Evolving Civil-Military Relations

Spearhead Analysis – 25.11.2015

Raheel-Sharif-Nawaz-SharifEver since the PML (N) government came into being it has operated against the backdrop of questions on the state of civil-military relations. This is nothing new but in the past there were situations that could and did lead to military interventions followed by prolonged military backed and dominated governments. This time after a decade of military backed rule and with an active insurgency in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) plus a declining economy the domestic and international environment was considered totally inappropriate for any sort of undemocratic dispensation especially because one elected government had completed its five year tenure and had been followed by another. In spite of this there were totally avoidable situations that threatened to create a civil-military confrontation with disastrous consequences for the country. In most cases these stemmed from inappropriate statements and actions that sent the wrong signals and encouraged speculation by those eager to see some kind of upheaval and change. That this did not happen goes to the credit of both the political and the military leadership. After all, the entire ‘container situation’ in Islamabad could have led to third party intervention — there was enough encouragement from many quarters — but Islamabad is not Tahrir Square and Pakistan is a big politically awakened country with well developed institutions and an overwhelming desire for functional democratic governance.

The last such situation that is still reverberating took off from a suggestion publicly voiced by the military after a Corps Commanders’ Conference asking for an improvement in governance to consolidate the gains made by the military through prolonged counter insurgency and counter terror operations in the western border areas and Karachi — a city that seemed to be in terminal decline. There are no two views on the positive impact of these operations on the internal security environment as well as Pakistan’s international image. The military’s statement, therefore, found resonance but it did trigger a response from the government, a mild debate in Parliament and heated debates in the media. At the intellectual level the episode has led to focus on what forced the military to go public and how this could be avoided in the future, the lack of attendance and informed debate in Parliament, the need for institutionalized decision making and implementation of policies and plans — especially the almost neglected National Action Plan — and of course the need for effective governance. It has also led to actions that indicate that the military’s message has registered and there are expectations of better governance as more and more questions are being asked on a range of issues.

The fact that the military is not going to repeat the follies of the past and nor is there an environment for such actions now could lead to ill considered and totally unnecessary responses. There is the perception that the civilian government is ceding far too much space to the military, that some sort of ‘soft coup’ has already taken place, that the appointment of a retired general as the National Security Adviser is the concluding act of the ‘soft coup’ and that the military, through the Apex Committees and other structures, is set to dominate the national scene. Such perceptions were fanned by the unnecessary debates and discussions that took place while the Army Chief represented the country abroad. Some matters aired were farcical — did the Army Chief take permission from the government to go abroad? Was he invited by the US or did he invite himself? Why was the red carpet rolled out for him? Was he seeking endorsement for an extension? Is a special media cell created by the government planting doubts about the military’s intentions? And so on. Such questions do not merit a response because the majority view was that he represented the country, explained Pakistan’s position on all issues and contributed to an improvement in US-Pakistan relations. That he got a great reception and was heard by all who matter in the US political, military and diplomatic structures is a very positive development for Pakistan.

The elected government in Pakistan is in charge. Ownership of all operations and policies rests with the government. The military is supporting this government in every possible way. Both the civil and military institutions understand that unless they work together they cannot face the challenges of the future nor can they exploit fully the potential of the future opportunities. Debates and discussions are good but repeating ad nauseam that the civil and military are on the same page is not necessary at all because there should be no ambiguity about this fact. Pakistan needs to keep its national interests, its dignity and its honor uppermost and intra institutional interaction has to be based on trust, mutual respect and reinforcement of each other’s capacity. As the government strives to improve governance it can be helped by the military to develop credible teams and develop capacity in governance structures that have been weakened over a period of time. The future will only look as good as the optics that are created by actions, plans and policies. With big issues like India-Pakistan, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, counter terrorism and counter radicalization operations, economic viability and internal security looming large this is no time for negative speculations and intolerance.

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