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Ravi Pratap Singh asked: What is the meaning of the term ‘deep state’ in the context of Pakistan?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: The term 'deep state' was used first in the context of groups carrying disproportionate influence in a polity or state short-circuiting the recognised lines of authority. In Turkey, such a phenomenon was called derin devlet or the ‘deep state’ or even ‘state within the state’. Such phenomenon is not, however, confined to Turkey alone and is noticeable in other states as well. Such groups usually consist of agencies, small political cliques, factions or coteries, who wield enormous power often shaping, resisting, subverting and directing the policies of the legitimate arm of the government.

    In case of Pakistan, the army, the Military Inc., which has been touted as the largest political party that is always in power and does not have to fight any election to be in power, is often regarded by observers as the ‘deep state’. It has nothing but contempt for the democratically elected political leadership, and because of intermittent military rules it feels has a legitimate right to intervene in decision making, whenever it thinks its own ‘institutional’ interests are in jeopardy. Ironically, successive elected governments have tamely allowed their authority to be compromised in the face of increasing assertion of the military. Any political leader who has sought to challenge military's preponderance has found it difficult to survive politically because of an entrenched tendency on the part of ambitious political parties and leaders to be coopted by the military to dance to its tune.

    Equipped with a well-oiled public relations strategy, an obliging vernacular media to propagate its vision among the people, a squeamish civilian bureaucracy and an activist and hyperactive judiciary opposed to elected government in power, the military has demonstrated its ability to sway public opinion one way or the other and retain its salience in Pakistani polity. So much so, that an ex-prime minister went to the extent of saying that it was 'a state above the state'!

    Posted on July 02, 2019

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.