The joint resolution and after

Parliament must be careful in treading a course, and may take preliminary measures to shore up civil authority.


Basil Nabi Malik May 18, 2011

In the joint session of parliament on May 13, the army offered itself for accountability to parliament. Although this and the subsequent joint resolution of the parliament were historic in many respects, they must be analysed within the framework of the existing civil-military relationship.

The pre-resolution approach of the civilian government towards the military has revolved around the policy of ‘division of spheres’. Typically, civilian authorities believe that the optimal way to achieve equilibrium between institutions is by essentially leaving the military alone, while military officers consider any civilian intervention inappropriate. The incumbent government has seemingly ceded ground to the military in line with this concept.

However, the recent Abbottabad operation offers a unique opportunity to the civilian authorities. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the military came before parliament, acknowledged its supremacy, and put its fate in the latter’s hands. This would indicate, on the face of it at least, that the civilian authorities are presented with an opportunity to reclaim ceded ground.

In Pakistan, military subordination to civilian authorities is influenced by two significant factors: (1) The fusionist nature of a military regime, that is, the amalgamation of the military apparatus with other important players in society which results in a persistent perception of superiority; (2) and the lack of clear policies of the government which serve to make the military subordinate to civilian authority, as in a fully-functional democracy.

In regard to the first point, the perpetual presence of ‘pro-army intervention’ bureaucrats, technicians, and politicians serves to diminish the state’s capacity to protect its democratic credentials. However, if one were to somehow resolve this issue, another still remains. Even in a scenario where all political parties and national elite members resolve to make civilian authority paramount, there are differing world views as to how this is to be done.

Parliament must be careful in treading a course from here on in, and may want to take certain preliminary measures to shore up civil authority. Firstly, there must be dialogue between all political stakeholders so that political decision-making is not influenced by the military. Secondly, a substantial revision of the curricula of military colleges and high schools needs to be undertaken for the inculcation of greater respect for democratic processes. Thirdly, parliament would do well to introduce specific laws that govern the relationship of the military, and more specifically its intelligence branches, with civilian authorities.

Finally, elected civilian governments must decrease their reliance on the military and intelligence agencies to quell local disturbances. They should stop using agencies to keep an eye on political rivals for personal gain, and also carry out functions such as flood relief and so on, using civil authorities. This will decrease the possibility of further politicisation of the army’s role and would ultimately ensure that the military abides by the role that the Constitution has set for it.



Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2011.

COMMENTS (3)

Basil Nabi Malik | 10 years ago | Reply Please publish the previous comment containing the original article version. It would be much appreciated.
Basil Nabi Malik | 10 years ago | Reply The above article was unfortunately shortened due to a lack of space. The original article is as follows:- Accepting Surrender By Basil Nabi Malik In the joint session of Parliament on the 13th of May 2011, the army offered a token surrender before their elected representatives. Although the surrender and subsequent joint resolution of the Parliament was historical in many respects, it must be analyzed within the framework of the existing civil-military relationship in order to adjudge its impact. The pre-resolution approach of the civilian government towards the military has revolved around the policy of the ''division of spheres'. As per Claudio A. Fuentes, the concept is based on the notion of a tacit agreement between the civil and the military authorities as to the roles that each sector will perform. Typically, civilian authorities believe that the optimal way to achieve equilibrium between institutions is by essentially leaving the military alone, while military officers consider any civilian intervention inappropriate. The incumbent government has seemingly ceded ground to the military in line with this concept. A case in point would be the lack of scrutiny of previous and present military budgets in Parliament and the supposed ceding of foreign policy to the military authorities. In fact, the reservations of the military to certain provisions of the Kerry-Luger Bill, and the eventual back tracking of the civilian authorities in regard to supporting the same, indicate the contours of the said policy. Add to this the abortive attempt to put the notorious ISI under the Interior Ministry and it becomes clear that the civilian and military authorities had seemingly settled on a tacit agreement to insulate the military from civilian oversight. However, the recent Abottabad operation offers a unique opportunity to the civilian authorities. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the army authorities have come before Parliament, acknowledged its supremacy, and put its fate in their hands. Furthermore, by stating that it is for the Parliament to frame any policy in regard to foreign affairs or otherwise, the civilian authorities are presented with an opportunity to reclaim ceded ground. However, the same shall not be easy. In Pakistan, military subordination to civilian authorities is influenced by two significant factors: (1) the fusionist nature of a military regime, that is, the amalgamation of the military apparatus with other important players in society resulting in a persistent perception of superiority; (2)and the lack of clear policies of the government to subordinate the military to civilian authority. In regard to the former point, the perpetual presence of 'pro-army intervention' bureaucrats, technicians, and politicians has diminished the state's capacity to protect its democratic credentials. A case in point would be past members of the judiciary and the politics of parties such as the PMLQ, the MQM and the rightest parties. These have been traditionally viewed as the proxies of the army in politics, who protect any and all institutional manipulations undertaken by military dictators via a Parliamentary rubber stamp or a judicial seal of approval. However, if one were to somehow resolve these varying political considerations, there still remains another issue. Even in a scenario where all political parties and national elite members resolve to subordinate the military to civilian authority, differing worldviews as to how the same can be accomplished may provide an adequate window of opportunity to the army to retain and reinforce its status within society. The example of Chile during and post Pinochet comes to mind when one considers this proposition. The 1980 Constitution of Chile had been heavily inclined towards the military, and it was in this environment that Aylwin assumed power, and executed a policy of 'formal subordination' towards the military. This policy embodied the government symbolically cementing its control over the military through various visual measures. For example, when a military officer didn't seek the authorization of the President to commence the first military parade after the onset of the era of democracy, the President used his Presidential veto to 'freeze' the career of the military officer. Subsequently when the Frei Administration subsequently took over from Aylwin, the former adopted the policy of 'engagement' with the military authorities, whereby compromises in accommodation of army interests were made for the longevity of the democratic system. Both Aylwin and Frei attempted to subordinate the army to civil authority, albeit through different techniques. This resulted in a lack of cohesion and unity amongst those forces who wanted civilian supremacy, thereby allowing military officials to use backdoor and unofficial channels to retain control over political decision making within Chile. Hence, the Parliament must be careful in treading a course from here on in, and in pursuance of the same, may take certain preliminary measures to shore up civil authority. Firstly, there must be dialogue between all political stakeholders to deny the army space to influence political decision making. Secondly, a substantial revision of the curricula of military colleges and high schools needs to be undertaken for the inculcation of greater respect for the democratic processes. Thirdly, the Parliament would do well to introduce specific laws that govern the relationship of the army, and more specifically its intelligence branches, with civilians and civil authorities. Although the Constitution does subordinate the army to civil authorities, there is a need to elaborate upon those general provisions in law to crystallize each institution's role. Finally, the political governments must decrease their reliance on the military and intelligence agencies to quell local disturbances, keep an eye on rival political forces for personal gain, and carry out out functions, such as flood relief and victim rehabilitation, traditionally within the forte of civil authorities. This will decrease the possibility of further politicization of the army's role, and would ultimately ensure that the military is unable to gainfully encroach upon the domain of civilian governments. All in all, the post resolution era, along with great expectations, also brings to the forefront great risks. In the successful subordination of army officials to civil authority is the potential of civil governments to realize and strengthen their influence and domains of operation within Pakistan. On the other hand, a lack of will or intention to carry forward the current spat of momentum will certainly bring the Parliament into further disrepute, and serve to further reinforce the dominance of the military not only over politicians, but the Parliament itself.
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