On August 12, Egypt’s President Mohamad Morsi did the unthinkable by axing the country’s senior military leadership. Most notable was the removal of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who had served as defence minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which was playing a role as governing overlord post-Hosni Mubarak. Some interested Pakistani observers are asking whether Pakistan could have its own Morsi moment. But a better question is: is one even necessary?
My answer would be, ‘no’. While there are similarities between Pakistan and Egypt, the two countries do not face the same predicament. An abrupt change of the senior military command would not only be unnecessary in Pakistan but could also be counterproductive.
Egypt has neither a constitution nor a parliament. The rules of the game have yet to be written and the military’s demands vis-a-vis the constitution were excessive and obstructive. In Pakistan, the rules of the game exist in the form of the 1973 Constitution as well as informal norms. The Constitution is being improved upon via consensus — case in point: the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Amendments. Political norms are also being modified. The PPP and the PML-N are moving away from their zero-sum game as Pakistan heads towards what will likely be its second consecutive relatively free and fair general elections. Yes, it’s imperfect. It’s ugly. But that’s democracy.
On the issue of civil-military relations, let me state the obvious: the military is an autonomous organisation. And its autonomy is not consistent with the spirit of the Constitution and the way Pakistan ought to be. Civilian involvement in shaping military policies, determining budgets and managing economic assets is minimal. There is an absence of military accountability. While many missing persons have been ‘found’, the perpetrators of the crimes committed against them have yet to be brought to court. Similarly, the Syed Saleem Shahzad Commission was formed all for naught as it failed to yield justice for a slain Pakistani and the Abbottabad Commission has stalled, stymied by the military’s obstruction. Still, Pakistan has seen tangible progress in recent years in evolving civil-military relations. Much credit goes to the PPP, quite ironically, given the historic animosities between it and the army, including the failed attempt in 2008 to put the ISI under the direct control of the interior ministry.
The generals have taken a back seat, letting the civilians govern. The military’s hands are tied. Around 150,000 Pakistani soldiers have been deployed in counter-insurgency operations over the past three years. There are real, bloody wars being fought and they’re unlikely to end soon.
At the same time, the economy is a hot potato that no one, including the military, wants to touch. And military officials find utility in sharing the burden in forming and taking responsibility for the national security policy. So in the past two years, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the Parliamentary Committee on National Security have become more proactive. Also, the political leadership and the Foreign Office have been given space to engage Afghanistan and India. These changes could be fleeting. But if they result in improved policy outputs appreciated by both the civilians and the military, then they might agree that they have a winning formula.
Much more work needs to be done to make Pakistan a civilian democracy marked by good governance and accountability. However, recent progress suggests that a phased approach has decent prospects for sustained success. There are, of course, plenty of reasons why Pakistan’s democratic transition could falter. Next year, civil-military relations will be greatly tested as there could be a new prime minister, president and army chief. In Egypt, Morsi is said to have cooperated with a group of younger officers; Tantawi was 76 years old at the time of his sacking. Pakistan’s civilians don’t have inter-generational differences in the army to leverage. If they take a more aggressive approach, the system as a whole could be put in jeopardy — all the more reason to opt for the slow but steady way.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2012.
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