Welcome to the first installment of NESA’s South Asia Interview series with NESA Distinguished Professor Hassan Abbas. We will interview practitioners, politicians, diplomats and scholars from South Asia. These engagements will include NESA alumni from the region as well as US South Asia experts .
Mr. Azhar Hassan Nadeem served in senior law enforcement positions and also led the police of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab. After retirement, he is currently serving as Senior Fellow at the Lahore School of Economics. He has a Masters of Economic and Social Studies from the University of Wales, Cardiff, UK, and a Doctorate in Economics from the University of the Punjab. He has authored a number of books, including Pakistan: The Political Economy of Lawlessness (Oxford University Press, 2002) and The Punjab Police in a Comparative Perspective (Lahore, 1989). The conversation and interview below mainly focus on his latest book published this month titled Pakistan: The Politics of the Misgoverned (Routledge, June 2020).
Hassan Abbas: What are the three biggest governance challenges faced by Pakistan today?
Azhar Nadeem: The authoritarian mindset in conjunction with the patronage system which has led to the emergence of extractive institutions in Pakistan is the root of all problems. The second plague Pakistan suffers from is the larger than life presence of the garrison and theocracy in the corridors of power and influence.
A direct consequence of these ills is the chaos in the education, health and justice systems. In education, there is a disconnect between the curriculum for the elite and the common man. Healthcare is fraught by problems leading to complete depravation of essential services in rural areas. The justice system is in shambles, where the influential and the rich can go scot free.
Hassan Abbas: The civil-military tensions have remained a permanent feature of Pakistan’s political landscape. It appears that it is somewhat resolved for the time being with the rise of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Do you believe a permanent solution to civil-military rivalry for political power has been achieved?
Azhar Nadeem: The civil-military power struggle has been the main problem of this country since its inception. Those who are under oath to protect and preserve the constitution have been responsible for frequent constitutional abrasions for the last 5 decades. Having PM Imran Khan at the helm of affairs does not offer a permanent solution to the problem, rather it exacerbates the situation where the military appears to be calling the shots in all important affairs.
From a constitutional perspective, the military should have no role in king making. The permanent solution calls for a national debate to ensure that all state institutions, including the military, stay within their constitutional parameters. However, the civilian leadership should give serious consideration to the proposals of the armed forces in defense matters.
Hassan Abbas: Based on your experience as a senior law enforcement official in Pakistan, how do you measure adherence to rule of law in the country, especially in regards to performance of its criminal justice system.
Azhar Nadeem: One of the biggest misfortunes of Pakistan is the fact that institutions responsible for upholding the rule of law have been the biggest deviators themselves. The criminal justice system failed to perform its basic function because successive governments have been eager to extend patronage to their chosen few, making a mockery of merit and competence. The measurement of the prevalence of rule of law can be certified by answering the following questions.
Is the government bound by law?
Is everyone equal before the law?
Is law and order sound in the country?
Are the courts delivering justice in reasonable time?
Are the rights of all, including minorities, being protected in letter and spirit?
The answer to all these questions is no.
Hassan Abbas: What was the role of Pakistan’s police forces in its counter terrorism campaigns? What reforms are necessary for police to improve their reputation and performance in crime fighting, as well as countering extremism?
Azhar Nadeem: The police have played a significant role in countering terrorism in Pakistan, despite the fact that they are not given the credit due to them. For example, the National Action Plan is military centric and does not provide room for capacity building of the police. There has been a tendency on the part of various governments to give police duties to rangers, which is tantamount to giving a doctor’s functions to an engineer.
First and foremost, the police must focus on building trust and legitimacy through community policing and strong internal accountability. Secondly, they must move towards greater efficiency through digital transformation in all provinces and better scale their media projection and marketing to win hearts and minds of the community.
Hassan Abbas: How do you view the future of democracy in Pakistan?
Azhar Nadeem: There is hope for democracy to flourish in Pakistan. The current government has taken measures to increase internal accountability across state institutions. The debate on national issues gives hope for broader participation of people in state affairs. If free and fair elections continue without any external manipulation for the next 2 decades, all problems should be resolved.
The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.