Elections are just around the corner and the military has been summoned on the Election Day for deployment on the polling booths (ECP has already decided to deploy the army inside and outside the polling stations) to conduct the elections. The military is being deployed for the conduct of the very process that will win the politicians their seats and take them to the assemblies. If elections are conducted fairly and freely, the military together with the caretaker setup will get a thumbs up for doing a job well done. This would then be the closest that the military will get to politics, because the moment the new government takes over the great political question and the one that remains ever close to the heart of all politicians will resurface — how to distance the military from politics?
The military and its interference in politics have a history. But as the state becomes more and more democratic the question of the military’s role in politics should gradually be disappearing from the political landscape of the country. If politicians view the military and judge and evaluate its role and performance exclusively in a post- Musharraf era, it will do a great favour in creating the right and enabling political environment for civil-military relations to harmonise and eventually to be correctly analysed and re-addressed in this country.
What politics needs to do is to re-determine the role of the military in the light of the fast growing and evolving circumstances. Full disengagement of the military from politics will not be possible as long as the military continues to play its very vital and uncontested role in national defence. Samuel P Huntington while describing the theory of politics of civil-military relations in his book The Soldier and the State writes “a healthy society must preserve the autonomy of the military while simultaneously integrating it into an important decision-making role”.
If Pakistan as a country is confronted with a very challenging, uncertain and unique threat environment shouldn’t then the new government instead of contesting that the ‘military cede power’ create political awareness and political space for utilising the military in objectively integrating it in as Huntington’s advised ‘decision making role’? The new government must first set about clearly identifying — what is meant by the military’s withdrawal from politics? The armed forces in Pakistan for a foreseeable future will always remain associated with politics as long as they together with the politicians play a very demanding and exceptional role in national defence.
Nothing makes the ‘military bow’ to the supremacy of civilian authority in a more pronounced and self-evident way than the policy statements coming out at the end of a National Security Committee (NSC) meeting that is chaired by the head of the government and which has in attendance besides the top military leadership the leader of opposition and other important ministers. Politicians will have to rise above their ‘democratic and political egos’ to make the NSC the most important decision-making institution on matters of national security. How can then the civilian leadership complain of not owning and retaining national policy on security, internal and external affairs if the military is integrated into the decision-making process and the entire nation becomes a witness to the policy decisions being taken in such a forum. The NSC can also become the most relevant forum to debate ‘how much and how often does the military control the major policies of the state?’ And what are the direct or indirect military interventions in the civilian affairs that need to be controlled?
In essence, it is more an arrangement to ensure that the ‘ISPR and the civilian leadership tweets’ as means of expression take a back stage and brought in the forefront are the actual movers and shakers — the decision-makers who express the healthy civil-military relationship that speaks with one voice on matters of national security and interests. Politicians will have to show much-needed acumen of understanding the post-Musharaf military and viewing it as an institution not ‘interfering in civilian affairs’ but ‘participating in civilian affairs’. At the military’s end too, a study needs to be carried out to find out how it can also accommodate the vying young politicians of this generation to concurrently attend the ‘Command and Staff Course’ with the officers of the rank of majors in Quetta and also ‘War Course with the colonels and brigadiers in the National Defence University in Islamabad. This will enable our future politicians not only to have an insight in what the military culture and military warfare is all about but also the art of war and military expertise and responsibilities.
Also by participating in the war games that these institutions conduct the civilians may acquire firsthand knowledge of the military know-how that the ‘political masters’ must have when they occupy the seats of decision-making in the civil-military matters.
When viewing military professionalism the new government would also do well not to see its professionalism focusing only on national security but also on the ‘national development’. The military’s role is no more confined to external defence only. It has a ‘defined and extended’ role to play on the western frontier and as long as the tribal agencies are not fully and ably integrated both administratively and politically in K-P province, the military will have to be relied upon by politicians to continue to create that enabling environment without which such an integration will definitely encounter difficulties. The military can be best used as an institution capable of removing any obstacles that the functions of the new civilian government may face on the western frontier and the foreseeable merger. Instead of looking at the military as an interfering body in politics the new government would do well to look upon it as an agent of social and political change.
Some unpopular decisions taken by past civilian governments have badly affected the economy thus leaving a very unsatisfied populace and military too. Military interventions in politics never happen in a vacuum. The unpleasant military intervention in politics takes place only when some unsuccessful policy measures taken by the civilian authority hold very negative consequences for the country. So if there has to be an unrestricted and all powerful future return to the civilian rule then the new government when it takes over must create the right conditions of not only military participation in civilian affairs but also civilian participation in military affairs — call it both the ‘civilization of military’ and ‘militarisation of civilians’.
Only then can Pakistan start rebuilding and recreating the image of a state in which the civilians and military both are viewed as joint stakeholders in important decisions in the interest of the nation and the state.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2018.