Gen Bajwa’s briefing

Published December 21, 2017

AMIDST myriad internal and external challenges and the country teetering on the brink of crises, attempts to bridge the civil-military divide and foster dialogue between institutions are particularly welcome.

Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s decision to visit parliament at the invitation of the Senate and deliver a multi-hour, wide-ranging briefing alongside the DG ISI, DG MI and DGMO suggests that the military is aware that the constitutional order and national security need to be strengthened by inter-institutional cooperation.

The interconnectedness between a strong democratic order in the country and Pakistan’s strength internally and regionally has often been obscured by bitter partisan wrangling.

However, if the military leadership is willing to engage the political class in frank dialogue, there is a possibility of aligning institutional interests so that the country itself benefits. It is hoped that Gen Bajwa’s maiden briefing to parliament has set a precedent that will be regularly followed.

Yet, for dialogue to be successful, it must be genuine. Gen Bajwa is reported to have told the Senate that the military welcomes parliament’s setting the national security strategy and that better relations with India are also a prerogative for parliament to pursue.

That, however, is far from the reality that is known to most parliamentarians and the public. Successive governments in this era of a transition to democracy have tried to influence Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan and India, but those attempts have led to severe civil-military tensions.

When the previous PPP-led coalition negotiated a historic civilian assistance programme with the US, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, it was nearly derailed by military objections. While parliament has passed a resolution calling for neutrality in the Yemen conflict, retired army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has become the first commander of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a grouping with a distinct anti-Iran bias.

If the security establishment does want parliament to have a greater role in the formulation of national security policy and strategy, it has to demonstrate that it is willing to listen and implement ideas it may not necessarily agree with.

Perhaps one of the gestures that the military could consider is to have civilian representatives present in the meetings that the army chief routinely has with foreign leaders.

While uniformed representatives are often invited by the civilian government to high-level meetings with foreign governments, the opposite is not the case. The defence minister or the foreign secretary, for example, are hardly ever present in meetings at GHQ with political representatives of foreign states. Learning to work alongside each other is a necessary first step to learning to accept non-coercive input from one another.

Certainly, the civilian leadership must also learn to analyse and speak about national security matters in a more sophisticated manner. Fundamental change in the national security domain is difficult, but it is also necessary.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2017

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