Social Change and Security Imperatives: Challenges for Leadership and Democratic Governance in Pakistan

July 15, 2015

Conference Report

Dr. Saeed Shafqat

The Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG), Forman Christian College organized an international conference in collaboration with the Embassy of France in Pakistan on 12-13 December 2013. The conference theme “Social Change and Security Imperatives: Challenges for Leadership and Democratic Governance in Pakistan” aimed to explore key drivers and issues of social change in Pakistan. It brought together a variety of academics and researchers from around the world who presented research papers on a variety of issues afflicting Pakistan today. The presentations were followed by detailed question and answer sessions, which gave the audience an opportunity to directly engage with the presenters. The conference was very well received, with a better than expected turnout on both days (between 50-70 participants in different sessions) and obtained positive feedback from the participants and attendees.

Inaugural Session:

The conference was inaugurated by Professor Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development & Reform/Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission of Pakistan. The inauguration was also attended by Ms. Martine Herlem Hamidi, Counselor for Cooperation & Cultural Affairs, Mr. Gilles Angles, Attaché de Cooperation, Embassy of France in Pakistan; and Dr. James Tebbe, Rector FC College.

Dr. Shafqat, Professor and Director, CPPG initiated the proceedings by welcoming and thanking all the participants, the chair, and the French Embassy. In his opening remarks, Dr. Shafqat pointed out that the theme of this conference was timely and meaningful as it offered us “an opportunity to ask why violence, civil strife and varying varieties of insurgencies are on the rise in Pakistan and Greater South Asia and peace and social justice remains a distant goal”. He expressed that “the diversity of language, religion and ethnicity makes Pakistan one of the most dynamic societies and yet increasingly the fabric of this society is being torn apart by escalation in violence; religious militancy; street protests and loss of faith in government; and rise in the number of ungovernable spaces. Thus causing erosion of the glue that holds communities and makes societies resilient and sustainable. Pursing democratic governance in Pakistan demands imagining a culture of peace, and that implies dismantling, disrupting and destroying the nexus of poverty, social injustice and economic inequities.”

Dr. Tebbe, Rector, FCC, welcoming the participants, applauded the conference organizers, particularly extending facilitations to the French embassy for sponsoring the conference saying that he believed that the two days (of the conference) could be “formative in setting the thinking in this very important area of study”. Dr. Tebbe took the audience briefly through the history of FC College, and the yearlong 150 years of celebrations underway at the college. He underscored the commitment FCC had in promoting more events like the conference saying that “the value that comes with scholarship from around the world knows no bounds and is a launch pad for so many important things”.

“Pursing democratic governance in Pakistan demands imagining a culture of peace, and that implies dismantling, disrupting and destroying the nexus of poverty, social injustice and economic inequities.”

Ms. Martine Harlem Hamidi, expressed that the Embassy of France in Pakistan was pleased to support the conference. She felt that the strong interest displayed in the conference was a very positive sign. Ms. Hamidi perceptively remarked that “the main issue is to increase positive change by all means; we all have to bear in mind that only Pakistani actors can make real improvements”.

Professor Ahsan Iqbal congratulated the FC College on its 150 year anniversary. He reiterated the importance of events such as the conference in developing solutions facing the world today. Speaking of the pace of change, he said that human civilization was witnessing an unprecedented speed of change and must adapt to survive. He said that “it is Information which is becoming the new driver of wealth creation, the new driver of progress and prosperity for nations, and all paradigms of (the) past have to be revisited and redone”. He reminded the participants, “This is a moment to reflect and have a new look at myriad of problems with new eyes because the solutions from the past will no longer work.” Pakistan, he claimed had finally chosen a way forward and now we were moving in a positive direction after 65 years. While concluding his thoughts, he remarked, “The year 2013 is a milestone in Pakistan’s history because five important transitions have taken place in an orderly and constitutional manner – one Speaker handed over charge to another Speaker, one Prime Minister handed over charge to another Prime Minister, one President handed over charge to another President, one Army Chief handed over charge to another Army Chief, and one Chief Justice handed over charge to another Chief Justice”.

Session I: Security Imperative including relations with US,China, India, Afghanistan & other regional actors.

The session was chaired by Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, former Ambassador, Foreign Service of Pakistan, Islamabad. The speakers included Dr. Jean-Luc Racine, Professor & Emeritus Senior CNRS Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, Paris, France who presented a paper titled Pakistan’s regional environment: A security challenge, or an opportunity for change; M. Ehsan Zia, CEO, Tadbeer Consulting Inc., Afghanistan who presented paper titled US withdrawal & prospect of security & economic development in Afghanistan and Dr. Ijaz Khan, Professor, Department of IR, University of Peshawar, Pakistan who presented a paper titled Security imperative and regional environment.

The first session of the conference dealt with security imperatives for Pakistan in the context of its regional environment. Professor Racine discussed the ‘challenge’ of Pakistan’s regional environment, and whether that challenge could instead be viewed as a potential for change, particularly in the context of Pakistan’s relationship with India. Professor Racine formulated his argument around the critical question of whether the new civilian and military leaderships could be expected to make the best of the current circumstances, or will turmoil in Afghanistan contort both tensions within Pakistan, and the new “great game” rationale at the macro-regional level? He referred to the centrality of Pakistan’s ‘India-centrism’ and consequent focus on security in defining the country‘s regional strategy. He also drew attention to the fact that for the new democratically elected PML- N government in power, the economy looms large on the agenda. To meet these challenges, according to him, mending the relationship with India will remain central.

Then, Ehsan Zia discussed the transition of Afghanistan post the US withdrawal and the presidential elections in 2014. He briefly covered three interrelated aspects of this transition: security, political and economic; and their regional dynamics. He elaborated the progress Afghanistan had made in the past four years on all three fronts, and compared the country with where it stood 12 years ago. He also identified gaps and weaknesses which could hinder the transition process, such as corruption which continued to be a key challenge to governance. He was emphatic in underscoring that all three aspects of the transition were equally important for a successful transition, and needed a continuation of regional and international support.

Dr. Ijaz Khan discussed the issue of regional integration from the perspective of security imperatives of four key players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Iran. Using Barry Buzan’s ‘Regional Complex Security Theory’ (RCST), Dr. Khan postulated that the security policies of each player were intertwined to such an extent that the study of security policy of one could not be done without studying the remaining three. He categorized the security challenges of the region in four levels: “the domestic vulnerability of the states; state to state relations; the region’s interaction with neighboring regions; and the role of global powers in the region”. Concluding his argument, Khan highlighted the need for regional cooperation in a security environment, as no one country could meet the ongoing security challenges on its own.

Summing up the session, Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen remarked “All the countries (in the region) have to keep on talking with each other”. She continued “the most crucial point would be economic integration, and that probably will change the dynamics of the region as a whole”. The session concluded with questions from the audience.

Session II: Leadership and Democracy

The session was chaired by Dr. Paula Newburg, Professor & Wilson Chair Fellow, University of Texas-Austin, USA. The speakers included Dr. Mohammad Waseem, Professor of Political Science, LUMS, Lahore, who presented a paper titled Leadership, democracy and governance in Pakistan; Sarwar Hussaini, Freelance Consultant from Afghanistan whose paper was titled Leadership and democracy, the experience of Afghanistan; Dr. Yaqoob Bangash, Assistant Professor & Chairman, Department of History, FC College, Lahore who presented a paper titled Flirtation or Commitment? Pakistan & its relationship with democracy; and Maira Hayat, Lecturer, University of Chicago, USA whose paper was titled How democracy spread(s) through dictatorship:revisiting the Indus Water Treaty, 1960.

“… two main power centers in Pakistan: one, a socially progressive but politically conservative middle class which serves as a constituency for military rule; and two, a socially conservative but politically progressive political class”

The first speaker of this session was Dr. Mohammad Waseem who analyzed the existing political environment in Pakistan, particularly democracy in the age of terrorism. His framework of analysis focused on what he described as two main power centers in Pakistan: one, a socially progressive but politically conservative middle class which serves as a constituency for military rule; and two, a socially conservative but politically progressive political class. In this context, he analyzed the role of three actors: one, the political leadership, those in government responsible for decision making and those in opposition struggling for staying afloat by raising issues and demanding change in policy; two, the potential of the current democratic dispensation to deliver stability and peace; and three, an analysis of the issues of government’s performance in two key areas of security against terrorist activities in FATA, Karachi and Baluchistan, and of economy with a focus on electricity. He cryptically characterized the 2013 elections as being “up by design, and low by performance”, saying that great procedural improvements were made in the process of conducting elections but the implementation was lacking.

“… with employment intensity of growth remaining the same, another 22 million young unemployed people will emerge by the year 2024.”

Dr. Bangash’s paper dealt with the turbulent relationship Pakistan has always had with democracy. He argued that this “ambivalent attitude towards democracy has been around since day one” and was not an acquired phenomenon but rather a factor since the creation of Pakistan. Beyond the usual explanations of weak political leadership and the power of the military, Dr. Bangash asked the question whether there was something in the imagination of the country which prevented it from keeping on the path of democracy? He then focused on “understanding the imagination of Pakistan as a country post 1947”, and using the debates of the Constituent Assembly as the primary resource to “analyze what these constitution makers really thought”. Analyzing the content of speeches of these constituent assembly members, his work examined the attitude of the governing class, the role of religion and religious discourse, and the understanding of the common man towards the subject of democracy.

Sarwar Hussaini dealt with the issue of Afghan transition post US withdrawal in 2014, focusing on political leadership. His period of analysis started from 2001 to the current time and could be “best described as a transition period going from chaos and war to democracy”. He spoke of the two major external factors in Afghanistan – international presence and the proxy wars which had “at times served as limiting factors, and at other times served as boosting factors for democracy”. He also highlighted some of the achievements over the past 12 years such as the progress made in the field of human rights, and development in democratic processes such as elections and other relevant systems. He listed some of the failures and challenges that would be critical going forward including “a highly centralized presidency system, limited space for political party role, widespread corruption, a justice system which continues to act as subservient of the executive branch, and widespread fraud as reported in the past elections”.’

“… under the right set of conditions, entrepreneurship had a great deal to offer Pakistan as a viable economic strategy.”

Maira Hayat was the last speaker of the session. Her paper took the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 as the point of entry for an examination of decision-making under military rule. The basic premise behind her paper was that “there is something to be said for the materiality of water in politics. It illuminates the failures of political projects and their perceived successes, or how natural the political is”. In relation to security, she said “disagreements over what constitutes a threat to security become clear when seen through water. They change as water flows from east to west, from north to south. It has historical value too for allowing a view into the making of 1971. That is a conversation, post-1971, that Pakistan has been unwilling and unable to have”.

Concluding the session, Dr. Paula Newberg congratulated the speakers for a diverse and rich discourse. She observed that the presentations held the promise of democracy in Pakistan and articulated the challenges that confront it. The session was followed by lively comments and questions. One of the participants remarked that holding of regular, fair and transparent elections would ensure democracy in the country.

Session III: Social Change: How interplay of technology & religion is changing culture & values

The session was chaired by Dr. Sabhia Syed, Director, Migration Research Centre, Islamabad, Pakistan. The speakers included, Dr. Mariam Abu Zahab, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Oriental Languages, Paris, France whose paper was titled Urbanization & radicalization: the construction of the “other”; Afiya S. Zia, an independent feminist researcher & activist from Karachi, Pakistan who read a paper on Religious militancy & liberal-secular resistance in Pakistan: Myths, misunderstanding & misinformation; Charles Ramsey, Executive Assistant to the Rector, FC College, Lahore whose paper was titled Globalization, media and religious discourse in Pakistan; and lastly Raheem ul Haque, Senior Research Fellow, CPPG, FC College, Lahore who paper was titled Face book as new public space for youth in Pakistan.

The first session of Day II of the conference was initiated by Dr. Mariam Abu Zahab, whose work deals with increasing intolerance of religious diversity and the construction of the “other” on the basis of religious dogma. In Pakistan, she formulated the rise in religiosity and radicalization in the context of massive, unplanned and often forced urbanization. In order to understand the growing intolerance of religious diversity, she exemplified the anti-Shia sentiments in the country. She observed, “the Shias are more and more designated by the media and the people as the ‘Shia minority’ and in the Pakistani context to designate Shias as a minority is a way of marginalizing them and excluding them from the Muslim community”. This “perception of Shias as a minority is a victory of sectarian discourse in the country” and was a disturbing discourse and trend. Zahab was upfront in stating that, “the government has been very slow in recognizing sectarianism as the core of security challenges faced by the country and no counter narrative has been elaborated by the main political parties”.

The next speaker was Afiya Zia, who analyzed and articulated how the narratives produced post 9/11 through “largely donor funded scholarship” had led to much misunderstanding and misinformation. She pointedly remarked that “such (post 9/11) trends have benefitted many including, not just handlers, NGOs and donors who have run many ineffective faith-based projects in the country but also, Pakistani-origin scholars in Western think-tanks and academia, who have benefitted from such a turn of interest and events”. She was forceful in arguing that there was too much focus on “external factors (in research) to our analytical detriment”. She continued, “there is little doubt that Pakistan has undergone political reframing over the last decade, and this is not just because of 9/11, but due to our own unresolved domestic civil military politics and religio-sociological upheaval, apart from the sub-national thrust that no one seems to want to discuss anymore”. She was robust and incisive in highlighting that squeezed in by all the competing narratives, the abstract concept of what was liberal and secular resistance in Pakistan had become inverted and identifiable in the form of NGO human rights activists, feminists, critical analysts and some sections of the media. This made for a convenient distraction from the structural challenges that prevented social transformation in the country.

“… until a new elite emerges and consolidates itself, it’s improbable that Pakistan will have any form of economic development.”

Charles Ramsey then followed up with his work, which dealt with religious discourse in the media, particularly television in Pakistan. He highlighted some key statistical trends in media usage in Pakistan, and argued that despite the proliferation of media outlets in Pakistan, the overall impact on religious discourse had been constricting rather than liberalizing. Ramsey used a theoretical framework to interpret statistical trends in media usage to assess how access to these voices had affected the social construction of knowledge, and its bifurcation in Western and non-Western. He articulated that the “media has brought discussion on the future of the Pakistani state in the public arena” and one of the central questions being asked in these discussions was “should we remain in this system or do we need to move into a really Islamic system?”

“… the government has been very slow in recognizing sectarianism as the core of security challenges faced by the country…”

The last speaker of the session was Raheem ul Haque who assessed whether Face book could be classified as a public sphere. The key questions that his exploratory research raised were: Whether Facebook was a representation of youth dominated space? Would this public space expand civic and pluralistic participatory engagement, or reinforce existing stereotypes, thus further hardening polarities? and lastly what would this competitive ideational arena suggest regarding the direction of religious and political discourse in Pakistan? Haque stated “I’m not arguing that Facebook as a medium or technology mediated discussion leads to segmentation across the board, but in conditions of anonymity, it does lead to segmentation and extremism of views across the board”. Further his analysis suggested that “deliberations within religion, given that religion is such a huge part of identity and messaging among the youth, becomes a prerequisite for any discussion towards public sphere in Pakistan”.

Dr. Sabhia Syed applauded the wide spectrum and depth of presentations. The question-answer session echoed concern on the increasing “Sunni-fication” of Pakistan.

Session IV: Elite transformations & Economic Development

The session was chaired by Mr. Javed Masood, a member of the Board of Advisors, CPPG, FC College, Lahore. The speakers included Dr. Tayyeb Shabbir, Professor of Finance, California State University & Wharton School, UPenn, whose paper was titled Entrepreneurship a Panacea for Pakistan: Challenge & opportunities in an elitist economy; Dr. Akbar Zaidi, Professor, Columbia University, New York, USA who read a paper on Elite transformation & failed economic development: the case of Pakistan; and Dr. Akmal Hussain, Distinguished Professor of Economic, FC College, Lahore whose paper was titled Demographic change, equitable development & the security challenge.

Dr. Tayyeb Shabbir started the session by discussing the idea of entrepreneurship as a panacea for economic development in Pakistan. He argued that under the right set of conditions, entrepreneurship had a great deal to offer Pakistan as a viable economic strategy. According to Shabbir, the three main impacts of entrepreneurship were that it was “pro-growth, pro-sustainability, pro-poverty alleviation”. He particularly focused on a critical analysis of: (a) connection between ‘youth bulge’ and domestic security (b) prospects of re-channeling remittances as sources of funds for entrepreneurship, (c) governance reforms that may be necessary to break the vicious cycle of failure and finally, (d) the promise of e-commerce and implied democratized access to the global market place as a possible antidote to elitism that marked Pakistan’s economy and social structure. He concluded by emphasizing the need for an “enabling environment and proper strategies for successful execution of a very promising opportunity” and looking beyond the simple hope that “the government will do it”.

Dr. Akbar Zaidi then provided an interesting analysis of Pakistan’s elite in the context of their role in development. He argued that as the elite in the country had “evolved and transformed over the past 60 years”, rather than playing a more developmentalist role as it once used to, the elite had “abandoned the pretense to ‘solve’ Pakistan’s development problems”. Zaidi asserted that “the role of elite that led to development, as it does in other countries, has completely been marginalized” and “until the new elite emerges and consolidates itself, it’s improbable that Pakistan will have any form of economic development”.

Dr. Akmal Hussain was the last speaker of the session. He discussed equitable development as a means for a potential solution to Pakistan’s security and growth challenges. Hussain started with some preliminary growth projections for Pakistan in the next decade, saying that even in the most optimistic scenario, “with employment intensity of growth remaining the same, another 22 million young unemployed people will emerge by the year 2024”. He suggested that Pakistan needed to get on to a new trajectory of livelihood intensive and sustained high economic growth. He analyzed the role of social enterprises and of giving more ownership to the poor in the process of development. Thus articulating a new approach, whereby higher and sustained growth could be achieved by giving access to the middle classes and poor of productive assets, skills, quality education and health within a framework of broad based competition. With this approach, a higher GDP growth could be achieved through equity. He concluded, “by restructuring the growth process so as to make it more equitable, equity can become a means to a much higher and sustained growth.”

Javed Masood, while concluding the session provided a comprehensive overview of development challenges confronting Pakistan and gleaned through some of the options that decision makers could consider.

Session V: Governance and Terrorism

The last session of the conference was chaired by Prof. Sajjad Naseer, Professor, Political Science, Lahore School of Economics, Lahore. The speakers included Dr. Manzar Zaidi, Advisor to UK High Commission in Pakistan, Lahore, whose paper was titled Challenges & opportunities for designing a counter-terrorism policy; Mr. Amir Rana, Director, Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), Islamabad, who presented a paper titled In search of a Counter-Terrorism Policy; Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent researcher from Islamabad whose paper was titled Terrorism in a Fragile Limited Access State; and lastly Mr. Raza Rumi, Senior Research Fellow, Jinnah Institute, Islamabad who presented the paper Governance Failures and Terrorism. The session dealt with what were arguably Pakistan’s biggest current challenges – terrorism and governance. Zaidi started the session by discounting the relationship between terrorism and governance as a “simple inverse” one. Instead, he described the nature of the relationship between democracy, governance and terrorism as triangular, while suggesting the need for context in developing a counter terrorism strategy. Zaidi argued that the poor regulatory quality of the state and the socio economic crisis greatly impacted Pakistan’s quest for security, by providing declining rational choices for the state to act upon. He further argued that the current dialogue or negotiation process between the state and non-state actors had been “little more than cosmetic”. In conclusion, he remarked that, “the intelligence led policing model in which we strengthen our police structures to better combat terrorism has been lacking”.

 Amir Rana then analyzed Pakistan’s attempts to develop a counter-terrorism strategy, particularly since the 2013 elections. He highlighted that “the major flaw of connectivity” with a broader counter terrorism strategy continued to persist in the approach of the government towards terrorism. He asserted that the security challenges facing the country would not go away simply because of isolated responses here and there. Instead, a comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategy was required to connect these responses. He particularly emphasized the importance of an informed public opinion, which was badly needed to counter critical threats and concluded by saying that both the state and society needed to combine their strengths to impinge on the ideological and political domain of the extremists.

Ayesha Siddiqa’s presentation diverged from the previous two speakers as she ventured to analyze the “why” behind terrorism in Pakistan. Her thesis went beyond issues such as bad governance, poverty and underdevelopment and looked at the nature of state to answer the question of what caused terrorism. Her main argument was that terrorism was intrinsic to the nature of states that failed to maintain monopoly over violence, because this was the tool through which elite interests were negotiated or elite formations were done. She described and projected Pakistan as a fragile limited access order where violence was essential for gaining greater influence, which in turn, was critical to elite interests.

“… terrorism was intrinsic to the nature of states that failed to maintain monopoly over violence, because this was the tool through which elite interests were negotiated or elite formations were done.”

The last speaker of the conference was Raza Rumi who analyzed governance failures and terrorism in Pakistan. He built his argument around the “governance-terrorism nexus” by highlighting that currently 50% of Pakistan’s territory constituted ungoverned spaces. Formal institutions were on decline and informal institutions controlled by insurgents, rebels and terror outfits were on the rise. In terms of what needed to be done going forward, he categorized his recommendations in medium and long term. In the medium term, the state: needed to develop a comprehensive national counterterrorism policy and empower its owner, NACTA; develop coordination among intelligence agencies; conduct sub-national reform of the criminal justice system; and constitute an empowered local government. In the long term, there was a need to rethink citizenship in FATA and Baluchistan; address the issues of ungoverned spaces in the country; and enhance parliamentary input into the policy process. Concluding the session, Professor Sajjad Naseer synchronized the diverse views on governance and security, and observed that the presenters and their research had shown a new direction in tackling these issues.


The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion among panelists to obtain final comments and thoughts on the conference. Dr. Paula Newberg candidly remarked that the conference sessions had been very rich, robust with respectful discussion, and the tone of narrative was constructive. Some of the questions raised and discussed by the panelists for future discourse were: “What is the direction of nationalism in Pakistan? What do we imagine citizenship to look like? How do different factors affect different regions? What can be done to address the increasing regional/district wise variation? Was the conference sufficiently interdisciplinary? Could some of these issues be combined for more in depth analysis? How does one create a balance between prescriptive and academic research?” These issues were discussed during the roundtable and diversity of views was noteworthy.

“… both the state and society needed to combine their strengths to impinge on the ideological and political domain of the extremists.”


Overall, the first international conference organized by the CPPG was a much appreciated and successful event. The turnout was significant, and the quality of discussion during the question answer sessions indicated an awareness of the issues under discussion, as well as the need for pertinent policy recommendations going forward. The conference was primarily an academic moot; however, during the discourse, emerged a broad consensus on a number of questions/themes that merit attention of academia, researchers, policy makers and the donor community:

  • The importance of Pakistan’s regional relationships was highlighted by a number of panelists, particularly in the context of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Two relationships in particular were considered critical: Pakistan and India; and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of the participants favored cooperative regional approach to security issues.
  • The question of identity continues to rouse passions among many in Pakistan. In a time of rapid globalization and rising nationalism, it has become even more important. How do Pakistanis define themselves? What are the challenges to their identity? Since the issue is pivotal, therefore, an inter-disciplinary conference focusing on the theme was strongly favored by the participants.
  • Pakistan has been witnessing growing intolerance of religious diversity, and many panelists termed it as “increased Sunni-fication” over the past decade. Most participants seemed to agree that the government has been slow in recognizing sectarianism as a critical security challenge confronting the country. A sizeable number of participants were of the view that the main political parties had been reluctant to develop a counter narrative. Academia, civil society, policy makers, political parties and their leadership were encouraged to band together and contribute towards developing a counter narrative.
  • The freedom of the media is still a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan. Constructive engagement with media (electronic and print) was considered essential for developing a broad-based and inclusive discourse on issues related to socio-economic development; particularly religion, personal freedoms, maintaining balance between security, democracy and political order, citizen rights and building an informed citizenry.