Civilian-Military Showdown | Arif Nizami

Recipe for disaster?

Historically, civilian-military relations have always been rocky. Whenever politicians have been in charge they have had to contend with an obtrusive top brass. Civilian control over the armed forces — a sacrosanct principal of democracy — is a pipedream in the Islamic Republic.

In the present context the PML-N government and the military are engaged in a partnership to remove the existential threat to Pakistan in the form of terrorism. The army, under the stewardship of General Raheel Sharif, has adroitly spearheaded the campaign with spectacular results. But in the process it has also slowly but surely encroached into civilian spheres of influence.

Its present ingress into foreign policy, national security and its impact on internal matters is unprecedented even by Pakistani standards. Take the case of recent appointment of a recently retired Lt General Naseer Khan Janjua as national security advisor. Surely his appointment could not have taken place without prodding from the GHQ.

General Raheel Sharif, meeting the likes of the British Prime Minister David Cameron or receiving the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the GHQ, is virtually perceived as head of state. He has just embarked on his second high profile visit in a year to the US where, according to the ISPR press release, he will explain ‘Pakistan’s perspective of new emerging regional realities.’

The number of times the two Sharifs – khaki and mufti — meet is also unprecedented. And this is how it should be. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures.

The number of times the two Sharifs – khaki and mufti — meet is also unprecedented. And this is how it should be. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures

In order to root out terrorism and restore the writ of the state a seamless civilian-military partnership is axiomatic. The NAP (National Action Plan) that entails short term and long-term measures simply cannot work without close co-operation between civilian institutions and the military.

However most of the do-ables under NAP still remain unimplemented. And the lacklustre performances of apex committees formed at the federal as well as in the provinces leave a lot to be desired.

The interior ministry that should be playing a pivotal role in implementation of the Plan is rather long on talk and short on action. The Punjab government itself has acknowledged the slow pace of reforms in a letter addressed to provincial police officers and administrators.

But does this mean that the corps commanders, through an ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) presser, should have publicly rebuked the civilian government? Just two days prior to the corps commanders meeting General Raheel Sharif, in a high-level meeting chaired by the prime minister, had expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. The proceedings of the meeting were dutifully leaked to the media.

All the more surprising was the government reacting to the snub through a press release of its own. The prime minister, obviously without any mention of the meeting with the army chief a day earlier, while presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony of a power plant at Balloki crowed about his government’s ‘good governance and transparent policies.’

In an obvious retort to the ISPR release a government spokesperson reiterated that the implementation of NAP was a shared responsibility. While reminding the military that all institutions had to work under the constitution he claimed that good governance was a hallmark of the government’s policies.

Even more interesting is the reaction of a retired general now a member of the Sharif team — Lt General Abdul Qadir Baloch, minister of states and frontier regions. According to him, the army as an institution is subordinate to the government. This is almost a laughable statement, more so coming from a retired general.

The minister, a former governor of Balochistan under general Musharraf, is no spring chicken. He knows the lay of the land, and hence could not be unaware of the manner in which power is wielded in the country.

All the more surprising is his assertion that the ISPR release was referring to Karachi where, according to him, the army was investigating corruption cases and Sindh government’s inadequacies. If the minister’s statement is taken at face value, then by the same token the military now has the carte blanche to investigate corruption cases in the rest of the country. Certainly not its job.

There has been a strong reaction in the parliament to the ISPR statement. The leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly and the Senate both have come out strongly in favour of a democratic civilian dispensation, albeit expressing reservations about tall claims about good governance.

A section of opinion in the media feels that the government should not have hastily responded in kind to the ISPR statement and, as claimed in its own response, should have addressed the matter at the proper forum. Admittedly addressing national security issues in the media through tweets and pressers is not a good practice.

Recently promoted to Lt General, Asim Saleem Bajwa heading the ISPR should know better. Similarly Prime Minister Sharif, who has had rocky relations with military chiefs in the past, should be doubly careful.

How does it serve the military by publicly snubbing the government ostensibly fully cooperating and sharing its goals? If it is just a matter of ownership everyone knows where the credit is due. Nonetheless the civilians both in the government and the opposition also deserve some credit for providing ownership and an enabling environment.

Foreign funding of terrorist organisations, registration ofmadrassas and nabbing proscribed outfits are matters that simply cannot wait

After all the military leadership since the days of late dictator General Zia-ul-Haq has been nurturing a jihadist mindset and a skewed security paradigm. It is only under General Raheel Sharif that it has gone for the terrorists, and at the cost of tremendous sacrifices.

This is commendable. But not too long ago General Sharif’s predecessor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani simply would refuse to go after terrorists on the flimsy pretext that the military would be spread too thin. It is obvious that the stakes are too high to be squandered over public spats in the media. Hence there is need for restraint on both sides.

As for implementation of NAP and governance issues the military’s apprehensions are quite genuine. In order to take the existential war against terrorism to the next level both short term and long-term measures need to be taken.

Foreign funding of terrorist organisations, registration of madrassas and nabbing proscribed outfits are matters that simply cannot wait. However, unless there are concerted efforts to change the mindset and embark on a new national narrative, the long-term war-against those who are bent upon changing the very ethos of the country in the name of a distorted interpretation of religion simply cannot be won.

This entails change not only in the civilian but in the military’s mindset as well. Obsolete and redundant notions need to be shed by all the stakeholders.

So far as governance issues are concerned, the Sharif government despite now half-way through its five-year term has miserably failed. Its reform agenda (if it has one) remains largely unimplemented and its economic policies have simply failed to generate enough employment, and eliminate poverty and ‘jahalat’. A recipe for disaster.


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