The ambiguity of Authority has always been a ubiquitous concept in power dynamics throughout history. In the Middle Ages, political authority that overlapped and competed was the norm rather than the anomaly. The realms of the pope, emperor, prince, and lord occasionally overlapped and included intricate networks of conflicting control. John Gerard Ruggie describes the medieval form of governance as a “patchwork“ of incomplete and intertwined rights of governing that were “inextricably superimposed and tangled.” He describes the political framework of the Middle Ages as heteronomous, alluding to a “lattice-like network of authority relations.” There were sometimes conflicting claims to the same territory due to these overlapping, intertwined, and imperfect power structures.
Authority ambiguity relates to the inherent complexity and ambiguities about the foundations of authority, legitimacy, and decision-making in a particular setting. It acknowledges that there are many different types of authority, including organizational, ordered, competent, and social ones, and that the approbation and efficacy of these powers may be up for debate. It is essential first to comprehend the concept of sovereignty and then unpack the power ambiguity today.
We live in a post-modern age, which is well equipped with sovereignty, territorial integrity, and consolidated power structures; still, the concept of power ambiguity doesn’t seem to evacuate.
The difficulty: Multiplicity of actors in the power framework
Power is not discrete and exclusive; it remains in the ring of ambiguity, and this is due to the very concept of ‘Globalization’ in the modern world, which has exposed internal markets and internal societies to external/foreign markets/societies. Globalization has introduced several actors and stakeholders in the contemporary power framework. In the following section, I will discuss three tenets of globalization, which share power/influence power in the power structure, rendering the conception that territorially singular authority is a myth.
- Supranational Entities: EU
The power relations inside a nation might become significantly more ambiguous when supranational bodies are involved. Such organizations, such as regional groups or global institutions, have authority and decision-making capacity that cross international borders. Many examples of supranational entities, such as WTO, IMF, UN, etc., influence the traditional power structure.
Illustration: In 23 IMF programs to Pakistan, the International Monetary Fund has influenced Pakistan’s economic policy-making, resulting in fundamental changes and reforms. This impact has influenced the nation’s allocation of resources, budgetary policies, and fiscal choices. IMF’s liberalization policies and pressure on cutting subsidies have kept Pakistan in debt dependency.
Another example is Pakistan leaving the Commonwealth of Nations in 1972, for Pakistan desired to evade the patchwork of power and operate its foreign policy independently or free of any foreign power influence
Non-state actors have also rendered political authority ambiguous. Dramatic advances in communications, particularly the convergence of telecommunications and computers, have been a prime cause of NGOs’ increased number and importance. Some prominent NGOs are Amnesty International, Transparency International, and Greenpeace, all significant political authorities. These Non-Governmental Organizations, motivated by their goals and ideals, have an impact by standing up for the rights of underrepresented groups, offering knowledge in certain areas, enlisting the help of the general public, and addressing the gaps where authorities may fall short. On the one hand, NGOs promote effective policy making by putting inputs of research, advisory, and recommendations; on the other hand, the NGOs carry many controversies for running as vehicles of foreign influence in the country.
Illustration: In 2021, the Pakistani government under Imran Khan recognized and banned 18 International NGOs, accusing them of serving the interests of foreign nations through espionage and creating national disorder through public reach.
- Digitalization / Technology:
Social media and technology have created new opportunities for people to access and leverage power. Still, they have also led to ambiguity and uncertainty about who has power and how it is used. Social media and technology have led to the emergence of new power structures and actors. Tech companies, online communities, Artificial intelligence, and social media influencers have democratized media. All have contributed to this ambiguity. Arab Spring is a pertinent example of how social media can lead to power sharing and ambiguity in the country. Likewise, if we talk about technology, the power of non-state and foreign state actors has increased manifold. One pertinent example is Stuxnet, which evinced the role of a single tiny worm (cyber weapon technology) in threatening the power structure and influencing Iran’s national security.
Illustration: The election campaign of PTI in 2018 was run mainly through digital presence, which helped PTI to hold sway over people. Similarly, the recent May 9th violence in the country results from the excessive narrative building against the state’s formal institution (Military) through social media democratization.
It cannot be stated that power ambiguity can be eliminated from the traditional power frameworks. However, this ambiguity can be reduced by adopting a few changes, the recommendations of which are given below.
- Firstly, to tackle the overriding influence of supranational entities like the IMF, Pakistan must strengthen its domestic institutions, consolidate regional cooperation, and establish and fortify its lobbying in international forums by empowering advocacy networks and civil society.
- Secondly, as Pakistan’s founder, Quaid e Azam, stated, “A weak nation invites aggression and preys upon its vulnerabilities. Only through strength, unity, and unwavering determination can a nation safeguard its interests and ensure its sovereignty,” Pakistan needs to work on its internal stability by focusing on economic prowess and political stability so that less external power influences are inclined towards Pakistan.
- Thirdly, Pakistan should work on effective regulatory mechanisms for the operations of NGOs, trade unions, and civil society organizations to ensure that their activities synergize with the national interest and priorities.
- Lastly, Pakistan must tackle the post-truth environment in the country by fostering media and digital literacy and strengthening accountability for fake news/disinformation and public dialogue to deal with excessive power residing with people from media democratization.
Power is constantly interconnected and cannot be exclusive or isolated.
A return to neo-medievalism with “multifarious” power sources may be indicated by non-governmental and commercial international organizations, non-state actors, technology, and multilateralism. The concept of absolute power in a globalized world is naïve thinking; anarchy is ordered and diffused, and so is the power in the anarchical world. Therefore, it can be stated that the overlapping and ambiguity will continue to exist; nevertheless, the detriment of this patchwork can be subdued.
 “Imf: Tough Love: Pak Has Gone to IMF for Bailouts 23 Times in 75 Years – The Economic Times,” accessed May 31, 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/tough-love-pak-has-gone-to-imf-for-bailouts-23-times-in-75-years/articleshow/98247038.cms?from=mdr.
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The Writer is an IR scholar at the esteemed National Defence University, Islamabad. He is interested in Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, and new factors affecting Global World Politics, such as Climate change and Cyber security.