Civil- Military Interaction

Spearhead Research Opinion – 17.12.2014

Pakistan-Flag-3DThere can be no two views on the fact that in a democratic dispensation the military institution must be subject to the control of the elected representatives of the people. These elected representatives hold supreme authority once they get into political leadership positions after their election. It must, however, be noted that getting into leadership positions by virtue of an election is one thing but exercising leadership and actually performing as a leader is quite another matter. Not all elected representatives can do so and if they do not opt for credible and competent people around them then their shortcomings as leaders become a millstone around democracy’s neck. This weakness then becomes the root cause for all the problems that start plaguing emerging democracies transitioning from military rule.

The hallmarks of a constitutional democracy are—institutional stability, national unity and cohesion and political pluralism. If a democracy cannot achieve these and instead creates institutional weakness and infighting through poor governance and a thrust to achieve total domination then it is laying the seeds of not only its own destruction but can also cause incalculable harm to the nation. Other countries interacting with Pakistan point out that they have to deal with multiple centers of power—the political leadership, the military and even an intelligence agency. If there is a strong political center with capacity and competence then it can quickly establish credibility through its performance and become the center of gravity. If it cannot achieve this and a perception of incompetence, poor governance and personalized preferences sets in then it is inevitable that other centers of power will step in to fill the vacuum. This is particularly true for countries that have a history of military interventions.

In a constitutional democracy there is no judicial or legal provision for the military to take over. This fact has been brought into sharp focus by recent events and follow-up legal proceedings. A catastrophe that creates or highlights an existential threat can lead to extraordinary steps including an intervention that might somehow find legal acceptance. The more important consideration is that in countries like Pakistan with a history of long periods of military rule the democracy promoting role of the military should be examined especially when overt intervention has been ruled out by legal proceedings and environmental changes. This means understanding the difficulty of a complete disconnect between the military and the political institution and instead recognizing the interdependence of the two institutions and the need for them to function in harmony. The political institution by virtue of being in power has the responsibility for ensuring this as well as ensuring that there is institutionalized interaction with the military to get its input—an accepted procedure in all democracies.

It should also be noted that in some countries the military has exited from political power only after laying down the terms of its departure either through constitutional amendments or other agreements. Such terms are either negotiated or failing that then they are extracted as concessions from the political leadership through other means—especially if political instability persists and policy making is either absent or flawed. The reality is that the military will insist on some power, permitted privileges, autonomy within its own system and its input into decision making. It is up to the political leadership to manage this reality not by trying to ride rough shod over the military but by meaningful interaction so that a military accustomed to power moves into a democracy supporting and promoting role—a transition that is now taking place in Pakistan.

The tragic terrorist incident in Peshawar is an eye-opener and a game changer. While there is need for the nation to look inwards and determine the lapses and failures that have led to this disaster it is equally important to understand the critical importance of the civil-military relationship in the challenging environment that Pakistan faces today.  Insurgency and terrorism have morphed into a single threat or at least into inter linked threats and  this requires counter insurgency and counter terrorism policies to be meshed and interlinked into a national response through constant and not episodic institutionalized decision making—this is only possible through civil- military interaction in an environment of political and institutional stability and national unity.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)