Correcting the civil-military imbalance

Published: December 20, 2011
Email
This imbalance in power needs to be rectified immediately in the greater national and public interest since all state institutions need to be subservient to parliament. PHOTO: AFP

This imbalance in power needs to be rectified immediately in the greater national and public interest since all state institutions need to be subservient to parliament. PHOTO: AFP

In her capacity as the lawyer of former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, Asma Jahangir appears to be employing a public defence in the memogate case that has the virtue of being true: that her client, as a member of the civilian government, is being held to a higher standard than the military. On December 19, she said that ISI chief Shuja Pasha should have resigned after the May 2 Abbottabad raid, much as Haqqani did soon after the US confirmed the existence of Mansoor Ijaz’s infamous memo. This line of attack may not be enough to spare Haqqani should his role in the controversy ultimately be confirmed, but by bringing the matter to public attention, Jahangir is fighting the worthy cause of civilian supremacy.

If indeed it turns out that everything Mansoor Ijaz has said is true, then, along with Haqqani, Pasha, too, should be forced out of his job. According to Ijaz, Haqqani only began plotting against the military after the military first considered removing the government from power. In Ijaz’s leaked BBM exchanges, allegedly with Haqqani, he says that the ISI chief had sought permission from Arab leaders to force President Asif Zardari from office in the days after the May 2 raid. In theory at least, the military is supposed to be subservient to the elected government and so to seek foreign help to bring down that government is a gross violation of the Constitution. While hearing the case against Haqqani, the Supreme Court may want to expand its remit and look into these far more serious allegations too.

But as history has painfully taught us, the military does not tolerate outside accountability. For the government to have even a chance of fighting back, it needs the support of both the Supreme Court and the opposition parties. This is where the changing rhetoric of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has been such a disappointment. He has used the memogate controversy to fan the flames of public anger against Haqqani in particular and the government in general. What makes this even more disappointing is that Nawaz had been one of the more clear-eyed critics of the military. After May 2, he was one of the few politicians courageous enough to call for accountability for those in uniform. And indeed, as recently as December 19, Nawaz met with veteran Baloch nationalist leader Ataullah Mengal and agreed with Mengal’s accusations at a press conference, where he blamed the military for killing and suppressing the Baloch. It is noteworthy how the problems in Balochistan are being pinned almost entirely on the shoulders of the army, with nary a word against the civilian set-up. This is because the Baloch know, as does the rest of the country, that, elections aside, true power rests with the generals.

The Supreme Court, which has dogged the government as it does every time, seems less worried about the power of the military. Even though it has publicly disavowed the doctrine of necessity, which has been used to justify every coup in the country, the court has not pursued the military with the same verve it has shown in holding the government accountable. The same is true of the Abbottabad commission, which in its questioning of Haqqani and ambassador to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, seems likely to pin much of the blame for that fiasco on the government. General Kayani was fully on board when the NRO was first agreed upon by Musharraf and Benazir; it would now be ironic if that is what leads to further ruptures in civil-military relations.

It is also important not to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday politics to such an extent that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The military always escapes accountability but brings down all its force on civilians who have displeased it. This imbalance in power needs to be rectified immediately in the greater national and public interest since all state institutions need to be subservient to parliament and the executive led by an elected prime minister.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (14)

  • Mad-Paki
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:33AM

    Mr Haqqani wrote the memo or not doesnt change the fact that he was part of a scheme of thing which was designed to undermine military by involving a [hostile] foreign government. Therefore, the defence that Mr. Haqqani is being held to different standard doesnt hold ground. The fact that Mr. Haqqani failed to excercise better judgement and got involved in such prepostrous and hair brained scheme cannot be washed away by pointing fingures military’s faults.The whole idea of memo was so childish and ridicoulous that Americans roundedly ignored it. I think it speaks volume about Mr. Haqqani’s maturity and ability to conduct diplomacy. If Mr. Haqqani really wants to claim moral high ground and military on the spot then he should come forward accept the resposibility and appologise to people of Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Cautious
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:36AM

    Seeking for help to bring down an elected govt is worse than an elected govt seeking foreign help to protect it from a military that is seeking to overthrow it. Why most Pakistani’s can’t see this is frightening.

    Recommend

  • Mad-Paki
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:44AM

    Mr.Haqqani wrote the memo or he didnt, doesnt change the fact that he was part of a scheme things which was designed to undermine military leadership by involving a foreign government. Therefore the defence that Mr. Haqqani is being held to different standards doesnt hold any ground. The fact that he participated in a prepostrous and hair brained scheme that brought nothing but brought ridicule on Pakistan cannot be washed away by pointing fingers at military’s faults. The whole idea of writing a memo was so childish and immature that Americans roundedly ignore it. I think it speaks volume about Mr. Haqqani’s ability to make critical judgement and conduct diplomacy.Now if he really wants to claim moral high ground then he should come forward and accept resposibility and appologise to people of Pakistan.That is the only way he demonstrate that he is different from the Khakis.

    Recommend

  • Dec 21, 2011 - 12:49AM

    There is a significant difference between the allegations against Haqqani and those against the ISI.

    Ijaz claims he was personally in constant communication with Haqqani (of which he has the BBM’s to prove) which makes his allegations and statements more credible as well as verifiable (through verification of the details of the BBM’s he has – through the Telecom companies handling those electronic communications).

    The allegations against the ISI, however, are nothing more than hearsay at this point – no none has come forward to claim any credible and direct evidence or contact with Pasha to support the claims of ‘asking the Arabs to support a Military Coup’.

    One would expect the Pakistani commentators to realize these important distinctions between the two cases.

    Asma Jahangir is destroying any pretense of ‘objectivity’ with her calls for the DG ISI to resign (which he did in fact offer to do in the briefing to parliament). The DG ISI was not accused of ‘complicity in treason’ or any attempt to ‘underhandedly allow the US to raid Pakistan and kill OBL’

    Nor is the DG ISI responsible for air-defenses or the PAF response to any airspace violations – so on what basis can Ms. jehangir call for the DG ISI’s resignation?

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:51AM

    Like all previous SC decisions this PCO SC is not going to go against any general. In addition there are rumors that the Abbottabad Commission may not affirm the presence and killing of OBL on May 2nd. They are already wasting time and money by talking to many diplomats, political leaders and unrelated persons. They want to spread the blame from army to the govt.
    For the sake of argument even if some in govt were aware of OBL’s presence or US attack, what was our powerful and dreaded ISI doing? Too busy chasing people like Salim Shahzad and Baloch nationalists?
    Gen Zia, Gen Mush and likes did not rule Pakistan alone. The generals ruled as an institution and that is why there has not been a military coup against the army rule. Case in point is, when Mush fired CJ for corruption, his ISI chief Kayani was with him physically present with another general, who held the CJ for hours before they threw 60 judges with their families in detention. The media shamelessly talks about Zardari not re-instating the CJ rightaway but not who put his family in detention in the first place. It was not all Gen Mush alone, to say the least.

    Recommend

  • Dec 21, 2011 - 12:54AM

    ” all state institutions need to be subservient to parliament and the executive led by an elected prime minister.”

    That is a horrible suggestion – that would make the ‘Parliament’ untouchable.

    The Judiciary, law enforcement and accountability bureaus need to be ‘independent and autonomous’ to have any meaning and effectiveness.

    Parliament cannot be ‘untouchable’, it must be subject to checks and balances like the other institutions. If the President, Prime Minster, Ministers or legislators commit an unconstitutional or criminal act, law enforcement and the judiciary have every right to take these people to task, prosecute them and strip them of their positions if remaining in those positions means that the investigation will be compromised.

    Our FIA and IB are toothless and useless when it comes to fighting corruption and ensuring justice for all precisely because of the ‘supremacy of parliament over all institutions’. Law enforcement institutions such as the IB and FIA need to be removed from under the Interior Ministry, and put under a bipartisan committee in parliament, that is only responsible for electing the heads of these institutions, and cannot influence them or the individuals they appoint after that.

    Recommend

  • tauseef
    Dec 21, 2011 - 1:34AM

    The military always escapes accountability but brings down all its force on civilians who have “displeased it.” Who can disagree with it? :(

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Dec 21, 2011 - 1:41AM

    @Cautious:
    We are brought up with the stories of kings and sheiks not democratic values. We are still waiting for “one” who would lift our plight without us having to move or take any responsibility. It is the same way most Pakistanis refuse to see OBL and his harem in Pakistan. You are right, this denial of facts is the most scary thing about the future of Pakistan. Thanks and regards,
    Mirza

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Dec 21, 2011 - 3:36AM

    @Agnostic Muslim:
    “Parliament cannot be ‘untouchable’, it must be subject to checks and balances like the other institutions. “
    Parliament, in a Democracy, is not a cohesive body as is the Executive and Judiciary. Parliament has Opposition as its part which provides “check” if not always the “balance” by its very nature. It is the People who are the ultimate masters. In a situation where Executive rides roughshod on the Opposition due to numerical superiority, the corrective must come from the People. You are aware of the nationwide agitation against corruption in public life that is at present going on in India led by People under the leadership of Anna Hazaare. Let us see how Democracy (“the Will of the People) prevails in India.

    Recommend

  • Usman
    Dec 21, 2011 - 5:58AM

    To all ‘saviours of democracy’ I say this, the moment the Parliament improves its performance, the military will have no leverage over it, end of story. The Parliament itselfs gives the military grounds to subvert it by looting public money every time is has been given the opportunity. How can you blame the military for a problem that the Parliament has created?

    Recommend

  • vasan
    Dec 21, 2011 - 6:18AM

    “The military always escapes accountability but brings down all its force on civilians who have displeased it. This imbalance in power needs to be rectified immediately in the greater national and public interest”
    This is more important than whether Pasha should resign or Haqqani should resign.
    “all state institutions need to be subservient to parliament and the executive led by an elected prime minister.”
    I think you should start with military and ISI first. Rest of the institutions have their constitutional role to play and I guess they are doing it to a large extend. The bad boys are the Army and ISI.
    By the way, on whose direction Pasha went to Arab countries, Kayani or Gilani? Will be interesting to know,

    Recommend

  • Dec 21, 2011 - 6:56PM

    @ GDin:

    ” In a situation where Executive rides roughshod on the Opposition due to numerical superiority, the corrective must come from the People. .”

    You pointed out the flaw in your argument yourself – a numerical majority from one party/coalition can ‘ride roughshod’ over the opposition and constitution, in the absence of judicial and law enforcement checks and balances on parliament.

    Second, there is nothing to stop the ‘majority party/coalition’ to also ‘ride roughshod’ over the election commission and elections in an attempt to continue their hold on power, and avoid being answerable for their crimes. Allowing control over the judiciary and law enforcement to the political party in power further empowers the majority party to violate the constitution and act illegally without any threat of repercussions, and the influence of one party/coalition over the judiciary/law enforcement allows the opposition to claim ‘political victimization/bias’ even when that may not be the case.

    Parliament cannot function without checks and balances and it cannot function as an ‘untouchable institution’ – the legislators need to be held accountable for their actions by law enforcement and the judiciary, and these key institutions need to be autonomous with heads appointed by bipartisan commissions, that are acceptable to all sides.

    Recommend

  • Shahid Basheer
    Dec 21, 2011 - 9:52PM

    Why is Pasha’s attempt to seek the blessing of Arab sheikhs to seek Zardari’s ouster absurd? Didn’t Musharraf pay heed to the sheikhs when Nawaz, Benazir and Zardari were sent to exile? Didn’t he yield to them when Benazir and Nawaz were allowed back? Didn’t Pasha go to the mid-east immediately after the May 2 attack? Wikileaks records Adel Al-Jubair stating “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.” While Pakistan’s sovereignty is easily violated by the US, involvement of the sheikhs in internal affairs is not just accepted; it is welcomed and sought by both the civilians and the military.

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Dec 24, 2011 - 7:48PM

    @Agnostic Muslim:
    “Parliament cannot function without checks and balances and it cannot function as an ‘untouchable institution’ – the legislators need to be held accountable for their actions by law enforcement and the judiciary, and these key institutions need to be autonomous with heads appointed by bipartisan commissions, that are acceptable to all sides.”
    When an anomaly occurs in a Parliamentary democracy, such as when it happened in the time of Indira Ghandy in India, law enforcement capitulated to the dominant party. Fortuitously, it was a very courageous member of Judiciary that overturned her election. If she had not been taken by her self-assumed popularity with the masses, she could have easily blunted that attack by appealing against that judgement in a superior court and got it overturned by intimidation of higher judiciary as happened in Pakistan. But, fortuitously again for us, she went for election where she was “dethroned”. The point is that in the presence of dictatorial tendency, nothing but the intervention by masses corrects the situation. Parliament does indeed have a check in that no legislation can become a law unless and until it is signed by the President. However, as can be seen in India currently, clever people can make sure that the President is under their thumb. ( It is even riskier in a Presidential form of government) That is why, people of India have correctly decided that none of the institutions, neither the Parliament, nor the Executive, is working properly. Hence the movement led by Anna Hazaare has become such a roaring success. Although our Judiciary is an institution which has to a large extent earned the trust of the people, even Judiciary can be easily corrupted as can be seen by several commissions to investigate imaginary discrimination against Muslims such as Sachhar Commission which have absolutely no mass support and hence have become infructuous. Nothing replaces the masses, nor should anything, in a real Democracy. Hence, the need for eternal vigilance!

    Recommend

More in Editorial