Is strategy the process of having priorities? If so who is more strategic — democratically-led civilian government or the military in Pakistan? The question of civil-military relations in the country is the question of who controls whom? Whereas the entire focus of civil-military leadership should have been to build up an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and collectivism but unfortunately such has not been the case.
The civilian leadership has been more inclined to pick and choose and appoint military chiefs more on the basis of their assessment on how politically loyal they will be to the ruling regime rather than their absolute and total professional competence and fitness for the job. Resultantly, not the senior-most serving military officer or the most professionally competent military commander was a choice candidate but instead the one who may be more inclined to take the civilian dictates always got the civilian nod of approval. That still didn’t work out and almost in all cases the military commander has always been more loyal to the state than to the government.
Every military officer is fortunate to read Clausewitz during the course of his military career and whereas the great German military thinker, philosopher and strategist sets the tone of the civil-military relationship right for anyone who reads and understands him, in Pakistan that is just not the case. When Clausewitz says that “political aims are the end and war is the means, and means can never be conceived without the ends,” he actually nullifies any strategy that falls short of achieving the political aims.
Pakistan has been at war since the debacle of 9/11 and the state of war warranted politicians and the military to be in close contact for continuation of a viable policy that was being carried forward by other means (war). What was required was a deliberate, shared, strong and civil-military participative time-barred policy that should have sought a political end (peace). This required a deep dive into the ‘ways and means analysis’ the questioning of the whys and hows about the strategy. Instead a military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, kept trying for eight long years to justify to the world that he is gradually allowing the civilians to run the affairs of the state without interference from the army. The democratic façade that he built up was like the house of cards and when the push came to shove in 2007 the lawyers’ movement ousted him from power much to the heart’s content of many politicians who willingly subscribed and participated in the Clausewitzian way of “employing an act of force to compel him to do their will,” and thus creating the right political landscape for return of democracy.
Since then, the Pakistan military has been doing its best to support and promote the consolidation of democracy in the country and in the process enabling the PPP civilian government — the 13th National Assembly — to complete its constitutional tenure of five years. Those who today talk about the interference by the establishment and military conspiracies to oust them from power have actually not done justice to their own time in the office and they are more victims of their own lack of governance and missed opportunities, political mismanagement and corruption rather than any political marginalisation under the military’s influence. In the post 9/11 period, had both the military and civilian rulers engaged in a deeper and sustained relationship built on the attainment of jointly recognised and agreed upon national goals, the socio-political and security environment would not have been as tainted and stained as it is today.
The military in Pakistan always lacked the political understanding although it always retained the comprehensive professional competence, it never had the training, capability or capacity to govern. Resultantly, all military coups in Pakistan remained a huge drag on the development and growth of this country. Even if it did economically well under a dictator it did so in patches solely in a time period in which the external military aid and economic support was always forthcoming due to the national and geostrategic interests of the US and world donor agencies that worked under its influence and dictate. For the military, one lesson that stands in its coup tainted past is that its professional competence and its operational successes would mean little if they don’t extend and advance the political objectives. The military may continue to drive the policy under the ideological and geostrategic reasons and pressures but as long as such policies doesn’t gift us a favourable political end they will essentially remain the work of talented and gifted generals with their own ends, their own means and their own ways to seek the ends. Clausewitz publicised that the objectives of war are always political objectives and by that standard war must always be subservient to politics. If they have to be fought they should not be fought just for the sake of it or because they are imposed but only as an extension of politics.
The civilian leadership clearly thinks that it has to break the shackles, that it is enslaved to the military’s policy dictates and strategic vision and does not have the freedom to set new strategic goals. Our war efforts have suffered so far because our strategies have been incoherent and not a result of unified civil-military command. The military thinks that the civilian leadership lacks vision, while the civilians challenge the very authority and legitimacy of the military to continue to drive and shield important policy matters from the close scrutiny and debate that might result in the review of policies by the civilians.
Good things are happening though. The COAS, General Bajwa, has gone to the Senate to brief the senators and since the ouster of General Musharraf the military has given all the right signals that it wants to remain in an advisory role and a role in which it is subservient to the civilian authority. With the US clearly distancing itself from us, and under the growing clouds of uncertainty it is for the sake of this country that both the civilian and military leadership should give up the ways of the past and sit in a joint huddle to take the war effort forward. To do that there cannot be another appropriate forum but the National Security Council that should be revived and restored.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2018.