A New Direction
The new norm in Pakistan seems to be moving towards a setup that accepts the participation of the military in ruling the country alongside the civilians.
In the peculiar circumstances in which Pakistan got its independence and the subsequent developments that took place, the Pakistan Army as an institution never lent itself exclusively to securing the geographical borders of Pakistan and turning a blind eye to what was going on in the country. As a matter of fact and according to history, it assumed a political role as and when it deemed fit. This is why the military-civil relationship has always been in flux punctuated by a period of brief equilibrium or synthesis.
The role the Army which it enjoys today has evolved out of circumstances rather than any prior planning. Let us understand the past in light of the present kaleidoscope. There is terrorism — both homegrown and infiltrated — which has been testing our nerves and values for quite some time. The response of the civilian government to this threat has always been slow and shabby, reflecting the intellectual and emotional poverty of the political leadership. For them, the problem of terrorism has been momentary, fragmented and superficial that could be addressed in a piecemeal and ad hoc manner. It was not until the APS tragedy occurred and the smoke of bombs and bullets cleared the smoke of politicians’ mind about the magnitude of the problem and the urgency of systematic response and it was too late for them to deny space to the powerful military.
Besides terrorism, the historical belligerent relationship with India has made Pakistan a security state. Rather than charting a path of its own choosing, Pakistan has always reacted to the Indian moves in policy making
on defence and foreign relations. In such an India-specific paradigm, it is the security and not the socio-economic welfare of the people that determines the nature of the civil-military relationship in Pakistan. The civilian leadership thinks it expedient to follow the military logic of “maintaining minimum nuclear deterrence”, “Kashmir comes first” and “India is eternal enemy”. This kind of thinking has become so embedded now that it is almost impossible and unpatriotic to think otherwise. Both countries have fought wars and have actively supported separatist movements in addition to isolating and maligning each other internationally. The selffulfilling prophesy is what characterizes the perpetual rivalry between India and Pakistan. This state of affairs has profound implications for civil-military relations in Pakistan. Anyone suggesting a path different from the one charted by history is viewed with skepticism.
The expanding role of the Pakistan Army in civilian affairs, however, has much to do with failure of governance. Good governance, which gives legitimacy and moral strength to the rulers, is conspicuous by its absence in Pakistan. There are different Pakistans for different segments of society. Citizens, who are either poor or have low social capital — or no linkages with the powerful — have no say and no way to break into the structured paths in Pakistan. The landlords and capitalists have occupied all structures of power, including the legislature, judiciary and the bureaucracy. The rule of law, transparency, accountability, and other elements of good governance have lost its meaning in public organizations. Democracy in Pakistan provides a veneer for sharing the spoils available to the rulers and their cronies. One side-effect of this seemingly interminable loot and plunder and abdication of responsibility by the civilians has been the recurrence of military interventions now and then using innovative pretexts.
However, for the good or bad, all stakeholders have now accepted the new norm. Military takeovers in the past have proved catastrophic for the country’s integrity and long-term development in addition to damaging the reputation of the army. The new thinking, which is more pragmatic and socially/politically acceptable, is for the army to act as a watchdog and not as a bloodhound. The political parties seem to have reluctantly reconciled with the ground reality of living with the army’s new role of combating corruption, maintaining law and order and fighting terrorism besides determining the contours of foreign policy. This, however, does not mean that the new synthesis on power distribution is permanent. New developments are bound to disturb the equation and one wonders when this will stop in order for a system of checks and balances to be put in place so that it preempts all institutions from intruding in one another’s constitutional domain.
The prime victim of persistent mistrust between institutions in Pakistan is the Kashmir cause. Kashmir is trapped in a kind of vicious cycle — repression, dialogue, disruption and again repression. No one knows when and how it will be broken. India claims Kashmir is its integral part and a plebiscite is a bygone story while Pakistan considers Kashmir its jugular vein and the partition as an incomplete exercise without Kashmir. India’s claim is based on the Accession Document while Pakistan counts on the letter and spirit of the Partition Plan.
The stalemate on Kashmir, as described by the former Pakistani and spy chiefs in their book “The Spy Chronicles” is partly due to the absence of fresh thinking and bold leadership in both India and Pakistan. India’s apparent obstinacy on Kashmir can be explained by its fear of the ripple effect in other hot spots. In Pakistan, except for Musharraf who offered an out-of-the-box solution, any step forward has to be validated from different stakeholders. The conflicting nature of interests makes it generally pointless to do anything worthwhile beyond rhetoric. Any engagement with India in the context of Kashmir can only prove productive and meaningful if the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan looks in the same direction.
One pragmatic solution to the civil-military conundrum and a kind of safety valve is to revitalize the National Security Council. It is neither a new concept nor a unique model in Pakistan. Initially conceived in 1969, the NSC was supposed to advise the President and Prime Minister on national security and foreign policies but since then it has become controversial in political circles. Some skeptics believe that it has not done anything more than giving legal cover to the expanding role of the millitary in public affairs. However, given the structure of the NSC, it is unlikely for the military to dictate the civilian government in matters of national interest. If put to work in true spirit and with sincere intentions, the NSC can prove to be an effective mechanism for harmonizing civilmilitary relations besides providing a useful platform for innovative solutions to the complex internal and external challenges that Pakistan faces.
One pragmatic solution to the civilmilitary conundrum and a kind of safety valve is to revitalize the National Security Council.