Politics of Islamabad’s security

Calling out army to undertake civilian tasks exposes the inability of the government to handle their primary tasks.

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi July 27, 2014

This is for the first time in Pakistan’s troubled political history that a civilian government has handed over the security of the capital city to the army under Article 245 of the Constitution, thereby giving much leverage in security and related affairs to the army, which will be immune from the writ jurisdiction of the superior judiciary. Traditionally, the army functions autonomously in coordination with the civil administration but takes orders from its own superiors.

The civilian government claims to have done this to secure Islamabad against any possible terrorist threat as a fallout of the military operation in North Waziristan. Calling out the army under Article 245 is an admission on the part of the civilian administration that it is unable to ensure the security of the capital city. This diminishes the role of the civilian authorities and increases the role of the army which, along with other security services, is already actively engaged in external security and fighting terrorism. It may also be mentioned here that a couple of weeks ago, the army was asked to help security in some cities in Punjab in addition to providing limited help in Islamabad. Now, the army has been brought fully into ensuring the security of Islamabad. With the passage of time, this will become a virtual takeover of Islamabad, albeit constitutional, and on the asking of the civilian government.

It is not possible to be oblivious to the fact that the security of Islamabad has been handed over to the army at a time when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan is planning a long march towards Islamabad, as well as staging a massive protest rally in D-Chowk on August 14. This is being described by Imran Khan as the beginning of the political agitation to pull down the Nawaz Sharif government. Do not forget Dr Tahirul Qadri’s decision to mobilise his religious loyalists for a march on Islamabad for the replacement of the present political leadership with a new ‘revolutionary’ leadership inspired and led by him.

The federal government may have decided to call in the army to deter Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri from marching on to Islamabad. If the federal government’s ‘military card’ does not work and both decide to pursue their agendas, what are the alternatives available to the civilian government and the army? The civilian government appears to have left everything to the army by calling it under Article 245. Will the army stop the determined supporters of the PTI and the PAT from entering Islamabad? There can be serious political consequences of such a strategy. If the army arranges for a regulated entry into Islamabad, who would manage the protesters: the army or the civilian government? If the army is directly involved in dealing with the sustained agitation by the opposition, it will drag itself in the political confrontation between the government and the opposition.

Calling out the army to undertake civilian tasks has three major implications for civil-military relations. First, it exposes the inability of the civilian authorities to handle their primary tasks. Their credibility, when it comes to handling governance and political management, is undermined. Second, it makes the military top brass fully conscious of the weaknesses and problems of civilian authorities. It will also develop the confidence to handle civilian affairs. Third, repeated and prolonged civilian assignments create a dilemma for the military: how long they can do the task assigned by the civilian authority without being viewed as a partisan supporter of a discredited and beleaguered civilian government. No professional army undertakes civilian assignments on behalf of the civilian government that have strong political overtones.

Politics in Pakistan is gradually moving towards confrontation. Imran Khan has expanded his agenda from the initial demand for reviewing the results of four constituencies to the scrutiny of the entire election, which has now been changed to the removal of the Nawaz Sharif government from power. Dr Tahirul Qadri wants to use his religious following and popular mobilisation to launch a street agitation to remove the government in order to introduce his ‘revolutionary’ political changes.

Both leaders view the removal of the Sharif government as a prerequisite to bring about the desired structural changes in Pakistan’s politics and economy. It is always easy to dislodge a government that has alienated people. However, basic socio-political and economic restructuring of the state system and society is more complex. It requires the provision of a new intellectual basis to the state system and breaking the monopoly of the existing dominant institutions and classes of people. Such a far-reaching change in Pakistan is neither possible within the framework of the existing constitution nor do the opposition leaders have the vision and mindset to transform Pakistan’s socio-economic and political order.

Instead of seeking political accommodation with the opposition, the federal government is spending more energy in cultivating the army. Cabinet members known for their criticism of the army are now issuing very friendly statements. They are also vocal in supporting the military operation in North Waziristan, pushing aside the fact that they were not in favour of such an operation until the military top brass decided to start it. Nawaz Sharif is holding meetings with the army chief quite frequently to underline his support for the military operation in North Waziristan.

Nawaz Sharif needs to manage the faltering internal political situation through dialogue and accommodation. Calling out the army will not solve his problems. If the agitation takes off, the army is not expected to use coercion against the opposition activists in order to shield the civilian government. It may rather force major structural changes in the government or seek the replacement of the current civilian order in Islamabad to defuse political tensions. In a situation of intense political conflict, the army has never sided with any competing political interest. It plays an autonomous role. There is no reason to believe that the army will change its disposition towards Nawaz Sharif.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.

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