Diagonal accountability and civilian oversight

Diagonal accountability and civilian oversight are further major components of comprehensive, multi-agency peace and SSR approaches. Under the auspices of IOs, local actors were anticipated to contribute to enhancing democratic civilian oversight by increasing diagonal accountability in two ways: directly, through empowering oversight institutions and governance structures (vertical accountability or oversight) and indirectly, through empowering citizens to exert accountability functions (horizontal accountability or oversight). The findings suggest that non-state actors’ role in establishing channels for holding the military accountable for its operations and impact represents rather an exception than the rule, with significant variation between the two types of contributions (direct and indirect).

First, non-state actors are found to have only a small impact on implementing or sustaining monitoring and oversight functions, in particular with regard to the institution of the military. They have the potential to play a third pillar role (and media, in particular English media, a fourth) in strengthening accountability of government institutions as well as constitutional and judiciary mechanisms (Interview Participant #37, Senior Academia Representative). But there is little concrete output in this regard, as the excerpts from the semi-structured interviews below suggest.

With regard to the first function, that of empowerment of oversight institutions and governance structures (direct contribution to accountability), NGOs describe their role as follows:

  • • ‘We emphasise the functions of state institutions. We have meetings with parliamentarians, we issue recommendations and remind them about the role of state. Sometimes we sit in front of the Punjab Assembly. This is people’s pressure on state’ (Interview Participant #22, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We have conversations with paramilitary or intelligence and ask them questions - moving interaction at personal level (...). We collect data, regularly publish data and compile reports’ (Interview Participant #31, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We work on enforced disappearances and we sometimes find that the military is at the other end. (...) We write complaints, reports or letters to DG Rangers, many times we do not hear back. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance was formed as a result of a litigation which our organisation took to the Supreme Court’ (Interview Participant #34, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We get reports of human rights violations from volunteers on the ground. After multiple checks, we try to intervene. For example, in case of honour killings, we contact local administrations, province governor, our head office (...) might issue a statement. We report instances of human rights abuses on a daily basis, we compile reports for national and international authorities. (...) In FATA, we work with volunteers - FATA is a conflict zone. People have been killed. Volunteer members of our organisation have been killed in FATA. We lost two members. Journalists have been killed. By terrorists, Taliban. Due to general security concerns, nobody can open an office in FATA. (...) We present reports at international forums. When the government goes to the UN/Geneva, and says everything is great in Balochistan, we present our perspective and analysis’ (Interview Participant #38, Senior CSOs Representative).
  • • ‘We collect data related to security in Pakistan, e.g. attacks, drone strikes, we established a database. (...) We also study madrassa and radicalisation. (...) We verify our info. For example, once there was a report about a militant who beheaded a police[man] in Swat, we revealed that it was a personal dispute, the attacker was a police officer, disguised in militant trying to mislead. With our database, we try to offer an independent source of information to ISPR-released data’ (Interview Participant #39, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘There was a project in Peshawar on good governance. Previously, people were not given access to service, to FIR. But these two laws, one was in 2013 and one in 2014, our project was to do advocacy among masses to use these laws to get information. The idea was that if people get access to information and services, this could improve the environment. For that, we worked with commissioners directly, they were invited. First, in the planning phase and then during the project as well. We used their material, because they already had some material, so we built on it. We had manuals and trained public officers. If you are a government institution, any institution, you should have a person who would be PO (public officer). So, we trained these officers from all institutions, e.g. hospitals in Charsadda and in another locality in KP. They were motivating us that we should go with them to the streets, to the community’ (Interview Participant #4, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘It was a bit challenging to engage the police. But we were surprised by the way they welcomed us. The Inspector General of Police, they have to nominate. The police directed the trainings. They have nominated police officials from different police stations for training. They have attended seminars, they spoke on some occasions and then they were ready to move forward and include those provisions into their regular police training unit. We are unfortunate that funding is a big challenge. In the second phase, we had to say, there is no more funding. Later we worked with the local government’ (Interview Participant #4, Senior CSO Representative).

Through the projects promoting good governance, a few organisations were found to conduct training of public officers, police and government officials to empower them to exert their mandate in a more effective way. The training of commissioners and police officers in Peshawar constitutes a good example of how NGOs can contribute to the effective implementation of laws, enabling citizens to access public services, e.g. through the preparation of a First Information Report (FIR). The role of local actors in the establishment of oversight institutions, such as the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, constitutes another example of non-state actors’ role in diagonal accountability. Supplying institutions with research-based key items of information and interaction with representatives of relevant institutions can boost authorities’ expertise and understanding of central dimensions related to democratic accountability and oversight. Furthermore, internationalising certain salient issues by bringing them to the attention of international oversight fora can also put pressure on public institutions to exert their functions in a more efficient manner. While these observations may suggest that NGOs can strengthen accountability and oversight capacity of civilian institutions in hybrid orders, this finding needs to be relativized in the context of the public perception vis-a-vis NGOs’ role in institutional empowerment and political development. One respondent emphasised that such impact by non-governmental associations is rare: ‘Few CSOs, such as [anonymised] and some journalists have been raising the issue of military support for Taliban openly’ (Interview Participant #32, Senior Media Representative).

Non-state organisations could have a positive impact on improving accountability of state institutions and empower them to exert civilian oversight of the military, but only few have this capacity. Democratic civil-military relations and the concept of democratic oversight are relatively new standards in Pakistan, which are rarely approached in a purposeful manner by NGOs. Along the history, only few organisations have proved capacity to exert efficient accountability and monitoring functions. Via media engagement but also bilateral meetings, intellectuals and staff members affiliated with non-governmental associations fuelled the debate around national security strategies, counterterrorism policy and enforced disappearances. Media reports and public information campaigns or rallies were found to represent the main instruments to signalise, condemn or comment on actions of the military, inter alia, alleged human rights violations, enforced disappearances, the efficiency of security operations or military strategy. In a rare example of activities supporting the process of civilian oversight, one think tank was found to issue regular assessments, policy briefs and background research papers on the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan since 2008.

Second, civil society groups were anticipated to increase diagonal accountability by fostering the development of a participatory democratic culture. “[CJitizens learn citizenship partly through public-spirited activity and partly through bringing their experiences to bear on the consideration of public questions in open debate” (Alexander et al. 1999: 454). By contributing to informed public opinion debates and increasing citizens’ capability to develop a critical opinion and exert accountability, civil society groups were anticipated to strengthen diagonal accountability. NGOs explained their role in diagonal accountability at a micro-level (indirectly) as follows:

  • • ‘We attempt to change perceptions at grassroots levels by bringing people together, e.g. through family exchanges’ (Interview Participant #24, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We organise activities aiming at promoting positive understanding, peace, harmony between people of different religions, women empowerment and conduct vocational trainings and programmes for children and youth. We work in all provinces, except FATA’ (Interview Participant #25, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘Civil society organisations’ role is to build awareness that security can also be the responsibility of civilian institutions, e.g. the police, and build trust between civilian institutions and citizens. We try to build awareness about police reform in KP via radio programme, community meetings, disseminating information. After radio/community meeting, we engage with the media’ (Interview Participant #9, Senior NGO Representatives).
  • • ‘We focus on mobilising and educating youth against terrorism, we provide legal support in domestic violence for women, interreligious harmony. We operate in Sargodha, Hyderabad, Multan, Sahewal, Lahore. (...) We try to create awareness’ (Interview Participant #31, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We worked with madrassas, there are 20-30 madrassas, many students attending - their number is less than the students studying in private and public schools. But their influence in society is quite huge - because they are ‘custodians of religion’ and Pakistan is a religious country. (...) We ran a number of programmes for madrassa teachers. We trained 10,000 madrassas leaders so far. Our impact was limited (...), we realised that we cannot institutionalise the change without the support of the state. We tried to connect with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, (...) but madrassas opposed interference from the government’ (Interview Participant #36, Senior NGO Representative).
  • • ‘We work on humanitarian issues in FATA and KP: education, livelihood and protection, child protection and gender-based violence’ (Interview Participant #41, Senior NGO Representative).

At a micro-level, CSOs believe that they can strengthen citizens’ capacity to exert accountability and oversight through the activities aimed at changing perceptions towards positive understandings of peace and human security, empowerment of key participants such as women and children (next generation) and general empowerment of citizens through providing basic needs. In addition, one of the respondents mentioned the objective of her organisation to increase trust between civilian institutions and citizens, and build awareness about civilian institutions’ role as security providers. These observations suggest that non-state actors believe that they can play a relatively successful role in building public opinion and empowering citizens to exert their accountability functions. This finding is supported by the answers from several military, academia and media respondents:

  • • ‘NGOs have been successful in building public opinion’ (Interview Participant #32, Senior Media Representative).
  • • ‘Because without civil society’s assistance one cannot counter the terrorism. Is a significant element. The government can destroy the terrorist.

They can kill them. But government alone cannot destroy terrorism. And for this you need the assistance of civil society. (...) CSOs are constructively helping us in conflict management, there is another civil society which are religiously radicalised and using this tool to radicalise’ (Interview Participant #39, Senior Academia Representative).

  • • ‘CSOs can play a role in developing a counter narrative. In 2014, civil society was vocal against the Taliban and in rejecting extremism. (...) A common narrative against extremism and radicalisation is there. (...) Military operations (...) are something timely. There are phases when you have to consolidate. Consolidation (...) requires the soft approach in order to change the mindsets. Here comes the role of civil society (...). There is also a role in the government, if the government supports civil society. Consolidation is needed to make the gains made by the army lasting. Campaigns of awareness are needed, education is important’ (Interview Participant #15, Senior Military Representative).
  • • ‘CSOs are successful in talking about religious tolerance, openness. Civil society and NGOs have an impact, e.g. in promoting freedom of expression, they have been successful in changing. (...) Talking liberal things is difficult’ (Interview Participant #48, Senior Military Representative).

Civil society groups can be argued to play a role in empowering citizens to exert their accountability functions, in building democratic public opinions and counternarratives to terrorism, and in addressing religious intolerance, which is a root cause of terrorism. One retired military respondent highlighted the necessity for complementarity between military security operations and NGOs’ potential to consolidate security and peace through reconciliation and the development of a democratic political culture. The civil society’s role in expanding freedom of expression, promoting religious tolerance and changing mindsets was also emphasised, while the difficulty of talking about ‘liberal’ values in insecure and conservative societies was simultaneously acknowledged.

The data provided in this sub-section route us to an intriguing conclusion in relation to non-states’ role in diagonal accountability. While CSOs aspire to the role of a third pillar in the state, after government and military, their impact in providing direct diagonal accountability or civilian oversight in the traditional understanding of monitoring and sanctioning the military is very little. Only one organisation in the analysed sample was found to be able to engage with the military and directly complaint about human rights violations. Institutions such as the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, set up thanks to the work of some NGOs, were found to be weak and non-independent. Very few organisations were found to train officials and workers in civilian state institutions, including police, and provide them with an element of empowerment. This is still far from democratic oversight or exerting sanctioning functions when the military exceeds its constitutional mandate. The research on key developments such as the state of civil-military relations, root causes of insecurity and violence represent one way through which NGOs can increase institutional capacity, indirectly. Local actors were found to be much more successful in awareness building and creating a participatory democratic political culture. Via awareness campaigns, advocacy and media engagement, NGOs were perceived to have contributed to empowering citizens by changing their perceptions towards more democratic governance and positive understandings of peace. Empowerment of key participants, such as women and children, and general empowerment through providing basic needs and thus foster citizens’ development are, in addition to knowledge-production through awareness building, sine qua non for the development of a democratic political culture of oversight. A democratic political culture is an important determinant of democratisation of civil-military relations and security governance. Depending on the political culture of citizens, institutions or political parties, the military will be allowed to intervene or not. A democratic political culture can empower citizens and institutions to internalise certain redlines in relation to the military’s intervention in politics. While the level of domestic political culture is still not sufficiently high to impel full accountability of the military and civilian control, it is estimated to have reached a level in which direct military rule and governance are not accepted or tolerated. This, in turn, puts pressure on the military to adapt and find new ways to enhance political autonomy.

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