The Civil­ian Al­ter­na­tive

The civil­ians should grap­ple with the coun­try’s prob­lems while the mil­i­tary should be left to de­fend the na­tional borders.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taj M Khat­tak

As a uni­formed body with the abil­ity to use force, the mil­i­tary in any coun­try, but more so in de­vel­op­ing ones like Pak­istan, has the ca­pac­ity to in­flu­ence po­lit­i­cal power with­out hav­ing been called upon to do so by pop­u­lar suf­frage. Be­cause of long in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in pol­i­tics, Pak­istan’s case in­evitably in­vokes keen in­ter­est be­yond our fron­tiers wher­ever the sub­ject of writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion is dis­cussed. Do­mes­ti­cally, in­cor­po­ra­tion of the mil­i­tary’s role in the con­sti­tu­tion there­fore has been a topic of in­ter­est for as long as one re­mem­bers

The creep­ing of the mil­i­tary in po­lit­i­cal space, whether by de­sign or due to in­com­pe­tence of the po­lit­i­cal or­der and ad­min­is­tra­tive ma­chin­ery, con­sti­tutes a ma­jor chal­lenge for es­tab­lish­ing demo­cratic sys­tems and to has taken deeper and stronger roots. By ex­ten­sion, re­la­tions be­tween the civil and mil­i­tary, as struc­tured in the con­sti­tu­tional texts, come un­der sharper fo­cus and war­rant par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion. The re­sul­tant rules of law as a re­sult of this in­ter­play, de­ter­mine cru­cial el­e­ments of demo­cratic tran­si­tion and con­sol­i­da­tion through which Pak­istan is pass­ing these days and the sub­ject ac­cord­ingly in­vites a re-visit ev­ery now and then.

A glance at the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif, in the re­cent past is quite il­lus­tra­tive. He vis­ited the em­bassies of the am­bas­sadors killed in the Nal­tar he­li­copter crash, called Prince Karim Aga Khan to con­dole the loss of in­no­cent lives in the Karachi bus mas­sacre, dashed to Kabul with Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif to dis­cuss for­eign pol­icy, which in the Af-Pak con­text is in­com­plete with­out high khaki op­tics, and held a se­ries of meet­ings in Karachi to fur­ther pur­sue the law and or­der ob­jec­tives there.

A seg­ment of Pak­ista­nis would think that vis­i­bil­ity of the Army Chief, per­formed con­sti­tu­tion­ally, would help re­move the di­chotomy in which the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment is fre­quently per­ceived as over­shad­ow­ing the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments although they have no con­sti­tu­tional role oth­er­wise. This view gets sup­port from ISPR tweets or, as it hap­pened re­cently, the damn­ing pro­nounce­ments of the V Corps Com­man­der, on the po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis and ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ad­e­quacy ex­ist­ing in Sindh.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Pervez Musharaf has been one of the most ar­dent sup­port­ers of a con­sti­tu­tional role for the mil­i­tary. Dur­ing his ten­ure, he formed the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC) to build the army’s role in the coun­try’s se­cu­rity and other im­por­tant de­ci­sion­mak­ing pro­cesses so that there could be, as he put it, com­plete un­der­stand­ing be­tween politi­cians and the mil­i­tary

on crit­i­cal is­sues. In his view, the NSC would act as a fo­rum where the mem­bers could freely de­bate any is­sue, in­clud­ing in­ter­nal and for­eign threats, as well as na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters.

How­ever, the com­po­si­tion of the NSC was tilted in fa­vor of the mil­i­tary which is just a frac­tion of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try. Gen. Mushar­raf in­tended the NSC to play an ef­fec­tive role in re­mov­ing bot­tle­necks and hur­dles in the path of na­tional de­vel­op­ment, end un­cer­tainty dur­ing se­ri­ous chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try and en­cour­age co­he­sive­ness in the na­tional polity. This pur­pose was far from achieved.

On the other end of the spec­trum, op­pos­ing any con­sti­tu­tional role for the mil­i­tary in the af­fairs of the state is the ju­di­ciary which firmly be­lieves that the role of the mil­i­tary has been clearly de­fined in Ar­ti­cle 245 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan. Ar­ti­cle 245 al­ready stip­u­lates that the mil­i­tary un­der the di­rec­tion of the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment should de­fend Pak­istan against ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion or threat of war and, sub­ject to the law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

The ju­di­ciary is clear in its mind that a gov­ern­ment elected un­der the con­sti­tu­tion can only per­form its func­tions and en­sure ob­ser­vance of the pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion by mak­ing civil power su­pe­rior and not sub­or­di­nate or a part­ner in the ex­er­cise of its au­thor­ity dur­ing war and peace. The foun­da­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan, as re­flected in Ar­ti­cle 2-A, rests in the belief that sovereignty over the en­tire uni­verse be­longs to Almighty Al­lah alone and the au­thor­ity to be ex­er­cised by the peo­ple of Pak­istan within the lim­its pre­scribed by Him, is a sa­cred trust. As such, the state shall ex­er­cise its pow­ers through duly elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple.

Such clar­ity ob­vi­ously pre­cludes any role for the armed forces in the Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan and any amend­ment is likely to be seen as al­ter­ing its spirit and ba­sic struc­ture in a mi­lieu where some ex­perts al­ready ques­tion the va­lid­ity of the 1973 Con­sti­tu­tion. They ar­gue that the Na­tional Assem­bly elected in 1970, which was re­quired to frame a new con­sti­tu­tion for the coun­try, was over­taken by events of the 1971 war in which Bangladesh emerged as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

They con­tend that rem­nants of the 1970 Na­tional Assem­bly were not com­pe­tent to frame the Con­sti­tu­tion and that a new Na­tional Assem­bly should have been elected for the pur­poses of fram­ing a Con­sti­tu­tion. A pe­ti­tion whether the 18th and 22nd Amend­ments by the Par­lia­ment have al­tered its ba­sic struc­ture and spirit of the Con­sti­tu­tion is be­ing heard in the Supreme Court these days. Its ver­dict, as and when it comes, will be in­ter­est­ing.

But within the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, the of­fi­cers corps ap­par­ently wor­ship the words of Field Mar­shal Sir Philip Chet­wode, first spo­ken in 1932 to the cadets of the In­dian Mil­i­tary Academy at the time of its in­au­gu­ra­tion (though those lines were in Bri­tain’s’ own in­ter­est). He said: “The safety, honor, and wel­fare of your coun­try comes first, al­ways and ev­ery time. The honor, wel­fare and com­fort of the men un­der your com­mand come next. Your own ease, com­fort and safety comes last, al­ways and ev­ery time.”

This raises the ques­tion of­ten asked as to why in In­dia, the In­dian army took this ad­vice within the frame­work of a broader demo­cratic or­der while in Pak­istan, its sol­diers took the ad­vice hook, line and sinker and stepped into gov­er­nance mat­ters to in­duce sta­bil­ity, as it would be claimed, only to leave a greater mess when it left?

A par­tial an­swer may lie in the fact that In­dia was able to adopt a Con­sti­tu­tion within a year or so af­ter Par­ti­tion, which helped the gov­ern­ment to con­tain its mil­i­tary within a more sta­ble par­lia­men­tary democ­racy. Pak­istan, on the other hand, strug­gled with this ex­er­cise for years and suf­fered set­backs with the loss of Quid-e-Azam Mo­ham­mad Ali Jin­nah and its first Prime Min­is­ter, Li­aquat Ali Khan, too soon af­ter in­de­pen­dence.

In­dia, like Ja­pan, China, Rus­sia and many other states, has been a his­toric state in ex­is­tence for cen­turies while Pak­istan is a nascent one. It is more sen­si­tive to any vul­ner­a­bil­ity as its borders could get de­mol­ished sooner if its rulers were not sin­cere in serv­ing the peo­ple in whose name they get elected. Like­wise, if they did not pay due at­ten­tion to in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal threats fac­ing the coun­try, the mar­gin to­wards be­com­ing a failed state could get nar­rower, which would not be true for un­like other his­toric states. In the in­stance of coun­tries like Pak­istan, this would keep the mil­i­tary on the edge most of the time. The In­dian army there­fore should only be given so much credit for keep­ing away from pol­i­tics as is war­ranted.

While de­lib­er­at­ing a pos­si­ble role for mil­i­tary in the Con­sti­tu­tion, we must take a long view though it is likely that short-term div­i­dends ap­peal to us more than the cher­ished ob­jec­tive of con­sol­i­dat­ing democ­racy in the long run. It is the civil­ians who have to strengthen var­i­ous pil­lars of the state such as af­ford­able jus­tice for all in a rea­son­able time frame, uni­ver­sal ap­pli­ca­tion of law for all and an ac­count­abil­ity process in which ev­ery­one has faith.

It is the civil­ians who have to build the ca­pac­ity to pro­vide in­stant re­lief to the cit­i­zens in case of dis­as­ters while the mil­i­tary should be called in only when the coun­try is faced with cat­a­strophic con­di­tions and not for mun­dane func­tions like read­ing elec­tric me­ters, re­cov­er­ing bills, guard­ing pris­ons and su­per­vis­ing polling sta­tions. If civil­ian rule starts to de­liver, the mil­i­tary will au­to­mat­i­cally be­gin to cede space as is hap­pen­ing in Tur­key where, af­ter decades of the mil­i­tary’s role in gov­er­nance, the sound per­for­mance of the civil­ian rulers has suc­ceeded in push­ing back the mil­i­tary’s in­flu­ence in run­ning the coun­try.

The crux of the mat­ter is that the pri­mary role of the mil­i­tary is de­fense against ex­ter­nal threats and should al­ways re­main so. It should be called in aid of civil­ian power only in times of na­tional cri­sis. The mil­i­tary al­ready has a full time job, more so be­cause the threat-re­sponse equa­tion vis-avis our neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly on the eastern side, is asym­met­ri­cal. Over de­pen­dence on the mil­i­tary will also re­tard the civil­ian ca­pac­ity-build­ing process and re­duce the mil­i­tary’s com­bat po­ten­tial when it is ac­tu­ally called upon to de­fend the coun­try.

As a part­ing thought - what good are the Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions of civil­ian supremacy over the mil­i­tary if civil­ian rule lacks the en­thu­si­asm to gear it­self up to take charge and lead from the front?

The pri­mary role of the mil­i­tary is de­fense against ex­ter­nal threats and should al­ways re­main so.

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