Pakistan’s national cauldron: civil-military conflict

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In the modern nation-state system, the concept of governance primarily focuses on two basics: civilian and military agencies. The civilian agency refers to people, free and fair elections, the political system, policymaking, and establishing ties with regional and global powers,. The second agency follows the orders of the first one; it secures the state’s sovereignty, provides security, and upholds law and order.

Unfortunately, in the context of Pakistan, things work differently; the military has always bypassed the civilian leadership when it comes to the question of the national interest and policymaking decisions. The military argues that political leaders haven’t performed efficiently enough to overcome economic, security and political problems, and brought the country to the brink of disintegration.

This is a mere false justification intended to legitimize the military’s political role in the affairs of state, especially regarding foreign and internal policies. Its logic is that it wants to normalize the state’s troubled security and economic systems. Political leadership can be wrong, but militaries are not equipped to control political scenarios. The principal logic is that the military is constitutionally bound to abide by the decisions of civilian leaderships instead of undermining the entire political system by force.

Civil-military ties since 2013

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was believed to be the frontline man of the establishment because of his pro-establishment behavior from the 1990s onward. Sharif’s role in leading a right-wing political alliance against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1988 is the darkest stamp on his political forehead.

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law and Sharif’s subsequent imprisonment and nine years of exile brought about a shift in his political doctrine. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and former president Asif Ali Zardari’s anti-establishment role from 2008 to 2013 in keeping the military away from political affairs injected something serious into Sharif’s firm determination to stand against the establishment’s involvement in politics after holding the office of PM in 2013.

Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s support for Sharif in internal and foreign affairs was the real bone of contention between the prime minister and military leaders. Achakzai is a staunch supporter of constitutional supremacy and parliamentary sovereignty, and the military will never accept this proposal to focus on issues related to the army’s interest.

To normalize ties with regional states, Sharif boldly visited Afghanistan and Iran for peaceful security and economic purposes. Pakistan’s military strategists openly disliked Sharif’s activism regarding the country’s pro-Achakzai foreign policy. The presidents of Afghanistan and Iran welcomed the civilian government of Pakistan and visited Pakistan to improve relations.

To counter this narrative, during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan, the military tactically revealed Indian agent Kulbushen Yadav’s arrest on Pakistan’s border with Iran. An indirect message was conveyed to the civilian leadership that Iran was backing India in a proxy war against Pakistan.

The blame-game policy within civil and military complexes was at its peak when the Panama Papers provided an opportunity for the establishment to limit Sharif to working on foreign and internal policies

The blame-game policy within civil and military complexes was at its peak when the Panama Papers provided an opportunity for the establishment to limit Sharif to working on foreign and internal policies.

The judicial activism of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and pro-establishment Federal Investigation Agency additional director general Wajid Zia unconditionally supported the military’s agenda to disqualify Sharif and the Supreme Court disqualified him for life. The real conflict between the civil and military leaderships began here.

In Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinet, the appointment of Khawaja Asif as foreign minister was a clear message to the military leadership to stay out of foreign policy. And Mushahid Ullah Khan, another anti-establishment politician, was reappointed as a federal minister to counter the military’s narrative at the national level.

However, the military has control over foreign policy, according to Asif, who complained that decisions are made at military headquarters. Major-General Asif Ghafoor, director general of Inter Services Public Relations, is well known for tweeting the military’s stance on foreign and interior policies. The rejection of the Dawn Leaks report, comments on the national economy, sudden tweets on joining the Islamic Military Alliance and sending troops to Saudi Arabia are sources of conflict between the two powerful complexes in Pakistan.

Policy options for stability

The great leader of China, Mao Zedong, once said that “our principle is that the party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party.” To become a permanent member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, a country must have a strong democracy and complete control over its military. In almost every state in the world, the civilian leadership enjoys control over policymaking with no interference from the military.

Pakistan is also an Islamic republic in which Parliament is the supreme institution and the constitution is the supreme document. Any challenge to the supremacy of Parliament and the constitution is a threat to national stability. A fragile Parliament and violations of the constitution will surely sabotage Pakistan’s national interest at both regional and global levels.

First, the general election of 2018 is ahead. It is high time to strengthen democracy and constitutional supremacy. The civil-military conflict may sabotage a fair election. Any threat to a free and fair general election this year will lead to stagnation. The establishment must avoid any involvement in the process. Political stability equals national stability, so the military should not back any party.

Second, civilian control of the military is the best policy. The military is an important institution of the state, but involvement in civilian affairs is inappropriate. The military’s top brass take an oath, promising not to interfere in politics. Non-involvement in civilian policies is the simplest way to put Pakistan on the road to progress, development, stability, security and strength.

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