How quickly we restore the civil-military balance depends on how far it is skewed. In any case, it is a matter more of perception than reality. It is also a fact that there is a historic relevance to the perception of a civil-military divide. The Ziaul Haq years are a bad episode in that they ended in the hanging of a popular politician. Yahya Khan’s short tenure of three years at the helm ultimately ended in the breaking of the country.
Two qualifiers, however, need to be added: one, in both instances, while military commanders led the respective governments, there were always politicians who lent them a shoulder, in some instances even guided policy. Both, Bhutto in 1970 and the PNA in 1977, foiled electoral victories of their opposing sides by aligning with the military and using them to usher unconstitutional disruptions. And two, what Yahya inherited was a poor political scene which under Ayub Khan had deteriorated to the point of fracturing the social fabric, sowing seeds of suspicion in either wing, against the other. In comparison, Musharraf was only a tactician and by default related to only what was then and there.
Societal conscience is another complex beast, particularly in Pakistan. With the majority illiterate, and of those who are counted literate only a very small crust sensitive to political nuance and the true meaning and benefit of democracy, military rules in Pakistan have generally been tolerated, even celebrated. Those who opposed them were politically sensitised to the Liberal Leftist tradition. Ever since the Left has in particular disappeared from an increasingly centric political evolution the Liberal tradition is now more social in form and less committed to an ideological basis. Anti-militarism, however, has transferred to this newer brand of social liberal, who generally constitute the educated elite. Two other factors mutually reinforce this anti-militarism. One, political wariness within the two mainstream political parties as a consequence of their historic experience to military’s control and military’s perceived capacity to influence policy denying them unrestrained control over state matters; and two, a vibrant and free media that has found root in popular perception both as a way of influencing opinion and formulating the narrative of public discourse.
This unmatched freedom to the media in formulating opinion has attracted this modernist, quasi liberal, relative elite to the freer medium helping shape a semblance in reaction to a popular concern of the military haughtiness to curb the civil-political scene. How far and wide does it truly reflect acclaim among the general populace makes it a suspect derivation, but what carries is that an increasing number of the nation engages itself with such discourse on the electronic media almost as a daily routine. The English Press in particular, widely followed abroad, remains a favourite haunt for the ‘liberalist’ opinion maker who is successful in generating a belief that a counter-military sentiment is a popular sentiment encouraging many from within and without to risk overstatement of the imbalance. It seems both, a geographically-displaced and a media-dependent Husain Haqqani, and a frustrated American administration, may have become victims of this deliberately infused impression. Haqqani was the over-primed example of present-day upper crust liberals, despite his initiation in the tradition of the political Right, and America was simply pursuing its short-term objectives to achieve its own interests. We, Pakistanis, are in turn left to deal with a mess.
This rather new engagement of the modernist and the media does not by itself institute a fresh paradigm of a civil-military divide, rather it reinforces the latent and historically entrenched reality of a civil-military competitive relationship. The truth at the functional level within the military is a lot different. No amount of time ever gets wasted on this frivolous notion of judging the civilian. The leadership, however, lends itself to an equanimous disinterest only if a few things at the very basic level seem to be going right — governance, of which law enforcement is an important facet, and economy, which if doing well gives a sense of the country being strong.
Undoubtedly, over the years the military is propounded to have shepherded Pakistan’s foreign policy too but that comes out of the vexed nature of Pakistan’s relationship with India as a historical precedent. For 34 years that military men have ruled Pakistan, the India policy may have been reinforced in its adversarial nature. However, some democratic governments, in the initial years especially, also help define such a relationship. Afghanistan is a more transient issue where actions by the military have tended to dictate the nature of this relationship.
What then is the issue? Pakistani state’s security orientation needs to change into a politically progressive economic one, and that is where the media-modernist nexus must focus. Such a change shall be incremental and manifest slowly weaning institutions away from their established ways.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2011.