Take them IN to keep them OUT
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
The debate about the military’s role in politics and formulating state policies in Pakistan is almost as old as the country itself. Some recent events have added to its urgency. Though why it should at all happen is something peculiar to Pakistan. In a democracy, such a question would be otiose. It would have no useful result. The military takes orders from the elected government. But elsewhere, the army is required to defend a country’s geographical frontiers, whereas, in Pakistan it is assigned the more gigantic task of guarding the country’s ideological frontiers, which are limitless. This is what distinguishes the Pakistan army from its international counterparts.
No wonder, then that in the United States the CIA is headed by a civilian, but in Pakistan it would be heresy (if not outright sedition) to talk about civilian control over the ISI. An attempt was made, sometime ago, to bring the ISI under the interior ministry but there was such strong opposition from the army that the government had to fold its knees.
Even in Bangladesh, after a few years of political upheaval following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, during which Gen. Ziaur Rahman and Brig. Khalid Musharraf were killed and Gen. Hussein Mohammad Ershad ruled over the country as a military dictator, the army has stayed confined to its professional activities. Only in exceptional circumstances when political conflict between rival parties threatened to derail democracy in Bangladesh that the army intervened on January 11, 2007, to support a declaration of emergency by the president and the installation of an apolitical caretaker government to clean the house and hold election. This, however, was a benign kind of intervention. It sought to strengthen democracy, not to subvert it, because, the army did not come into the limelight or assume any political role. And as soon as normality was restored and elections held, the army went quietly back to its barracks.
The history of relations between the civilian government and the army in Pakistan recall the old story of the Bedouin and his camel. The Bedouin allows his camel to put his head into the tent. The camel gradually enters the tent. Realising that if he resisted, the camel would push him out, the Bedouin reconciles to the policy of sharing the tent with the camel so both can live in peace.
Egypt and Pakistan typify this story. The elected government of President Morsi appointed Gen. Al Sisi as defence minister and because he would not compromise with his defence minister, he was not only overthrown but has since been sentenced to death. The camel has driven out the Bedouin.
Pakistan started this game very
early. In 1954, barely seven years after independence, Prime Minister, Mohammad Ali Bogra, appointed the army chief, Gen. Ayub Khan, as the country’s defence minister. What propelled him to take the decision is unknown because there was no apparent need for such a step. Although, as a newly independent country, Pakistan did not have any precedent to take guidance from, it could learn from the examples of other countries, including India, where, Sardar Baldev Singh was the defence minister.
Nor was the camel shivering in the cold. In Pakistan’s case it was the sheer large-heartedness of the Bedouin that led him to invite the camel into his tent. Once inside, he began to create space for himself by playing a more active role in politics. While prime ministers came and went one after the other, from Suhrawardy, through Feroz Khan Noon, to Chundrigar, Ayub Khan stayed put in his office. Ultimately, when President Iskander Mirza declared martial law he was appointed Chief Martial Law Administrator on October 7, 1958.
Twenty days later, he quietly pushed Mirza over in a bloodless coup on October 27. Mirza went into exile and a life of poverty in London. Ayub Khan became president of Pakistan. The Bedouin-camel parable was complete.
Ayub blazed the trail. Others followed and “improved upon” it. Yahya Khan led the country to a disastrous war with India and a humiliating defeat. Ziaul Haq and Musharraf further reinforced the army’s involvement in politics so in September 1988, the ISI formed the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), an alliance of right-wing political parties to oppose the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in the forthcoming elections.
It is noteworthy, however, that there was no public opposition to repeated army takeovers. Instead, the dictators received popular support and were even hailed as saviours. What worked to their advantage was that they presented a sharp contrast to the political leaders. First, their hands were clean of the stench of corruption that political leaders emitted. None of the military rulers of Pakistan acquired any chateau in France or a manor in England or flats in London’s posh Mayfair. Second, whereas political leaders distribute jobs among their relatives and party workers, army chiefs are free from such pulls and pressures. This is why the people continue to trust the army more than their elected leaders. Third, the army is the guardian of the people’s security and last, it can be trusted to deliver.
At present, the army is engaged in fighting terrorists tooth and nail. Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan to eliminate terrorists and their sanctuaries is the army chief’s brainchild. He took the initiative and decided to strike when the elected government was found dragging its feet on the issue and wasting time on APCs while the TTP was becoming bolder.
Compared with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who calls an All-Parties Conference at the drop of a hat and then relapses into hibernation, the COAS, Gen. Raheel Shareef has been more dynamic, especially with regard to security issues and has established a niche for himself in the country’s affairs.
No wonder therefore that every foreign dignitary visiting Pakistan calls upon the army chief at the GHQ, separately, after meeting the prime minister.
It is now an established fact that the “camel” has come to stay, Resistance and confrontation would be perilous for the civilian government as experience has shown. Nawaz Sharif tried it in 1999 and will never forget the consequence he suffered.
"Cooperation works better than conflict. Practical problem-solving is better than ideological extremism, “said President Bill Clinton, once. It is a sound advice in the existing civil-military relations in Pakistan.
Instead of dissipating energy over a tussle that requires the civil government to keep looking perpetually over the shoulder, why not give the army a constitutional role? That would end the present perception of a dual government – one in the open, the other in the shadows but no less powerful. More importantly, it will enable the military to contribute meaningfully to better, cleaner and more efficient, governance. Such a measure would “defang” it, eliminating the possibility of any further military rule.
Perhaps action may start with reviving the National Security Council (NSC) through an act of parliament. The NSC, comprising the prime minister, chiefs of the three services, the DG-ISI, besides the ministers of defence and foreign affairs and the Leader of the Opposition, should be quite competent to deliver on good governance that could lead to peace and progress.
Instead of a constant tussle, why not give the army a constitutional role?