Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf walking through the snows in the Keil Sector in Azad Kashmir near Rawalakot in February 1999. - Photo: AFP
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf walking through the snows in the Keil Sector in Azad Kashmir near Rawalakot in February 1999. - Photo: AFP

THE civil-military relations, known in recent times as the ‘CivMil same page’, have generally not been friendly. But the big question is: should they have been friendly at all? How about having a professional equation between the executive and its subordinate domain? To be clear about what this ‘professional’ equation actually means and entails, we have to go no farther than the beloved Quaid, who made it crystal clear beyond an iota of doubt.

This is what Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said in his address to the officers of the Command and Staff College, Pakistan Army, Quetta, on June 14, 1948: “… (D)uring my talks with one or two very high-ranking officers I discovered that they did not know the implications of the oath taken by the troops of Pakistan. Of course, an oath is only a matter of form; what are more important are the true spirit and the heart.

“But it is an important form, and I would like to take the opportunity of refreshing your memory by reading the prescribed oath to you. ‘I solemnly affirm, in the presence of Almighty God, that I owe allegiance to the Constitution and Dominion of Pakistan and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully serve in the Dominion of Pakistan Forces and go within the terms of my enrolment wherever I may be ordered by air, land or sea and that I will observe and obey all commands of any officer set over me …’

“As I have said just now, the spirit is what really matters. I should like you to study the Constitution, which is in force in Pakistan at present, and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the Constitution of the Dominion.

Jinnah stressed the need for civilian supremacy and instructed the military to stay true to the constitution and the government. The tortured history of civil-military relations has taken an altogether different course.

“I want you to remember and if you have time enough you should study the Government of India Act, as adapted for use in Pakistan, which is our present Constitution, that the executive authority flows from the Head of the Government of Pakistan, who is the governor-general and, therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the Executive Head. This is the legal position.”

This is how the Father of the Nation defined the civil-military relations or the terms of their engagement, reminding everyone of the critical elements of “Constitution” and the “Government of the Dominion of Pakistan”. Three days shy of exactly three months later, he died in the humid and oppressive Karachi heat in a broken-down ambulance after being flown critically ill to PAF Mauripur (now Masroor) Base from Quetta on the outskirts of the city of lights.

Read: Civil-military relations

Man is mortal and so was Jinnah, but the utter tragedy is that with him seem to have died his dream, his vision and his principles about what would be supreme in the country he had created out of nowhere through sheer grit, determination, an astute legal mind and integrity. A nation whose gratitude was manifest in that stalled ambulance with no backup was hardly likely to honour his principles. And it did not.

Interference begins

The ‘nation’ here is merely a figure of speech. In reality, ‘nation’ in the current context means those who monopolised positions of power and authority after Jinnah’s passing. If within 10 months of the country’s inception, something two “very high ranking” military officers said to Jinnah irked and concerned him so much that he felt compelled to spell out his vision on civil-military relations, then what followed his exit should not have shocked anybody.

When asked to trace the very first instances of the military’s interference in the decision-making process of non-military matters, scholar and researcher Maryam S. Khan, who has written extensively and has many papers to her credit covering some of the issues being discussed here, said:

“If I were to put a start date on this, I would say that the earliest sign of military interference in politics began when Ayub Khan was inducted as defence minister into [Iskander] Mirza’s cabinet of talent. Early to mid-1950s is the period when the military enhanced its resources, assets, and generally its budgetary pie, and leveraged the Cold War military alliances. The year 1958 was basically emblematic of the political initiative also passing on to the military in addition to economic dominance.”

Such dominance may be taken as a fact of life in Pakistan but isn’t friction-free. She continued: “The constant civil-military tension exists because the military cannot govern such a huge, diverse country without the support of civilian institutions. Neither can it do away with elections altogether, because, all said and done, there is considerable episodic pushback in the form of political and social movements. More recently, the military is under extreme pressure to stabilise the economy which it simply can’t do if left to its own devices.”

Need for ‘bloody civilians’

This brings us to the rather interesting element of the dependence of the dominant military on civilians and their institutions. That is why every now and then the contempt for the ‘bloody civilians’ is superseded by the need of the institution and its leaders to seek a partnership with them.

Ironically, this need is seen as more pronounced when there is no international crisis putting the military at the head of the table with the ‘democratic’ Western powers’ strategic interests forcing democracy to take a back seat, particularly in a poor, third world country.

Read: Bigger military role — why?

For such ‘leaner’ periods, the military has innovated in setting up multibillion-rupee corporate entities, which mostly enjoy tax-free status. It also owns prime urban and agricultural land which brings so much collective wealth — in addition to a big share in the national resources via the budgetary provisions — that author Dr Ayesha Siddiqa called the phenomenon ‘Military Inc’.

But these entities still fall short of bringing in dollars like they flow when the West’s tap is open. When resources start getting tighter, civilian partnerships, even facades, are at their most useful, as a shield to deflect public wrath due to economic hardships.

Cold War staging post

The three phases of direct military rule in Pakistan, totalling about 30 years offer an interesting insight. The first was when the Cold War was at its peak and Gen Ayub Khan visited the United States and subsequently joined two defence pacts with Washington. Who won’t remember the claim to fame of the Badaber Air Base near Peshawar from where the American U-2 spy planes used to fly over the Soviet Union for reconnaissance missions? The issue came to light when one was shot down by the Soviets.

Pakistan had cosied up to the US as a useful ally and benefited from American largesse. Some people naively or deliberately paint a rosy picture of economic growth owing to US cash injections. All it did was make a handful of rich, very, very rich and inequalities became stark. The size of the cake grew, but the biggest slices were reserved for the regime and its cronies.

Therefore, Western backing on its own did not prove sufficient to keep the military ruler in power when the people said enough was enough. Even then the military’s attitude did not change with the passing of the baton from Ayub to Gen Yahya Khan, who ended up presiding over the dismemberment of the country. Yes, Bhutto and Mujib also contributed, but there should be no forgetting that Yayha was an all-powerful military ruler.

Perhaps the only empowered civilian leader in living memory was Bhutto who was empowered mainly because a defeated, demoralised army, with several thousand servicemen, including three-star and two-star officers, prisoners of war (POWs) in India, could hardly call the shots or stake a claim to the throne.

Bhutto rehabilitated the army, brought back the POWs and won back over 5,000 square miles of lost territory in West Pakistan. The demoralised military was given such a boost that in the summer of 1977, Bhutto himself was overthrown and was executed two years later.

When Zia staged his coup, few commentators would have given him a decade in office. But in 1979 the Soviet troops marched into Afghanistan and also the pro-Washington Shah of Iran was overthrown in a clergy-led revolution for whom the US was the ‘Great Satan’. Pakistan thus became the only staging post for conducting a jihad against the Soviet Union, and the man who did the US bidding also rolled out his own extremist, obscurantist religious agenda under the cover of Afghan jihad and got comfortably ensconced in office.

Billions landed in the country as Pakistan became a key ally. It was not until the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983 that Zia received the first challenge to his rule. By 1985, Zia had a civilian prime minister installed after a partyless election. But he could not even get along with his own handpicked, yet assertive and clean, chief executive so he sacked him and called for new elections. Before the elections could be held, he died in an air crash.

Benazir’s concessions

Zia may have died but he cast a long shadow over the elected government, led by his archenemy Benazir Bhutto, that followed. Zia’s trusted Senate chairman and career civil servant Ghulam Ishaq Khan succeeded him as president. In her initial months in office, Benazir secured some concessions from the military, such as the exit of the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who had formed the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) alliance to deny her a huge majority in the election. She also insisted that a retired office, Lt-Gen Shamsur Rehman Kallue, be appointed the director-general of ISI. The military relented.

But when Kallue scaled back the domestic political role of the agency, army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg tasked his DG Military Intelligence, then Maj-Gen (later the three-star DG of ISI) Asad Durrani, with expanding the MI’s domestic political footprint.

Gen Durrani started to brief handpicked journalists with stories to discredit the Benazir government. And many such stories appeared in the media. To this day, it is not clear what happened to the report of former air chief Zufikar Ali Khan who had been commissioned by the prime minister to prepare reform recommendations for the ISI to make the agency more accountable and focussed on its main task. It is still gathering dust somewhere.

Less than two years after taking office, and surviving a military-backed no-confidence move, the president dismissed her government and dissolved the assemblies as the military did not forgive Benazir for ‘interfering’ in decisions about the appointment of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.

Over the following nine years, Nawaz Sharif twice was prime minister and Benazir once again, but were not allowed full terms. Thanks to the 8th Amendment, the country was ruled by a troika, comprising the president, the army chief and the prime minister. This was a first in parliamentary democracy. Some described the said amendment as a pressure release valve that removed the trigger for martial law. But when the military could sack an elected parliament and send home an elected prime minister/government and have its say, why would it need to impose martial law? It was the de facto ruler in any case.

In 1997, Nawaz, having absolute majority in the National Assembly, did away with the 8th Amendment, but just a couple of years later, in 1999, he was deposed, sentenced on spurious charges and exiled when he challenged the military and questioned its right to call the shots. At that point, the military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, was no more than an international pariah. What saved his skin was the 9/11 incident in 2001, which was followed by the ‘war on terror’ and suddenly Pakistan’s military ruler became the most feted man in the West.

Read: System’s widening cracks

This enabled him to rig the election and usher in a civilian façade to his rule. Yes, this too happened with the collusion of the judiciary and the dreaded 8th Amendment provisions vesting the president with sweeping powers in a parliamentary democracy, were revived.

Rampant terrorism in Pakistan was his lasting legacy and it was left again to the politicians to provide the moral sanction for the military to push back the terrorists and curb the mayhem. As she campaigned for the scheduled elections, Benazir was killed in a terror attack after Gen Musharraf had denied her the security warranted by the threat to her life.

Lack of trust

Even when they came back to power in two relatively fair elections in 2008 and 2013, both the PPP and PML-N leaderships were never trusted and seen as suspect. When the politicians did away with arbitrary presidential powers, restored parliamentary supremacy, and allowed provincial autonomy, the military was unhappy as it lost one significant lever of wielding power.

To add insult to injury, when the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award was finalised and in recognition of provincial autonomy transferred substantial funds and devolved powers, the centre’s dwindling resources were viewed with alarm and triggered simmering anger in one of the major claimants of the federal pie because it had shrunk.

Things reached a head when a message meant for the international community — to the effect that Pakistan was addressing the global concerns seriously with regard to terror-financing — was seen as an insult by the military. Retribution followed. And from 2016, Pakistan, which was on a decent trajectory, has limped from one crisis to another. Even in the 75th year of independence, efforts are underway to find the elusive stability amid a collapsing economy and the consequent inflation.

All this is not to say that political parties and politicians have not been found wanting. They need to polish their act for sure. Way too often they fall short in delivering efficient governance. However, it is safe to say that till Pakistan is solely defined by its security concerns, the balance of power will remain firmly with the military in its relations with the civilians.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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