The role of war that Pakistani military has been asked to perform necessitates significant autonomy which means that it should not act in the civilian preferred way of ‘one more obedient bureaucracy’. Military commanders and their conduct and behaviour should not be viewed only through the lens of ‘civilian supremacy and authority’. When this is done harmonising the civil-military relations becomes the biggest causality. Both the PPP and the PML-N civilian governments (2008-2018) during their respective tenures have unnecessarily tried to subject military to conform to a ‘military subordination seeking strategy’. President Zardari reminded military of ‘how the conduct of politics remains infinite and those who conduct it (politicians) are there to stay permanently while the military commanders are servants of the state that only come and go’. Former PM Nawaz Sharif has been more harsh and aggressive and demonstrated through his actions and conducts that he would be more comfortable with a military commander who instead of giving him military advices should only ‘salute, obey and exit’.
George Washington, the first American president, famously remarked that, “A nation is judged by how well it treats its veterans.” The question and a burning one in Pakistan today is — How is the politics treating the soldiers and veterans in this country? Civil-military relation in Pakistan is not a bargain in which both the civil and military leadership already know what they will do for each other — given the abnormal circumstances the complex nature of threats and the resultant irregularity of the war that we fight, the relationship continuously evolves in an uncertain atmosphere. Civilian shortcomings, during the democracy decade (2008-2018) haven’t helped at all to improve the civil-military relations. The quality of the government during this period not only indicates how it affected quality of people’s lives but also showcases a civil-military relationship that has taken a negative trend.
The civilian alienation and the military estrangement during this period despite the military’s efforts to create, maintain and sustain the conditions for a new democratic start (post General Musharraf’s removal from power) have had devastating consequences for the state. Democracy progressed but democratisation suffered. Instead of consolidating the gains of democracy and concentrating on developing and building the national institutions the civilian leadership only built business profiting and ‘rent seeking’ roads, railways, housing societies and building infrastructures. If the civilian idea was to make Pakistan a modern state — it utterly failed. Without electricity and with ever-growing scarcity of water, lack of shelter, sanitation as well as education and healthcare both the civilian governments during the period 2008-2018 failed to significantly contribute towards the rise of the nation-state.
History tells us that wars have an odd way of bringing the civil and military leadership together in a close huddle. This closeness necessarily should mean an ideal civil-military understanding and an enabling union of conduct of war with the goal (political object) of war. But has this been the case in Pakistan? Military for almost the last two decades has been winning many battles and managing violence in a war, the nature of which is defined by tyranny, terror, horror, extermination and annihilation.
In this irregular war that the military fights, it is inspired, persuaded and guided by its own motivation and emotions and hardly ever by any political involvement and political control. If this war had a political objective the pursuance of it was least demonstrated by the requisite relationship between those that defined the policy (statesman) and those that commanded the forces (military commander). Carl Von Clausewitz’s core concept of war did not warrant only ‘unbound violence’ but ‘politics as a source of war’ and also as its ‘guiding principle’. Being the source of war and the guiding principle, politics in Pakistan has failed to consolidate the reward of the battles won and convert it into winning war. With the national economy hardly meeting basic needs, the country without a foreign minister for the last many years and the civil-military relations strained — politics stumbled and miscalculated and hardly strategised to win ‘war by other means’ as well. Ten years of democracy and what the country witnesses and experiences is continuous international isolation, international watch dogs sniffing possibilities of money laundering, terrorist financing and any other threats that this country might pose to the international finance system or international order. Viewed with suspicion the global community hardly appreciates and relishes our military fight and victory against terrorism — this leaves us to blame whom military, politics or both?
Since the American civil war for the last 160 years or so, the US consistently demonstrates the functioning of the civil-military relations as the ‘two hands on the sword concept’ — ‘the civilian hand determines when the sword is drawn and the military hand keeps it sharp and wields it in combat always guided by the purpose for which the war is being fought’. Whether it was president Abraham Lincoln and Gen Grant during the American civil war, president Franklin Roosevelt and Gen George Marshall during the Second World War, president Lyndon Johnson and Gen Williams Westmoreland during the Vietnam war, Gen MacArthur and president Truman during the Korean war, Gen Schwarzkopf and Gen Colin Powel with president Clinton and president Bush during the Iraq war or Gen McChrystal and Gen Patraeus with president Obama during the Afghan war — civil and military commanders always had their disagreements but there never ever developed a widening gap that could not be bridged. General Grant drank a lot but still won military victories and commanded the respect of his president. General Westmoreland employed the failed military strategy of ‘draining Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army of manpower and supplies through excessive bombardment’ a politically unsuccessful strategy yet the relationship with the president was maintained. Gen MacArthur committed the folly of advising the president to use nuclear weapons yet he was allowed to gracefully retire and fade away. Gen Schwarzkopf military plan was shot down for executing frontal assault on Kuwait and not catering to achieve the destruction of the three divisions of Saddam Husain’s Republican Guards still he led the war taking it to its successful culmination. General Patraeus was retired for having extramarital affair, Gen Stanley McChrystal’s disclosures to the Rolling Stone magazine cost him his job in Afghanistan.
In all these examples, politics never stumbled and political authority continued to course correct military commanders by providing coherent and overarching guidance to the military only because the politically shrewd statesmen were able and competent in not only setting and dictating policies but also commanding their military forces.
The war on terror that we fight is also not a small war. In fact it is more complex and more challenging. Politics in this country needs to rise else what good the military success will be if the politics and the country remain in a shambles.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2018.