The army’s relationship with the political process can be characterized as a five-step dance.
First, the army warns what it regards as incompetent or foolish civilians.
Second, a crisis leads to army intervention, which is followed by the third step: attempts to “straighten out” Pakistan, often by introducing major constitutional changes.
Fourth, the army, faced with growing civilian discontent, “allows” civilians back into the office,
And fifth, the army reasserts itself behind a façade of a civilian government, and the cycle repeats itself.
Table of Contents
- 1 Reasons for Army Intervention and troubled Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan:
- 2 Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan
- 3 Conditions for a Civilian to come to real power:
- 4 Civil-Military Strategy that would work for Pakistan:
- 5 Military’s Role in Current Politics:
- 6 Reason of Military’s dominance in Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan
- 7 Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan and Pakistan’s Future
Reasons for Army Intervention and troubled Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan:
First, the army’s sheer professional competence compared with the incompetence and corrupt nature of the civilian sector is reason enough to justify periodic military interventions, says the officer corps, especially in a state with many problems. As a major general responsible for one of Pakistan’s key military training institutions put it, “We are recruited and promoted on the basis of merit, we go to many schools such as this one, we have to pass a series of tough tests, and only the best of us reach a higher rank.” Civilians, he added, needed no formal education to attain public office—it was not surprising that one of Musharraf’s reforms was to insist that all candidates for provincial and national legislatures have minimal education.
Second, officers stake a special claim to power because of their undeniable patriotism and their commitment to the people of Pakistan. In most branches, officers work closely with ordinary soldiers in their cantonments and on maneuvers. This, they claim, makes the officer more sensitive to the abuses of Pakistan’s politicians, corrupt civilian bureaucrats, and feudal aristocracy. In many cases there is a class basis for the army’s sense of noblesse oblige; unlike many politicians, who have a wealthy urban or feudal aristocratic background, a large number of officers are not that far removed from the upper peasantry since many of them are from families of modest background.
Third, the typical officer also claims that he understands the “national interest” better than civilians. Having studied history and strategy in the service schools and written papers on the subject, most officers believe they are well-grounded in the military arts—important for a state under siege—and have a good understanding of contemporary world strategic problems. What civilians have routinely gone through this experience? Very few.
The army’s fourth reason for claiming the role of the political watchdog is that politicians are seen in a negative light. By contrast, the army was for many years free of charges of corruption and often described by foreigners and Pakistanis alike as the only organization that functions at an acceptable level of competence.
Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan
Pakistan’s politicians must pass a competency test administered and graded by Pakistan’s army, not its voters.
Generals roundly condemn them as incorrigibly corrupt, venal, and incompetent and eagerly compare the army’s own high standards of integrity with the politicians’ abysmal record.
Furthermore, in Pakistan, the military assumes that it must veto any civilian decision that affects “national security,”
Conditions for a Civilian to come to real power:
First, the army’s historic dominance of Pakistan and its central role in the Pakistan Establishment must be severely weakened before any politician can hope to come to real power on his or her own; alternatively, the army must have enough confidence in a civilian leader, or party, to allow them to come to power.
Then, once in power, a civilian government must demonstrate its competence to the military and meet criteria drawn up by the army. Under present circumstances, it is impossible for politicians to master the arts and science of democratic politics, to grow and mature in their profession. Once in office, it is equally difficult for them to govern without fear of the army’s encroachment or a blatant army takeover.
In short, any civilian government that consistently takes bold steps in a new direction, especially foreign policy, must have army consent. Such issues as Kashmir and India are especially sensitive, and a government that fails to work out a strategy in concert with the armed forces will run enormous risks. Politicians must learn the limits of their own freedom but then must attempt to expand these limits. The army, on the other hand, will have to understand the limits of its own capacity to govern.
Civil-Military Strategy that would work for Pakistan:
The only civil-military strategy that will work in Pakistan is one in which a staged transfer of power and authority takes place over a period of years, spanning the tenures of more than one prime minister, and more than one army chief.
Unless that happens, Pakistan’s democracy will always be qualified or limited.
In this case “staged” is meant both in the sense of a timed schedule and a theatrical event: at each stage both the symbolic and substantive accouterments of power have to gradually shift from the armed forces to the political parties.
Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan
Following notes on Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan have been taken from Future of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen.
Military’s Role in Current Politics:
The government has voluntarily ceded all its responsibilities in any matter remotely related to “security” to the army.
The provincial government has also left the army with no option but to govern the tribal areas retaken from the Taliban.
The army chief’s relations with Nawaz might not be the best, but he seems to have fairly comfortable relations with the prime minister.
When necessary, the COAS will increasingly play a role in political decision-making. In the immediate future and the short term, it might be for the best; in fact, it could even be considered imperative for Pakistan that he do so. However, in the long run, it inevitably weakens democratic state institutions.
In conclusion, the military—specifically the army—has always had an extraordinary political role in Pakistan. It appears that for the foreseeable future, the army will continue to remain politically active, though from behind the scenes.
Reason of Military’s dominance in Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan
Pakistan is unlikely to extricate itself from its “path-dependent” pattern of tolerating a gross imbalance of power between the military and civilians. This imbalance is an enduring legacy of the country’s birth as a ramshackle postcolonial state under conditions of warfare and territorial conflict with a politically and militarily stronger neighbor, India. Those initial conditions drastically empowered the military relative to civilian political institutions, enabling it to achieve autonomy from the civilian government and to dominate national security policymaking.
The military’s political power has been reinforced by successive strategic alliances between Pakistan and the United States, which have provided the generals with military assistance, financial largesse, and diplomatic support.
Institutions need time and space to develop. Existing channels of civilian oversight are frail because of military intervention and influence, which helps the military place itself above any kind of meaningful reproach or call for accountability. Given military threat perceptions, military interests have rarely gone unheeded in Pakistan. Similarly, civilians have rarely interfered with military autonomy in its internal affairs, except in rightful (if not always deft) control of top-level promotions and appointments.
Historically, civilian governments have not failed to extend their authority over the armed forces in any sustained manner because they accept or prefer the military’s supra-political role. Instead, many civilian politicians have, in their own self-interest, come to function within the constraints set by “military prerogatives” in defense allocations, foreign and defense policies, and even internal security and to “anticipate that deviations . . . are likely to be counterproductive.”
A negotiated settlement of the conflict with India, which has eluded the two sides for over sixty years, may remove the territorial/nationalist drivers of military leverage over civilians. But vested interests on both sides would rather continue the conflict than upset the status quo, and the international community appears unwilling or unable to break the enduring impasse.
In addition, given the internal security challenges emanating from militancy, Pakistan’s threat environment is likely to become more, not less, dangerous. Which increases the military’s role in national security policy and matters?
Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan and Pakistan’s Future
The top brass of the military, especially the army, is focused on three major issues:
First, they are attending to the rehabilitation of the image of the military in Pakistan, which suffered a great deal in the last two years of Musharraf’s rule, when the army’s top brass faced virulent criticism from the public. Various efforts have helped to boost their image, including the 2010 army exercises, flood rescue and relief work in July-September 2010, rescue operations after a coal mine collapsed near Quetta in Baluchistan in March 2011, etc.
Second, the military is paying full attention to dealing with terrorist groups based primarily in the tribal areas. Their successes have improved the image of the army by showing that the top command has the determination and capability to challenge the terrorist groups that have become the major threat to Pakistan’s internal peace and stability and to the military’s primacy in the country. The operations have also contributed to improving the military’s image abroad as a task-oriented force for counter-terrorism operations.
The experience of the last three years shows that the top brass gave enough space to the civilian leadership in governance and security policy management. After the 2008 election, they looked to the civilian leadership to provide policy guidelines. However, the civilian government has found it difficult to provide leadership for two main reasons:
First, lack of confidence and professionalism are the major obstacles to the civilian government in assuming a leadership role in the security and foreign policy domains. There are hardly any professionals in the government dealing with security- and terrorism-related issues. Most of the time, the political leadership does not come up with a well-thought-out discourse on internal and external security. Civilian leaders invariably engage in rhetoric on security issues and examine those issues, including terrorism, in a highly partisan manner; they prefer to rely on the army for professional advice. There have been more security-related briefings by the army and intelligence top brass to the federal government and the Parliament than ever in the past.
Second, while the military expects the civilian leadership to provide policy guidelines, the military’s top brass is not giving the latter a free hand. There are certain policy areas where they accept no civilian interference; in the case of other issues, the top brass favors shared decision-making, albeit with the military having a stronger role.
The top brass is opposed to civilian interference in its internal organizational matters, including appointments, promotions, transfers, and postings, and in its commercial and business activities. They think that civilian interference in these matters undermines the military’s discipline and professionalism. The policy areas in which they prefer shared civilian-military decision-making rather than having civilians decide matters unilaterally include defense expenditures, service conditions, perks and privileges, and the key foreign policy and security issues such as India (including Kashmir), Afghanistan, military-related affairs with the United States, weapons procurement, and nuclear policy. Civilians are not expected to exclude the top brass from policymaking in these areas.
The military also resists civilian efforts to weaken the army chief’s role in managing the affairs of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), although its director-general is appointed by the prime minister on the recommendation of the army chief.
The military can pursue its political agenda through Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence (MI). For example, it viewed the direct references to the military and the intelligence agencies in the Kerry-Lugar bill (September-October 2009) as a deliberate attempt by the Pakistan government to interfere in its internal organizational and service matters. It invoked the ISI links with the political right and the media to launch a massive campaign against the proposed law. The PML-N adopted a tough stand against the Kerry-Lugar bill after the Punjab chief minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly met with the army chief in the last week of September 2009. The military thus demonstrated its capacity to exert pressure on the civilian government through the intelligence agencies.
For complete Pakistan Affairs notes click here.