Command of the military

The ease with which General Stanley McChrystal was sacked should not allow us to shrug off the implications of his rebellion. McChrystal’s criticism of US civilian leadership is another cost of the Afghan war that America has to face- a clash between the military and the executive.

Hamna Zubair July 08, 2010


The ease with which General Stanley McChrystal was sacked should not allow us to shrug off the implications of his rebellion. McChrystal’s criticism of US civilian leadership is another cost of the Afghan war that America has to face- a clash between the military and the executive.

Unfortunately, a clash between these institutions is inevitable in the face of a security threat that has few tangible solutions. As commander of US forces in Afghanistan McChrystal undoubtedly understood the conflict’s ground realities better than civilian leaders. But the resources needed to wage the war McChrystal-style were not at his disposal. The tools the general needed had to be approved through slow bureaucratic procedures that a military man had little patience with. McChrystal was dissatisfied, and his contempt for the lazy civvies in the White House grew and grew, until it spilled over.

The scenario above could be describing Pakistan, where the military’s disdain for politicians is an open secret. This disdain is fuelled by both the government’s inefficiency and the military’s monopoly on the management of external and internal threats. Given Pakistan’s obsession with the ‘Indian threat’ and our long-term affair with Afghanistan, it’s easy to see why the military is an omniscient presence.

Consequently, in addition to strengthening our civilian leadership, we need to distance ourselves from imagined threats. As the threat of conventional war decreases the military should be scaled back, and internal security and counter-insurgency operations must be placed firmly in the government’s hands. India serves as an example to us in this regard. It has not used the military against the Maoists despite the threat the ‘insurgency’ poses. In India, the army is where it’s meant to be: at the border, and in the barracks.

The US, too, has put the army in its place for now. As Obama rightly said, institutions should be greater than individuals. However, the threat that insecurity and war pose to democracy cannot be dismissed either. Weak institutions are weakened further by instability, which is why Pakistan needs to turn its eye inwards. After all — all’s fair in war.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2010.

WRITTEN BY:
Hamna Zubair The writer is a sub-editor at the Express Tribune Magazine [email protected]
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (2)

Aftab Siddiqui | 10 years ago | Reply Very poor article/blog. Doesn't hold any ground of its own. I really don't understand what is the policy of express for such things. Simply quoting others and than misleading information shouldn't reach their esteemed paper. This will hurt their credibility. Today I;m asking myself that why should I follow tribune blog? Very soon many readers will the same question.
IZ | 10 years ago | Reply Hamna, you do not seem to have understood the nature of the criticisms McCrystal and his cronies were making. The "slow bureaucratic process" was not about approving the tools needed to get the job done, it was a decision-making process where Obama was trying to decide on what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan. McCrystal and other COINdinistas were insisting that an upgraded COIN effort could still weaken the Taliban enough while establishing control over urban centres for long enough to establish governance and use development projects, thereby building up the Afghan state enough so that it could take over the effort to fight the Taliban. Biden and others felt that the effort to impose a military solution would probably not work and that the military presence should be drawn down while stepping up drone strikes/surveillance to ensure Al Qaeda does not restablish itself in the parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. Obama took a while, but decided to go with the McCrystal plan. Your comparison to Pakistan does not really hold up. In Pakistan the military dominates strategic, and foreign policy. It decides who is our enemy, our friend, and what is to be done about them. Lastly your India example is not a good one. The army has not been used against the Maoists but it has been used in Kashmir. It has not merely remained consigned to the barracks, as you say.
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