Deep State Legacy: Pakistan

 By Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania

There is diversity of opinion with regard to the term Deep State. Broadly speaking it refers to organisations such as military, bureaucracy, police, intelligence agencies and any other political or non political group that works secretly to protect their interests and rules without being elected. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Deep State as “the ruling elites from the military, judicial branch, business and media, which has long wielded tremendous power behind the scenes. It is a kind of parallel government working covertly either for the government or against the government.”[1]

Pakistan’s Deep State, primarily refers to the nexus of military and the intelligence agencieswith judiciary too, at times playing a role in legitimising it.Military undoubtedly is the vital ingredient. Why so?  Well, a number of viewpoints exist. The prominent belief is that military is the pre-eminent guardian not only of Pakistan’s foreign and domestic interests, but also of their nation’s ideology, variously construed by the military dictators.[2]National security dilemma faced by Pakistan was based on the fear of a much larger India at the time of partition.

Legacy of the Deep state can be linked to a few significant factors listed below:

  • British Raj:

The Deep State legacy can be traced back to the times of the British era. The Government of India act, 1935 and the India Independence Act, 1947 had strong centralising tendencies. For instance the Governor General had emergency powers including also the power to appoint and dismiss the ministers at his own discretion. This learning was imbibed and subsequently practiced by the political elites on many occasions. During the colonial era,starting with Punjab, the areas that formed West Pakistan experienced dictatorial tendencies and authoritarian form of administration than the rest of the empire.[3]

  • Muslim League:

The Muslim League represented microcosm of elite group consisting of landowning and educated middle class. They were not able to mobilise the larger community until mid 1940’s. After gaining independence, Jinnah and Liaquat Ali khan, did not allow any Muslim league party cadre to be a minister fearing it might lead to divisive party activities. League activists were called upon to support the leaders chosen by the hierarchy itself. This severed a deathblow to the grass root activism of the party. Rather than building the party apparatus from the ground up, the power structure encouraged the league’s leaders to indulge in court politics and factional battles.[4]

  • Partition:

Christine Fair argues that following the bloody and tumultuous partition of India that created Pakistan, the new state’s institutions were weak, thinly staffed and based in a city (Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital) that had no history as a locus of government. Moreover, many Pakistanis continue to believe that India does not accept Pakistan as a separate state and seeks to reabsorb it despite the fact that India has long recognised Pakistan

  • Jinnah’s Rule:

The concept of “strong personalisation of power” was initiated by him. But still the Pakistani leaders are vulnerable to it and have not managed to shed it. Being the Governor General, as well as, he was known to pre decide the topics for discussions and debates held in the various meetings. Hence, he was titled “Quaid-e-Azam”( Great & Strong Leader). Moreover, his strong belief in presidential form of government led credence to strong authoritarian and centralising tendencies which were part of his indomitable character. This legacy has continued to dominate the deep state discourse.

  • Leadership crisis:

The leadership crisis can perhaps be blamed for the political instability and chaos.Jinnah’s untimely death on September 11, 1948 as well as the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan on Oct 16 1951 led to political instability and crisis. No consensus emerged on the idea of Pakistan until one was imposed by the Deep State/Military. Commander in Chief, General Ayub Khan, exploited the vacuum and imposed first Martial Law in 1958. Hence this set a precedent for the military inroads to the political domain.

  • India factor:

Since partition, Pakistan suffers from the feeling of vulnerability as well as inferiority complex with India. The initial war with India in 1948, the internal discord within the provinces and the mounting fears that partition will be undone by India, compelled the founding father of Pakistan to invest heavily into defence at the cost of other institutions.[6] In the process of State building exercise, national security was gave priority over civil liberties and rights of its citizens.

Even after 71 years of its independence, Pakistan is continuing with the legacy of the deep state. With each successive government, the deep state is getting stronger and stronger, seeping in deeper and deeper into the other realms of the civil society. A thriving deep State is at odds with the progress and development of Pakistan. Is there a way out? A vibrant Judiciary, a versatile educated civil society and a true constitutional democracy but certainly not a “Uniform-ed” democracy[7]can lead Pakistan away from the shackles of the deep State.



[i]Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania, Decoding the Expression “Deep State,” Sep 24, 2018, Claws Website. Available at  : on 20-03-2019)
[ii]C. Christine Fair, “Why Pakistan Army is here to stay: prospects for civilian governance?” International Affairs, Vol. 87, No. 3 (May 2011) PP 571-588
[iii] Christophe Jaffrelot, The Pakistan Paradox Instability and resilience, Random House India,(UK 2013), P 197
[iv] S. Mahmood,”Decline of the Pakistan Muslim League and its Implications”(1947-54), Pakistan Journal of History and culture,15(2),July-Dec1994,pp.63-84
[v] C.Christine Fair, Why Pakistan Army is here to Stay: Prospects for civilian governance, International Affairs, Vol. 87, No. 3 (May 2011), P 571, NO 2.
[vi] Zhao Shurong and Saif Ur Rahman, Rethinking Civil-Military relations in a Pakistan: Some Lessons from Turkey Journal of Socialomics, Vol 6, Issue 3,2017
[vii] Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania, Commentary on Pakistan Elections 2018: Verdict is out & the verdict is- “Uniform-ed Democracy”, August 17, 2018, Claws website. Available at: (Accessed on 24-03-2019)
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DR. JYOTI M. PATHANIA is working as a Senior Fellow and Chairperson Outreach committee at Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New-Delhi. A doctorate in Political Science, she graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in Political Science (Honors) and secured the Third rank in Delhi University. She obtained her M.A. and M.Phil. degree in “International Politics” from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was selected to go on a scholarship to the European Peace University in Austria, Spain, and Ireland, where she pursued another Masters's in advanced studies in ‘Peace and Conflict Studies. She has over 20 years of teaching, training and research experience in various universities: to name a few; Symbiosis Law College Pune, Amity Law School Delhi, Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, Jammu University, Jiwaji University Gwalior, St. Xavier’s College Ranchi and also worked as an analyst for South Asian Analysis Group and was also the Assistant Director of the Amity Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has also qualified for National Eligibility Test for lectureship under University Grant Commission. Recipient of various awards and scholarships, to name a few, Prof. Randhir Singh Award for securing distinction in Political Theory, Prof. N. N. Aggarwal Memorial Award, Austrian Govt. Development Scholarship, H.P. State Govt. Scholarship, National Talent Scheme Scholarship, Delhi University. She was also awarded by the Chief Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat for excellence in research and establishing collaboration with international research institutes. She has authored books and written articles for various newspapers and journals both national and international. She is also the founding editor of the Online Indian Journal of Peace & Conflict Resolution. Her book on India- Pakistan: Confidence Building Measures was one of the first few books on the subject. Her areas of specialization are International Politics, Conflict Resolution & Peace, Non-Traditional Security, and South Asia.