It is interesting as an Indian to read that the all-powerful Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made it clear that he will retire on November 29 and his future now rests in the hands of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who might or might not re-employ him in another post. And that the last is prompted not by the army, but by the US and the Pakistan government’s shared concerns about relieving General Kayani at this stage.
General Kayani has managed to get the respect of his people by one, allowing the elections and the democratic process to continue without interference; and two, by announcing that he will retire as scheduled. He has remained a soldiers’ soldier, refusing to dabble in politics almost like an Indian Army chief, although not quite there, as the Indian Army has remained completely out of politics. But there is a similarity. It is interesting to note that both countries have created overarching military institutions without allowing these to assume intended powers. General Kayani will hold the additional charge of chairman joint chiefs of staff committee until the government appoints the successor to General Khalid Shameem Wynne who has just retired. This was clearly intended to be a central defence body but remained a ceremonial office. The Express Tribune has reported the possibility of Kayani being appointed to the post, but only after the Nawaz Sharif government has revamped it with more powers and authority. It remains to be seen if this will be done and whether the civilian government will actually allow full military powers to be vested in one single authority. A General Kayani in such a post would probably inspire trust and confidence, but whether the same will hold true in the future would definitely create some nervousness in the civilian citadels of power.
One says this because India, too, has gone around the bush creating a structure but not appointing the key chief of defence staff (CDS) to operate it. Differences between the three defence services over the appointment of a CDS, seen as an overreaching authority, has stalled the implementation of the decision for years now. The Indian government tried to compensate by setting up the Integrated Defence Staff seen by the military as a ‘watered down CDS’. This has not succeeded in reducing the military’s isolation for nuclear policy planning that remains in the control of civilians in the ministry of defence. Experts point towards the strong inter-service competition for a larger share of India’s nuclear arsenal and the resources for developing it, with a unified approach eluding decision-makers. The CDS was to have been the central authority to harmonise these efforts but seems to have been relegated to the background now. Political concerns about setting up a supra-military body with overarching powers are also a major reason for the indecision.
Given the fact that India, where the military is totally subordinate to the political will, has hesitated to appoint a CDS, it will be interesting to see whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, bloodied in the past through a military coup, will actually revamp the existing joint chiefs of staffs committee as is being mentioned in the Pakistan media as a nuclear command authority and the last word in military decisions. No wonder that despite US pressure, the Pakistani prime minister has sought time to take a decision.
It is imperative for all nations with democratic aspirations to ensure full political control over their armies. Fortunately, the founding fathers of India ensured that this became the rule, as a result of which, the defence services emerge from the barracks only when the politicians order them to. A lack of political courage makes the army appear stronger than it is at times, but even so, the checks and balances are sufficient to compensate for a weak executive.
Pakistan is clearly still struggling to establish civilian control over its defence forces and more importantly, the military industry as it were and all the ‘assets’ that have come to be associated with it. Prime Minister Sharif has made some independent noises and it remains to be seen how he follows through, particularly as for him it remains a tough job given the divisions within about the ‘all civilian’ approach.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2013.