The changing contours of civil-military relations

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 16.04.14

In countries such as Pakistan, where more than one school of thought exists on how to run
the country, the news of bitterness in civil-military relations comes as no surprise. That
Pakistan would be a democracy was known to all but ruses were contrived to derail
democracy time and again. The excuse of ‘national interest’ was used by the military to
exploit the sentiments of Pakistanis in its favour. Consequently, the country was divided into
pro-democracy and pro-military forces. The conflict between them created a vacuum that
let opportunists feed on the system by exploiting a given situation.

Whether getting former General Pervez Musharraf indicted by a trial court on the charges
of high treason under Article 6 of the constitution was a ploy or not is a different thing. That
Musharraf violated the constitution on November 3, 2007 is a known fact. Sure of his
popularity in the masses, Musharraf launched his own political party, the All Pakistan
Muslim League, in 2010. Acting under the same spell of self-proclaimed fame, he decided
to come back to Pakistan in 2013, ending his self-exile to contest general elections. It is
said that Musharraf turned down all advice, even that coming from the top brass of the
military, against his return. If he had not come back to the country, he would not have
landed in the trouble he is in now. This is an oversimplified conclusion, given the adventure-
loaded history of Musharraf.

In the middle of 1999, the Kargil operation was the event that made Pakistanis aware of
Musharraf’s proclivity for dodging the political leadership and imposing his adventurous
agenda. Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister (PM) of Pakistan, never expected that a
briefing session conducted on a snow-wrapped hill would plunge the country into a war and
eventually cost him his government. By acting on his own and without taking the political
leadership into confidence, Musharraf played a dangerous game and put the security of the
whole country at stake. As the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), if Musharraf was so convinced
of the fruits of the operation, he should have swayed the country’s political leadership in its
favour and should have informed them of the expected consequences. Musharraf sought
no formal permission to launch the operation; his decision led to discomfiture of the political
leadership and, eventually, on October 12, 1999, swept through the country. In principle,
Sharif, who is now again the PM of Pakistan, should constitute a commission to investigate
the matter. In recent history, the Kargil operation was a mind-changer. The launch of the
operation showed not only to Pakistanis but also to the whole world the extent to which
Pakistan was vulnerable to the exploits of a military general. The Kargil operation was the
event that made Pakistan’s civil-military acrimony known formally to the whole world.
Moreover, the operation invited the attention of the whole world towards an expected
nuclear flashpoint, which could devour the lives of more than one billion people in South
Asia.

The immediate consequences of the Kargil operation at both the regional and international
levels were overshadowed by the immediate consequences of 9/11. In 2007, it was the folly
of Musharraf to strive to get elected a second time, come what may. His idiocy opened a
new vista of opportunities for both local and international players. From 2000 to 2007, the
US was convinced that, under the Musharraf regime, Pakistan was just interested in
receiving dollars to run the country but it was serving insubstantially in return. After the
elections of 2008, the new political regime in Pakistan seemed convinced of the fact that it
was not supposed to interfere in the domain of the military, especially where the military was
confronting the Taliban. When the military did not listen to the entreaties of the political
government to soften up on Baloch insurgents, the political leadership did not listen to the
appeals of the military to help it out against Taliban insurgents. This state of indifference to
the needs of each other was an expression of souring civil-military relations, though they
were implicit.

The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act of 2009 was the first explicit expression of the US’s tilt in the
civilians’ favour. Its two clauses — one saying that promotions to two-star rank and beyond
within the military needed approval by Pakistan’s civilian government and, second,
restraining Pakistan’s military from staging a coup against the civilian government — might
have irked the military but these two clauses were a recognition of what happened in
Pakistan in 1999. A few days ago, the address of COAS General Raheel Sharif to a
commando unit and subsequently a meeting of corps commanders might have given a
lease of life to politicians such as Sheikh Rasheed, who are now trying to cash in on the
situation, but it cannot solve the real issue.

In 2014, the major protector of democracy may not be politicians or judges but mass
awareness. The question is this: if the masses were so pro-Musharraf, why did they defeat
pro-Musharraf political parties and why did they elect anti-Musharraf political parties in both
the 2008 and 2013 elections? The Musharraf legal team is already employing all kinds of
tactics to save Musharraf. The urgency declared by the army chief and corps commanders
means that the legal team is failing in its efforts and it needs an outsider’s help to save
Musharraf. Whether Musharraf is rescued somehow and allowed to flee the country or not
is one thing but, regardless of this, the reality is that the contours of civil-military relations
have changed in Pakistan. Now the civilian leadership is dominating certain affairs of state.
The civilian leadership would not do that, had Musharraf not committed blunders, had a pro-
democracy consensus not developed in the country and had international forces not
convinced the military of the importance of civilian supremacy in Pakistan.

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