Civil-military imbalance

Published November 20, 2011

THERE may be fireworks in parliament today over 'memogate', but what ought to be the main issue - the civil-military imbalance — will probably get only passing mention. Unhappily, an age-old lesson is being reinforced once again: unless the civilians get their act together and work towards strengthening democratic institutions, civilian control of the military is likely to remain a pipe-dream. Set aside the speculation surrounding the memo that Ijaz Mansoor delivered to then-chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen — only a thorough and transparent high-powered public inquiry will come close to ascertaining the facts, but that is unlikely to happen — and focus on what the political leadership in a country with reasonably strong democratic roots would have done post-May 2.

Parliament would have been activated immediately, defence committees would inquire into why US troops were able to operate unhindered on Pakistani soil for nearly two hours, intelligence committees would inquire into how and why Osama bin Laden was able to find sanctuary in Abbotabad and foreign relations committees would have examined the impact of the May 2 raid on Pakistan's international standing, making concrete recommendations to limit the damage. That no such thing happened here is of course not the fault of the present government alone. In Pakistan, parliament has never been strong and sometimes hasn't even existed at all. But by surrendering the national-security and foreign-policy domains to the military establishment, the present government sowed fresh seeds of trouble. Bartering critical policy areas away for political survival was akin to shaking hands with the devil: short-term gains were always going to turn into long-term nightmares.

Indeed, if Ijaz Mansoor's claims are true — and given the cast of characters allegedly involved on the Pakistani side, anything is possible — the civilian leadership would be exposed as very pitiful indeed. The ultimate irony: if the allegations are true, then because of the poor choices the government has made in its dealings with the military it had already ensured that there was no chance of its proposals being implemented. Sacking military principals and installing a new national security team? Perhaps if the government had worked to strengthen democratic institutions, some of the memo proposals would not have looked so utterly divorced from reality. Long after the noise subsides in parliament and heads roll or not, Pakistan will still be left with a daunting reality: the civilians aren't getting any closer at all to truly being in charge.



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