Civil-military imbalance — Past and present

M Tahir Iqbal

EVER since this democratic set-up took up the keys of parliament with an impression to steer the ship of democracy, there have evermore been angry voices as to the hidden hand of the third power impeding the way, or the umpire’s finger, or vividly the establishment. By establishment, we mean our army. Much similar angst had been the repeated mantra of the last PPP regime where you find the PM Gillani oddly blurting out ‘state within a state’. Thus the dialogue ‘conspiracy against democracy’ becomes the most common cliché in our political jargon. To reassure the phobia, COAS Gen Bajwa, of late, came forward and appeared before the Senate to calm down the perceptions developed in the backdrop of some recent judicial verdicts. He vehemently urged the legislators to carve out foreign and defence policies and pledged that the army would follow. He was candid enough to enjoin upon the senators not to exacerbate the general environment creating opportunity for the army to interfere.
Confused: who conspires? The general public opinion supports army as a credible institution of country and the same perception does not give that much weight to the credibility of the politicians. In all circumstances, the truth is that establishment of Pakistan has always had a central position to influence the contours of politics, and thereby commands pivotal place in the polity of the country. To understand the whole algebra of this phenomenon why ‘the boys’ take up the central stage, one has to go beyond the platitude of mere ‘creating opportunities for the army to interpose’. At the time of independence, all offices of the state of affairs were in tatters except civil bureaucracy and army as these were the sole institutions which were supremely trained in matters of their fields. As for as politicians were concerned, they have had little experience of ruling in contrast to the Indian National congress which had been gaining wide experience of ruling ever since 1885. The Muslim League collected itself and started a full-fledged socio-political campaign to achieve a separate homeland from 1940. From the role of a national movement to a ruling party, the Muslim League could not perform in the initial years through its unfledged politicians. Consequently, well-groomed institutions had to fill the void.
In the first phase that stretches from independence to the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, the things moved under the command of political framework. Army was subservient to the civilian government. In this phase, first, Quaid-i-Azam played his part to help run the tasks of the government as per prevailing laws. Thereafter, Liaquat Ali Khan, who had the portfolios of Defence Minister and the Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet apart from being the Prime Minister, took charge and let the institutions work under the political fabric.
But in the second phase lasting from 1951 to 1958, there emerged the partnership of bureaucracy with army and then the ultimate dominance of the latter over former. In this phase, we see the depletion of civilian capacity by the crumbling political apparatus thereby leaving space for the strongest one to come forward and play. The history of this period will remain incomplete without the mention of judiciary’s role whose rulings have engraved indelible imprints on the constitutional history of Pakistan constructing routes for the latter jurists to relax, temper and mould laws for the military-led forms of governments under the umbrella of coups. First example was set by Justice Munir. He, relying on the medieval jurist Henry de Bracton’s ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, reversed the decision of the High Court of Sindh and upheld the decision of Governor General Ghulam Muhammad to dissolve the first constituent assembly of Pakistan in 1954.
The third phase lasting from 1958 to 1969 made the army more stronger while Gen Zia’s martial law in 1977 was the most significant phase which left deepest grooves on the constitutional, political, social and cultural history of Pakistan. Zia has gone but he seems to live in perpetuity as his ideological meanderings could still be felt in far and wide nooks of the country. The ripples of Zia’s constitutional amendments were quite palpable in the seventh phase after the accidental death of General Zia. 58 2(B) rendered a semi-presidential structure to the already weak facade of parliamentary form of government. This clause was used 3 times in 1990’s to dissolve the elected governments by the presidents in collaboration with non-democratic forces.
The eighth phase like the sixth one suited the designs of international players in the background of 9/11 incident. The ninth phase still continues. This phase is perhaps the most interesting one; as, here the establishment does not feel the need to stage a martial-law to reign in the affairs, rather indirectly keeps tabs over many aspects of political life. The general anxiety in public is captured, and the disgruntled political players especially the actors from the opposition political parties are maneuvered. The judiciary, too, participates. Instability factor is exploited. Ten to twelve anchors from the media houses sharing the same views forge the public opinion being in collaboration. Thus the general environment goes against the corrupted ones ensconced in Parliament and the common man again prays to get rid of the ruling echelons of society.
The bottom line is if the constitution has to take up the centre stage in our polity – the political parties have to grow up and show maturity and desist from dragging down those running the govenment. If the ruling parties abide by the constitutional norms, the other institutions – be it judiciary, army, media-men, all public and private offices – shall exercise restraint in trespassing the dictates of law. The problem starts when the ruling parties violate the rules of the game that creates considerable disquietude in the populace. This unrest invites other players to jump in and salvage the people in distress.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Lahore.

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