Pakistan, in the last few years, has clearly made significant strides in restoring the civil-military balance. The army, although, remains the strongest institution but does not hold a monopoly as new power centres have emerged. Despite this progress, there are serious aberrations in civil-military relations that are sapping the vitality of the nation. We have witnessed how in the past civil-military divide has thwarted democracy and skewed up the national decision-making process. The Kargil episode and the Memogate affair are some of the classic examples that caused national embarrassment. Moreover, our foreign, defence and security policies continue to suffer as a consequence of this imbalance. Recently, a war of words between the civil and military leadership has rung alarm bells as friction between institutions could undermine our capacity in dealing with the TTP, or for that matter, with any militant organisation, whether based in Punjab, Sindh or Balochistan. Radical groups are known to cleverly exploit differences among institutions to their advantage.
Foreign powers, too, become sceptical when they see the gulf between the civil and military. India, Afghanistan and the US were never sure whether the army was supportive of the policies that the government professed.
There are several other serious ongoing irritants. The saga of missing persons goes on while the prime minister is supposedly engaged in a reconciliation process with the Baloch nationalists. It is rumoured that TTP prisoners were released without taking the military into confidence. This may well not be true, but the apologetic and fraternal overtures extended to the TTP by the interior minister did deeply hurt the feelings of the rank and file of army, reflecting the disconnect. In Punjab, well-known radicals like Maulana Ludhyanvi, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Azhar becoming a part of mainstream politics and their increasing influence are a source of concern. The level of government tolerance has reached a stage where individuals and groups that were blatantly involved in acts of terrorism and sectarian killings are being given respectability. Is there a realisation in the ruling elite how much the policy of appeasement affects national power and lowers prestige in the eyes of its own people and abroad? The question is whether this is happening with the concurrence of the civil and military leadership or that these policies have no ownership. Once the state surrenders the monopoly of violence and allows it to be outsourced, it loses its ability to protect its citizens. It is ironic that a state that has been using asymmetric forces to multiply its power is now facing a situation where the same forces are diminishing it. More importantly, how will the central policy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to maintain good relations with our neighbours harmonise with its current approach of appeasement with most of these militant groups? Has the civil and military leadership seriously deliberated over these issues and will the new national policy on internal security be implemented to confront and combat these forces?
The fissures in institutional relationships have compromised our ability to deal with neighbouring countries effectively. While dealing with India, granting it the Most-Favoured Nation status has been an on and off affair, giving the impression as if the army brass is not fully supportive of the peace process. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also been blaming our army and intelligence services for being involved in destabilising his country. Surely, the Pakistani state is not interested in destabilising Afghanistan as it directly hurts its own interest, yet the perception is different.
The trial of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has turned into a fight of personal egos and testing institutional boundaries between the civilians and the military. Of course, the trial has both a legal and political dimension. The argument advanced by the government and its supporters is that no one is above the law and if former presidents and prime ministers can be tried, why should there be any immunity for the chief of army staff. From a political standpoint too, the prime minister has to satisfy his constituency by ensuring that the court case of Musharraf runs its normal course until it is brought to a closure. A more positive aspect of applying the principle of justice across the board is that it restraints political and military leadership from crossing legal and constitutional boundaries in conducting the affairs of the state. Nawaz Sharif, or for that matter, politicians, military, judiciary and the bureaucrats will henceforth be more cautious as the bar of accountability has been raised across the board. It is a different matter that if Musharraf is convicted, the government could pardon him subsequently.
No one should expect an overnight transformation, but the democratic transition in Pakistan, despite some weaknesses, seems set on the right course. It is a matter of satisfaction that we have reached a stage where law is no more applied selectively and enforced on the basis of political and coercive powers of an institution, but in accordance with the dictates of the law. Narrow interests of an institution should never triumph the larger interests of the state and our civil and military leadership should be mature enough to work for country’s long-term stability.
Moreover, our leaders need to exercise restraint while issuing statements on issues affecting civil-military relations. Even if the government is legally correct in proceeding with the trial of Musharraf, it does not give its ministers a carte blanche to insult and injure the feelings of the military. Not a day passes when our armed forces are not laying down their lives for the defence of the country. It is expected that the civilian leadership will show greater understanding and compassion while giving statements or interviews. Whereas Musharraf has been indicted as an individual, yet to completely detach him from the armed forces will be a folly. The court case can proceed against him smoothly, provided members of the ruling party refrain from making rude remarks. The media too has a responsibility of dampening sensationalism. Lastly, the civilian leadership will have to considerably enhance its competence and capability in foreign, defence and security matters to exercise the power that the Constitution has vested in them.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2014.