Monday, March 30, 2015 – IF a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing depicts better the state of our civil-military relations and ascendancy of military in national affairs than the picture with the COAS in the middle, flanked on the one side by the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and on the other the elected Chief Minister of Balochistan. The photo was taken on the occasion of the meeting to review progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) in Quetta on February 18, 2015.
The quote mentioned above is the opening paragraph (accompanying the photograph in question) of a study conducted by PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency), a well- known think-tank of Pakistan, on the current state of civil-military relations.
The study highlights a pertinent portion of the relevant press release issued by the Prime Minister’s office: ‘It is good that the Army and the Government are on the same page and assisting each other’ and ‘the whole nation must feel that both the civil and military leadership are on the same page.’
The study finds the over-emphasis on reporting the location of the ‘Government’ and the ‘Army’ on the same page as conveying the ‘incorrect’ impression as if the Army works independently of the Government whereas sub-clause (1) of Article 243 of the Constitution states that the ‘Federal Government shall have control and command of Armed Forces’.
Referring to a number of other such unusual developments the study attempts to establish that the Army has gradually assumed an enhanced political role not permitted by the Constitution. Some of these events referred to are: Prominentposition the Army Chief appears to have assumed in the decision making process of the four provincial Apex Committees constituted to implement the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) framed by the APC held following the Army Public School terrorist attack; the extraordinary powers that the Army courts have been allowed by the amended Pakistan Army Ordinance, 2015 and; Army Chief’s growing role in international affairs like his visits to Afghanistan, the US and the UK and the calls on at the GHQ by the Afghan president, the Turkish Prime Minister and the Chinese Foreign Minister.
One can hardly disagree with the implied conclusion the study attempts its readers to reach. In fact all the facts mentioned in the study are incontrovertible. And the overall impression that they have created has made many to believe that a soft coup has already occurred while some believe they are witnessing a creeping coup. And interested circles that thrive during military rules have begun building their own self- serving castles in the air on the basis of this impression. And many who sincerely believe that Pakistan would be far better off with military rule rather than be ruled by ‘corrupt’ elected civilians seem eagerly awaiting curtains on the democratic set up followed by a military rule led by a patriotic general who would turn Pakistan into a truly Islamic well-fare state.
However, if a still picture is worth a thousand words, then a personal look-see or a TV stream view should be worth a million words. Thousands who attended the Mach 23 military parade and the millions who viewed it on their TV screens sitting at home must have noticed where the elected president and the prime minister stood taking the salute and where the chiefs of the three armed forces were standing. And that is the factual position as enshrined in the Constitution of the two—the elected public servants and the paid government servants.
But a country that has remained under the control of the Army for almost the entire period of its existence with a few civilian pauses needs a little more time for the current ‘pause’ to last for democracy to take firm roots. It has been only seven years since the end of the last 8-year long up-front military rule.
During the decade of the 1990s the Army had preferred to pull the strings from behind the scene after the 11-year long up-front rule of General Ziaul Haq.
The ‘pause’ which is actually a transition phase from dictatorship to democratic dispensation remains prone to accidents because the Army which has been taking all the decisions all these years finds it almost impossible to concede these powers to the elected civilians and the civilians who most often come to power with little or no built-in capacity to govern find it equally impossible to wrench the decision making powers from the Army overnight. And in the ensuing tussle it is the civilians who more often than not lose.
Indeed, you cannot switch off the Army and switch on the civilians. It is a long give-and-take process. Even an Army willing to go back to its Constitutional role on its own would find it impossible to concede all the decision making powers that it had wielded so far the day the civilians come to power without causing immense dislocation all around as the incoming civilians would not have the needed level of governing capacities and decision making powers to take over the responsibilities immediately.
Seven years is too short a period for the transition phase to complete. Making things even more complicated is the fact that the nation currently is at war against its terror self. And in wars, the input of the military becomes crucially decisive in thedecision making process. For this reason alone the institution that contributes this in-put assumes a prominence which at times makes it appear as of it is transgressing the limits drawn by the Constitution. Such a situation can give rise to any number of misunderstandings between the military institution and the civilian government. Also the impression that such a situation would normally convey to the general public would surely be misconstrued as coup in the making.