The drawing room was abuzz with the latest political trends. Cups of steaming hot coffee were set around the table, and the conversation crackled with ideas and theories about what was happening in Pakistan. Everyone had their own opinion, and it made for a lively discussion as they tried to make sense of this new development. This phenomenon has taken a sharp turn towards reliance on violence as a tool for political success. It is a worrying development as violence is rarely a positive path to progress. The use of violence in the political arena is a direct challenge to the principles of democracy, where some are of the opinion that it could even lead to the breakdown of political system. It is a subject of much discussion and debate, and people are divided in their opinions of how to move forward.
Violence in Pakistani politics has been a persistent problem where its roots can be traced back in the “Direct Action Plan” of 1946. This violence has been perpetuated by a variety of factors, including clan and tribal disputes, sectarian tensions, and power struggles between political and non-political factions. This violence has had a profound effect on Pakistani society and politics, creating instability and obstructing the nourishment and growth of democratic institutions. The phenomenon of violence for political gains has been a major cause of economic decline in Pakistan. Businesses, fearing potential disruptions and instability, have been less likely to invest, which in turn has resulted in a decrease of economic activity and fewer job opportunities.
In the political arena, political parties of all ideological stripes have been known to engage in strategies that contradict their core principles and beliefs to gain power and influence. In our political culture we find the secular as well as the religiopolitical parties, whose manifesto should be based on peace, tranquility, equality, and love are perpetrators of violence for votes or in forming coalitions with groups that have tangent ideologies. The use of violence to gain political advantage is not only unethical but it also undermines the political process and weaken the foundations of democracy in the light of liberal political ideology that propagates non-violence in democracy. Such tactics can have a detrimental effect on the citizens of the country, as it can erode trust in the political system and cause further instability.
Does party manifesto, ideology or founding principles have any value or they are just the documentary requirements where all that matters is power, no matter how? To answer this seemingly straightforward question, attention is invited to the complex philosophy of Marxist stalwarts of Frankfurt School, who see violence and politics complementary to each other.
Probably, the political forces all over the globe and especially in Pakistan have better understood the German and Chinese philosophers. Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum “war is the continuation of politics by other means” and Sun Tzu’s linkages of “Ends, Ways and Means”.
Charlotte Heath beautifully explains this Clausewitzian philosophy that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” is a profound way to articulate the intertwined nature of politics and violence. It succinctly highlights how one cannot exist without the other, as they are inexorably linked in a cycle that can shift from peaceful dialogue to destructive force in an instant. It states that both war and politics involve competing parties striving to achieve their own interests. This concept of “other means” is the crux of Clausewitz’s formula – it makes clear that violence is an option, a means to an end but not an end in itself. On the other hand, liberalists strongly refute this interpretation and outlook of the post-structuralists and Marxists and believe that politics has nothing to do with violence “a non-violent democracy”.
Liberal political thought often takes issues with the theories of power presented by Machiavelli and Clausewitz. They argue that the views of these philosophers are outdated, and that they celebrate the role of violence in politics. Machiavelli’s idea of “the ends justify the means” is seen as particularly outdated for modern society. Likewise, Clausewitz’s notion that war is an extension of politics but with other means, are seen as inadequate in today’s world. However, the complex relationship between violence and politics reveals the paradox of political action and the role it plays in statecraft. Politics and violence are inextricably linked and the interplay between them has been the subject of much debate and discourse. On the one hand, it is argued that politics is a necessary means of achieving goals and that violence can be a legitimate tool in the pursuit of political ends. While on the other hand, it is argued that violence is a destructive force that has no place in politics and that the use of violence undermines the very legitimacy of political action.
In Pakistan, our political parties often involve themselves with violent and extreme behaviour targeting their political opponents. They sometimes outsource and sometimes associate themselves to violent activists also termed as “violence specialists”, to execute violent acts on their behest. Electoral alliances between political actors and local clienteles are often formed to maintain vote bank. This is often done using coercion and intimidation tactics. This phenomenon is not restricted to Pakistan, the developing world is now facing a complex landscape of conflict and politics that is neither straightforwardly violent nor entirely peaceful. In many countries, citizens are caught between the two, struggling to make sense of a political order that lies uneasily between violent and peaceful politics. In some cases, this is a result of authoritarian regimes that suppress dissent and resort to violence in order to maintain power. In other cases, it is a consequence of deepening inequality and social divisions that lead to violence and unrest.
In our political history, political parties have sometimes formed armed wings to protect their interests as the political climate is highly contested, and all sides are vying for power. Elites also use elections as a platform for pursuing their own personal agendas to increase their advantage and power, regardless of the outcome for the public. These trends have a detrimental effect on the democratization process, as it leads to polarisation, instability, and further escalation of tensions in the society. By now the worthy readers must have been thinking as to what about the government? This is a very logical question but before use of violence by the government is touched upon it is better to understand the difference between force and violence. Scholars generally agree that “Force” is a legitimate form of short-term damage and seizure, allowing those who cause such harm to have legal protection. This means that any physical or psychological damage or seizure that is inflicted can be done so within the confines of the law. Violence, on the other hand is a serious issue that is defined as any physical, psychological, or economic damage that does not have legal protection. Political violence is a term used to describe any form of aggression or coercion carried out by a government or its representatives to achieve political objectives.
Charles Telly is of the opinion that “In all governments, some rulers also use violent means to further their own power and material advantage. When large-scale collective violence occurs, government forces of one sort or another almost always play significant parts as attackers, objects of attack, competitors, or intervening agents”. He also argues that violence and government maintain a complex, often uneasy relationship. When governments are weak, it is often the case that violence among citizens increases. This is due to the lack of enforcement of laws and regulations, as well as a general lack of order and stability. Conversely, when governments become very strong and authoritative, there is often a decrease in interpersonal violence among citizens and an increase in order and stability. This is because strong governments are better able to enforce laws and regulations, and act as a deterrent for criminal behaviours.
It is not incorrect to identify that there is a vicious cycle between the political parties and their use of violence in politics and the use of political violence by the governments. A strong government is therefore essential to keeping a check on the violence used by political parties for votes. Without a strong government, political parties may feel emboldened to use violent tactics to intimidate opponents or sway voters, leading to a breakdown of law and order.
At the same time, it is of paramount importance to understand the difference between the state and the government. The state remains while the governments may change. Francis Fukuyama’s concept of a political order is based on the trinity of state, the rule of law, and the mechanisms of accountability all working within their constitutional boundaries but in tandem. A state is composed of its institutions, which are designed to ensure efficient government.
However, it is important to understand that the state and its institutions have their own autonomy and should not be obligated to comply with every request of the government especially in use of political violence for oppression or suppression of the opposing views. State institutions are a critical check on the power of the government. They provide a necessary safeguard for citizens to ensure that the government is not overstepping its bounds. Any divergence in functioning would put serious questions on the spirit of democracy.
It is therefore essential for the state to not only strengthen its institutions but also to hold political parties to account for any violent activities in which they are engaged. This is the only way to ensure a peaceful and democratic process. It is also important to ensure that the accountability process is transparent, so that all stakeholders can be confident that justice is being served.
Furthermore, accountability should be seen as a deterrent against any violent actions. The negative effects of political parties using violence and extreme behaviours are a threat to democracy as political violence and extreme behaviours can undermine the democratic process and weaken the legitimacy of the government. Violence can also discourage people from participating in the political process, leading to apathy and disengagement. Most devastating ramification of violence by political parties is polarization and division in the society on regional, sectarian, and ethnic lines. This promotes exclusivity instead of inclusive culture. The resultant instability has economic ramifications leading to decreased investment and economic growth. This can further exacerbate social and political tensions, creating a vicious cycle of violence and economic decline. Finally, all these factors impinge upon the prestige of the state in the comity of nations internationally.
The challenge facing Pakistan is how to move from this unstable situation to a more peaceful and just political order. This requires a renewed commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and strengthening of the political institutions. It also requires a willingness to address the structural shortcomings that leads to violence. This by no means is a small task, but we do not have the luxury of any alternatives for a more stable and secure political order in the society.
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