should not have tried to defeat Germany at all as it would not have possible to isolate the Nazi leaders from ordinary innocent civilians.

The right to due process become applicable after the writ is established ( or the enemy is defeated in case of external war) and militants or the accused militants are in captivity. In Pakistan’s case, due process would become applicable after the state’s writ has been established in FATA for which military action is required.

Once the accused militants are captured then due process is applicable. But for their capture, a military action is essential. The rationale for military action is also coming from the doctrine of liberalism and I have already discussed it in the first half of the article.

But most importantly we cannot allow a few militants to commit worst kind of crimes against humanity and subdue the local population through force. It is ironical that some misguided liberals while shouting about collateral damage overlook the fact that far more damage is being done to the same local population by lack of our political will to take action and free them from this evil.

Alright according to this logic, action against Nazi Germany was also wrong because it led to lot of collateral damage which killed people without giving them “due process”. Many innocent German citizens were killed. For that matter many friendly country civilians were killed. When Allies invaded France via Normandy, many French were killed. So are you saying that Allies should not have invaded and Germany should have been allowed to continue its reign?

And yet after the conquest, the Nazi leaders were not merely shot. They were given a fair trial and all the requirements of “due process” were completed. But before that happened, largest military action in the history of mankind had to be taken.

Life is about choices and at times you have to choose between two costly options and neither one is completely ”liberal”. You then have to make a choice and choose a better option which yields relatively better results from liberal point of view.

TTP are killing our children in mosques, bazaars and political processions. There are some militant organizations that are pulling out Shiite passengers out of buses and killing them. And here, we are talking about evilness of state led action. Let’s be united that TTP has to eliminated and yes military action is the only way out. Even Pakistan army has started to acknowledge it.

And yet, some of us, continue to argue otherwise. As I pointed out earlier that many of them are in reality PTI supporters who have suddenly discovered liberalism. They want a military action in Karachi and want “peace” with suicide bombers. Their liberalism is nothing but merely their inability to disagree with the rubbish which their leader Imran Khan parrots round the clock.

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13 Responses to "Liberalism and Military Action: Are these Really Incompatible?"

  1. Imtiaz Pakistan Safari iPhone says:

    A brilliant take on liberalism. This is easily one of the best pieces of RHR who I am surprised does not write in mainstream media. Amyways, well done

  2. kaalchakra United States Google Chrome  GT-N8013 Build/JZO54K) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/31.0.1650.59 Safari/537.36 says:

    Second that.

  3. RHR Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Imtiaz

    Thanks for the kind words. I have written for mainstream media but generally avoid for two reasons

    1) I am public sector employee and therefore can not write for mainstream newspapers without taking permission.

    2) PTH allows me to reach out without editing process and I can speak my mind. Once you become a regular journalist, you are tempted to write for the gallery.

    These two reasons explain as to why I generally avoid writing for Express Tribune ( though I have written there) or Dawn.



  4. Imtiaz Pakistan Safari iPhone says:

    Well then leave your public sector job! I have just reread it. This is extremely well articulated and very convincing. You mix liberalism with ground realities and are not under Naive delusions

  5. Afzal Pakistan Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Dear Raja

    It is a good attempt but I do not think that it belongs to PTH, a site which is infested with Hinduvta Brigade and their brothers in Pakistan, the Islamic fascists.

    You should have gotten it published in a newspaper. If you are that careful of being a public sector employee then use a pen name.

  6. ofsaqib Pakistan Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Well Done! That they would like military action against MQM and not against TTP is an excellent insight. I wonder how the bullet riddled bodies of Baluch nationalists fit into this liberal narrative?

  7. RHR Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:


    Many of them want a military action against them also though to be fair IK has never demanded a military action against Baloch Nationalists. I will give credit where it is due.
    My severe objection to IK’s narrative is oversimplification that Islamic extremism is just a reaction which would go away once drones stop or USA leaves. Once created, it has a life of its own.


  8. Muhammad Pervez Pakistan Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    @RHR My gratitudes for helping me in getting out of my liberal stance working against military action. Perhaps it would not have been so if it would have not been known about the havoc that military-mullah alliance had brought in the history of Pakistan. I still doubt that a military action against TTP would be in the service of democratic development of Pakistan. I fear a military’s victory may encourage it to once again to suppress democracy.

  9. Ex-Paki United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Very well written. Military action against ttp, in my opinion, is action taken in self defense.

  10. sincerity Germany Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    you can’t throw out sincerity.

    but that is what is most missing among muslims – sincerity and honesty have no place in islam – because islam has the primary goal of conquering the world.

    muslim liberals too must subordinate themselves to this islamic totalitarian goal.

    muslim liberals make the job of the muslim fascists and imperialists easier by fooling the non-muslims.

  11. Mohan United Arab Emirates Safari iPad says:

    Imran Khan has demanded that FIR should be filed against US and Canada for drone strikes.

  12. Mohan United Arab Emirates Safari iPad says:

    Good article in Tribune on the same subject.

    Whose war are we fighting?

  13. Break-the-walls United States Opera Mini Unknow Os says:

    Why dont Imran Khan just admit that Cricket & Politics are two different fields.Becoming a team’s captain & winning world cup was certainly commendable & remarkable but being a leader he has the responsibility of leading the nation not just a team.Politics is far more complicated than a game.He has some really bad advisors.Every single patriotic Pakistan hates drones as they violate our sovereignty.But it is also a fact that drone attack killed many TTP barbarians.PTI needs to improve its party policy & stop behaving like a bloody political wing of TTP.Our armed forces are fighting to defend us.TTP are just paid terrorists who kill innocent childern,women,old people & then proudly claim responsibility for it.Is is really that difficult for PTI to understand?

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