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Respecting institutions
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Sunday July 1, 2007

Achieving the respect of the people requires the military to return to its institutional home. It is only by functioning within the formal rules that constitute its institutional identity and are articulated by the basic structure of the Constitution, that the military can win the respect due it

President General Musharraf has recently declared that it is “the responsibility of every Pakistani to respect national institutions, such as the military [Daily Times, May 31]”. Respect for an institution, to be meaningful, emanates from a subjective condition of freedom rather than an expedient response to the fear of coercion. Therefore, it may be useful to examine the nature of state institutions and the conditions under which citizens grant respect to a particular institution or an organisation functioning within it, such as the military.
Let us begin by distinguishing between an organisation and an institution in light of the New Institutional Economics (NIE) recently pioneered by Nobel prize-winning economist, Douglass North.
An institution is defined as a set of formal rules combined with informal rules (or norms) which, together with enforcement mechanisms, aim to direct human behaviour towards institutional aims. While formal rules are consciously designed at a moment in time to embody a set of incentives and disincentives, informal rules are drawn from culture, values and consciousness as they have emerged over time. Both are necessary for the ‘structured human interaction’ that institutions aim to achieve, and which is the stuff of history, both past and present.
In contrast to institutions, organisations are groups of people who, in the pursuit of their interests, act within the framework of the institution. Thus institutions are the rules of the game while those who play it are organisations. If the enforcement mechanisms of rules either through state power or through social pressure are weak, then it is rational to expect that a particular organisation will pursue its self-interest by breaking the rules.
In this perspective Pakistan’s military as an organisation is that group of fine young men (and recently) women, who have the weapons, the training and the motivation to defend the geographic borders of the country. Anyone who has been in contact with them (as I have, teaching them economics during annual lectures over the past two decades at the Command and Staff College and the National Defence College) would testify to their character qualities: by and large, they exude discipline, a quiet confidence, a humility drawn from an inner strength and a sense of honour. They would unhesitatingly give their lives in defence of their homeland.
Of course most citizens of Pakistan would be moved by such sterling qualities. Within the constraints of its size and the available weapons technologies, Pakistan’s military is arguably one of the finest fighting forces in the world. Why is it then that there is such widespread resentment among Pakistan’s citizens today against the military? Perhaps this is because as an organisation it has gone beyond the formal rules, the institutional limits originally envisaged by the Constitution. From being an armed force exclusively assigned by the Will of the People (as embodied in the Constitution), the task of defending Pakistan’s geographic frontiers, it has enlarged its role to become a major player in the politics and economy of the country.
What then are the necessary conditions for the military to win the respect of the people of Pakistan? In the context of a state, the identity of any particular institution is articulated by the structure of state institutions within which it is located. The central feature of the structure of a state is the balance between its various institutions. In a democracy (and Pakistan was conceived by its founding fathers as one) there is a separation of powers between the various pillars of the State: the parliament, the judiciary and the government (executive), with the free media being the fourth pillar. The military in this context is simply a subordinate arm of elected civilian authority.
Within such a democratic structure, the purpose of separation of powers among the various pillars and the balance thereof, is to establish the necessary checks to arbitrary power. Thus, institutional balance is designed to secure individual freedom and human rights, both of which define democracy. It follows, therefore, that a particular institution can win the respect of the people only in so far as it is shaped by and balanced within a structure of institutions that embody the Will of the People.
If any institution goes out of balance relative to the other institutions two consequences ensue. First, the entire structure of state institutions is destabilised and hence the legitimacy of the State is put into question. Second, if an individual institution arrogates to itself disproportionate power and thereby goes beyond the bounds specified by the basic structure of the Constitution, then in fact such an institution is weakened. This is because as its identity and balance vis-à-vis other institutions is eroded, so too is its strength, which is drawn from the Will of the People.
There is no more vivid a metaphor of the erosion of the military’s identity and institutional balance than the image of a president in uniform. The incongruity of the president in the uniform of a general disturbs the decorum required in the relationship between the elected president and the army chief subordinate to him. Decorum in the context of institutions has not yet been researched in the literature of the New Institutional Economics. Yet I think it is important in this regard. One can posit that decorum makes palpable through the choreography of comportment, poise and the stylised actions of living individuals, the abstract rules of structured interaction that define an institution. Decorum is also embedded in social norms which when violated cause a sense of outrage.
It can be argued that at the heart of the current popular movement led with such passionate rationality by the lawyers, is a sense of outrage at the violation of decorum in the relationship between the government on the one hand and the judiciary and media on the other. Some of the images that signify this phenomenon are: the president in uniform conversing with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, imperiously summoned to Army House; the brutish hand of a security official holding the chief justice by the hair and dragging him into a car; an armoured personnel carrier firing tear-gas shells into the Lahore High Court compound; uniformed policemen kicking and smashing the transparent glass walls of Geo TV Station in Islamabad; armed gunmen firing sustained volleys into the office building of Aaj TV in Karachi at one location and at another location, firing indiscriminately into a crowd assembling to receive the chief justice.
These images are etched into the public memory and induce a visceral experience of the loss of balance among state institutions. The popular movement these images fuel, essentially aims to redress that balance. It seeks to give order and proportion and thereby strength to Pakistan’s institutional edifice.
What gives strength to the military as an organisation? Its strength lies not only in its weapons but more essentially, is drawn from the institutional rules that determine the military’s constitutional authority. It is this legitimate authority drawn from the Will of the People that is vital to the moral strength and sense of honour of its personnel, and is the basis of respect given it by the citizens. Thus achieving the respect of the people requires the military to return to its institutional home. It is only by functioning within the formal rules that constitute its institutional identity and are articulated by the basic structure of the Constitution, that the military can win the respect due it.

Dr Akmal Hussain is Distinguished Professor of Economics, Beaconhouse National University. He has authored three books on economic policy and has co-authored/contributed to fourteen other internationally published books. His work can be accessed at:
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