Pakistan: National Security Dilemmas and Transition to Democracy

Date01 April 2015
Published date01 April 2015
Pakistan: National Security
Dilemmas and Transition
to Democracy
Saira Yamin1
Empirical evidence supports the notion that emergent and hybrid democratic
regimes are often unstable and conflict-ridden. While these are important find-
ings, the implication that instability is induced by democratic transitions provides
a partial understanding of the dynamic. Pakistan’s recent return to a democratic
system of government provides an opportunity to test this thesis and draw infer-
ences about prospects for democratic consolidation. Using Pakistan as a case
study, the research raises three important considerations towards a more com-
prehensive analysis of the dynamic of instability in democratic transitions. First, it
emphasizes that a developing transitioning state is sometimes afflicted with pro-
tracted conflict conditions; hence the transition process per se may not have a
direct or significant causal relationship with pervasive instability. Arguably, in the
Pakistani context, conflict, chaos and instability are more a manifestation of pre-
existing conflict conditions, more so than symptoms of democratization. Second,
in considering the impact of the transition once it sets in motion, it appears to
be an exacerbating dynamic, compounding the conditions of unabated conflict
through social, political and economic tensions inherent in systemic change.
In light of the above, a third consideration pertaining to the low capacity of
transitioning systems to mitigate conflict is brought to the fore. This is signi-
ficant as institutions are often weak and poorly equipped with conflict-resolution
mechanisms and processes.
Pakistan, security, conflict resolution, democratic transition, elite political
1 Associate Professor, Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Corresponding author:
Saira Yamin, Asia-Pacif‌i c Centre for Security Studies, 2058 Maluhia Road, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
2(1) 1–26
2015 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797014565289
2 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 2(1)
The relationship between democratic transitions and state stability has generated much
scholarly debate. Among a number of theories exploring this link, a prominent para-
digm holds that democratic transitions tend to have a destabilizing effect on develop-
ing states (Chua, 2002; Kaplan, 2000; Zakaria, 2003). Pakistan’s recent return to a
democratic system of government provides an opportunity to test this hypothesis and
draw inferences about prospects for democratic consolidation in the prevailing context.
A preliminary assessment of the trends in conflict and armed violence in Pakistan
might suggest that there is a relationship between democratic transitions and instability.
However, in a theoretical shift from this lens, this study proffers three important con-
siderations towards a more comprehensive deconstruction of the problem.
First, in exploring the inferred correlation between democratic transitions and
instability, an important consideration is that the dynamics are often driven by pre-
existing unresolved conflict conditions. Systemic change has the potential to exac-
erbate these conditions unless it provides for mechanisms to address them. In effect,
protracted instability and conflict conditions prior to the democratic transition per
se, might in and of themselves constrain and inhibit the consolidation process.
Second, the article suggests that regardless of the type of political transforma-
tion, a system is often at risk of instability generated by tensions between the old
and new order, compounding existing complexities in the security environment.
Thus, it would be fair to assume that whether the state is transitioning towards
democracy or any other form of government, political transformation will likely
uproot the system; its many sub-systems, structures, institutions and actors operat-
ing within—often by design. This is the experience in emerging democracies as
well as in hybrid or semi-democracies. The latter are transitioning systems that have
not been able to complete the process of consolidation or democratic deepening.
They are neither completely authoritarian nor entirely democratic; hence the system
remains contested and susceptible to instability (Diamond, 2002).
Third, it considers the weak institutional capacity of transitioning systems to
mitigate conflict. This is significant as transitioning states are often fragile and
poorly equipped with conflict-resolution mechanisms and processes. The research
tests the hypothesized cause and effect relationship between transitioning democ-
racies and political instability by citing the experience of Indonesia and the
Philippines. While these states are afflicted with deep-rooted conflict conditions,
the transition to democracy has been a stabilizing factor. Founders of modern
democracy such as John Stuart Mill and James Madison (Mill, 1991; Turner,
2009) have suggested that democracy can indeed be designed; it is therefore
important to consider the lessons offered by these cases, particularly their efforts
to mitigate conflict and innovations in democratic institution building.
Instability in Pakistan and the Rationale for Democracy
In some developing states democratic transitions have at times been disrupted,
followed by an unintended return to an autocratic form of government. Thailand
provides a textbook case with a record of 12 successful military coup d’états

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