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.
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