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ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: The Senate defence committee’s public hearing on civil-military relations was marked on Wednesday by a new phase in the discourse on the thorny issue, widely believed to be at the root of most of the problems, raising more intriguing questions on the way forward for fixing the imbalance. But it was clear that there was no illusion about quick-fix solutions.

The over three-hour discussion was attended by 26 people, including seven parliamentarians. Three key presentations by former defence secretary Salim Abbas Jilani, former corps commander of Rawalpindi Lt Gen (retd) Salim Haider and analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi ended with an assortment of ideas to deal with the issue ranging from change in the military’s mindset to politicians putting their act right for regaining the confidence of the masses.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence Senator Mushahid Hussain in an upbeat assessment of the situation at the end of the public hearing said things were changing and more space was now available for civilians. “The onus is now on the civilian leadership to benefit from it,” he said.

The defence committee initiated in September a series of public hearings as part of its initiative to develop a new defence strategy.

Civil-military relations have always remained a hotly debated issue, but the apex court judgment in the Asghar Khan case and subsequent statements by President Asif Ali Zardari, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry triggered high stakes debate on the issue.

Senator Farhatullah Babar called for an institutionalised and direct dialogue between civilian and military leaders and revision of the curricula of military training institutes to make the new soldiers cognizant of the sacredness of the Constitution, besides inculcating among them respect for democratic institutions and values.

Political analyst Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi said he believed that despite slight improvement in the civil-military equation in favour of the civilian leaders, there was no hope of returning to the ‘classical model’ of civil-military relationship where civilians enjoyed supremacy in administering the country.

He cautioned that the military would continue to remain involved, influencing various processes in foreseeable future, through its regular contacts with civilian leaders, institutional clout and public statements on how it would like things to happen.

Mr Rizvi said he believed that the army continued to possess the ability to overthrow a civilian set-up. However, doubts about sustaining that control with the country becoming increasingly ‘ungovernable’ could be dissuading it from adventurism.

He opined that the process for reformulating the relationship would be a protracted one and more importantly a bumpy drive.

“Attempts to redefine it have already caused anxiety,” he noted.

War on terror and extremism, he feared, could perpetuate the military’s dominance. Former corps commander of Rawalpindi Lt Gen (retd) Salim Haider said the problem of military’s ascendancy was a colonial legacy where defence forces were not only used to defend British India, but also to suppress Indian natives and thoughts with the help of bureaucracy.

That mindset, he said, was inherited by the Pakistan military after 1947. Subsequent developments, including threat from India, absence of functioning institutions in the newly established country and corruption allowed the army to strengthen its hold on power.

“Unfortunately, this (situation) stifled growth of institutions in the new country and opened doors for military takeovers,” he added.

Sharing his experiences, he said military continued to enjoy eminence in national affairs where the advice of the army chief was not only sought on defence matters, but on most of the issues.

He also recalled having seen officials of the Foreign Office daily lining up at the GHQ for getting their draft letters and speeches approved by the army chief.

Khurram Dastagir Khan, a PML-N legislator, said that foreign policy and security issues would have to be brought to parliament if democracy was to survive.

Former defence secretary Saleem Abbas Jilani observed that repeated military interventions not only impacted socio-economic conditions in the country, but also foreign relations.

Marvi Sirmed, who heads the UNDP’s project for supporting parliament, termed the hearing an encouraging step towards consolidation of democracy and strengthening democratic institutions.

“Although in its formative phase and having much room for improvement, the trend of holding public hearings has to be encouraged,” she said.