The Saga of
Civilian Supremacy in Pakistan
A chequered history
The increasingly important role of the army in Pakistan’s politics has been given a boost by the country’s relationship with the United States. The latter has, at various times, given its strategic, and often short-term, foreign policy interests precedence over sustaining democracy in the former, by aligning with the army as a centre of power. It has always been ready to deal with dictators and autocrats, though it was at the expense of its so-called notion of fostering democracy. The army in Pakistan has generally performed well in its primary task of defending the country against external threats but it has, over the years, failed to gauge the political will of the people of Pakistan, leading to the loss of half of the country in 1971 – only 24 years after East and West Pakistan were united under one flag to form one country. The army made such moves that would eventually break that union and dismember Pakistan, making two separate countries, i.e. Pakistan and Bangladesh. Having learned very little from the past, the state of Pakistan, led by the army, sees the insurgency in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a law and order situation that needs to be tackled militarily. They fail to comprehend that this insurgency is not the real problem; it’s the result of a problem and that problem is political.
On the other hand, it is also difficult to feel sorry for our politicians who whenever presented with an opportunity to bargain for ‘goodie bags’, rarely failed to fall in line. Admittedly, politicians themselves have ceded space to unelected forces for expedient reasons thereby intensifying the civil-military imbalance. Samuel P. Huntington has rightly said, “The causes which produce military intervention in politics lie not in the nature of the group but in the structure of society. In particular, they lie in the absence or weakness of effective political institutions in the society.” Most of the political parties in Pakistan do not practice internal democracy while talking about it on the national scene. Internally weak and undemocratic political parties tied to individual personalities or brought together by short-term, common interests have been the principal reasons behind the involvement of the army in the country’s political affairs. Their failure to root out corruption and deliver good governance, as well as cronyism, often paved the way for ‘saviours’ in uniform to step in. Whenever there is a breakdown in political stability, as has happened frequently in Pakistan, the army translates its potential into a will to dominate and, resultantly, we have military interventions. As far as the track record of the military junta as rulers is concerned, it is not much different than that of the civilians.
Pakistan’s existence has been marked by attempts to build a nation but without first building the institutional foundations that are needed to allow a stable federal entity to evolve in a democratic and pluralistic setting. It has been managing its affairs in a unique fashion and the state’s over-dependence on one or two of its institutions has created serious issues for growth, competence and morale of other institutions. The longer the country remains under military domination, the greater the chances of failure of the state. Given the gloomy state of affairs in the country, it is imperative for the military to help create a stable national policy by publically policing itself and subjecting itself ‘in practice’ to civilian oversight and control. On its side, the civilian government needs to ensure that it does not involve military in political disputes.
Pakistanis have deep reverence for and genuine connection to the army. They believe it exists and works for them, but the Pakistan army, at present, risks losing this admiration and veneration of the people as they want to escape from its political power which has become intrusive and suffocating. The emergence of new and vibrant mass media and social media has also challenged the military’s ability to control life in the country with an iron hand. The army has gradually acquired a corporate structure and identity that appears to trump broader national interest. Once renowned for its discipline, its fighting skills and its unflinching fortitude in the face of adversity, it is now notorious for making political deals and commercial enterprises. Given the dominant role of the army in Pakistan’s polity, if Pakistan is to prosper, mature, thrive and, more importantly, survive as a successful state and a nation, the army needs to take a back seat and allow the politicians and civil society to make their mistakes and then mend them. It must allow all important elements of the state to function unfettered.
The bedrock of a strong nation-state is democracy. The military forces homogeneity, conformity and obedience, whereas democracy thrives on argument, debate and dissent. The army in Pakistan needs to understand these differences. Nations are made from willing participation of different and disparate communities and ethnicities that come together of their own volition and not as a result of centrally controlled political engineering or military adventurism.
It is high time we reminded our politicians that there is no magic wind to solve all our problems, but hard work, rule of law, a meritocratic system and justice for all can help make Pakistan a progressive country that its founding fathers had envisioned it to be. After seventy-five years of experimentation, it should be clear by now that the army’s interference in politicians’ work has only imperilled the lives and honour of the citizens of Pakistan; but the people deserve better. There can be only one demand: obedience to the constitution. Everyone must be made to kneel before the sword of the law as no one is above it. Tomorrow may be too late: we must act now.
The writer is a surgeon, and a CSS aspirant.