Pakistan’s civil and military relations | By Zafar Aziz Chaudhry


Pakistan’s civil and military relations

CIVIL-Military relations of Pakistan is the one problem which has intermittently dogged us for the last 65 years but so far no serious study or survey has been ordered to determine its causes which is damaging our political stability and has become a major cause of our economic and social decadence leaving us at the tail-end of our other regional countries sharing the same land and problems as ours.

At the time of independence in August 1947, both defence forces inherited many common characteristics of the British Indian armed forces including the implicit acceptance of civilian supremacy.

But in subsequent years, frequent coups in Pakistan on the one hand and their complete absence in India perplexed us so much so that we were led to think as if the Hindus and Muslims were socially and culturally different breeds and had never lived in the same region.

India had framed its first Constitution on 26 November 1949 which provides for a Parliamentary form of government which is federal in structure.

Their political leadership had ample experience in nurturing political institutions. Pundit Nehru as Prime Minister reigned India for 17 years during which India attained full political stability due to which democratic norms were firmly entrenched.

Bad days overtook Pakistan when the Founder of the nation hardly survived for one year after the birth of Pakistan and then there was an acute political vacuum of true leadership.

The country was unfortunately overtaken by a political turmoil. Following independence, Pakistan had three Governor Generals, four Prime Ministers, two Constituent Assemblies (1947-1954 & 1955-1956), and nine years of protracted Constitution making process to produce the first Constitution of Pakistan in 1956, which was soon rejected by all Hindu minority parties and the largest Muslim political party (the Awami League).

Due to lack of consensus among various ethno groups, the 1956 Constitution failed to arrest the political instability that engulfed the entire country and made Governor General Iskandar Mirza to invite General Mohammad Ayub Khan in his cabinet who later dismissed the Governor General, abrogated the Constitution and imposed the first martial law in the country on 7 October 1958.

Between its promulgation and abrogation, four federal ministries changed. Later the military dictator General Ayub Khan, who had taken over the reins of power, enacted the 1962 Constitution to the country through an executive order.

The current Constitution was enacted by the third constituent assembly in 1973, was twice suspended by military coups of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1985) and General Musharraf (1999-2002), and at the time of its ‘restoration’, both in 1985 and 2002, the military regimes amended it in ways that fundamentally changed its federal character.

One such amendment on both occasions was the grant of power to the President to dissolve the lower house of the federal legislature.

With this power in the hands of Presidents (which post was always held by the CMLA) – both dictators used it to prolong their stay, and arbitrarily changed the democratic structure of the original Constitution.

In addition to that the dictators also gave constitutional cover via the 8th and 17th Amendments to the acts of suspensions of the Constitution and all other acts of the military dictators during the period between the suspension and restoration of the Constitution.

From the above analysis, it would appear that Pakistan’s civilian rule remained only for 11 years of its total existence.

For the rest of the time, Pakistan either remained under martial law or under military rulers.

Comparing both India and Pakistan, it emerges that the only thing that changed the direction of civil military relations is the political culture between the two countries.

India inherited a solid Constitution and a strong political leadership on the basis of which their Army could not stage a coup to upset political structure based on firm and solid grounds.

With passage of time, while the concept of civilian supremacy in India became firmly woven in the texture of their military, the Pakistani military on the other hand have institutionalized its role in political decision-making.

Political turmoil and prolonged political intrigues did not let Pakistan frame a Constitution for the first 15 years till in 1962 under military rule and after 26 years, in 1973 which is our present Constitution framed under civilian rule.

Moreover a bad tradition of inviting Army General to be a part of civilian set-up had already been created by the then Governor General Iskandar Mirza, which later became a precedent by the disgruntled politicians who themselves invited the Army to intervene in civil matters.

Thus politicians are equally responsible for creating political instability in the country. For the smooth working of civil-military functioning, several policy measures have been suggested but none of them is fool-proof.

The cadets in the PMA must be taught their first lesson to serve the nation under civilian supremacy which is the norm of the parliamentary democracy.

To keep harmonious relationship between civil and military segments, it is best that the military should be used sparingly to suppress domestic violence.

Periodic high level meetings between the PM and the army chief should be held to resolve thorny issues that endanger future peace.

Secondly, in the case of grave emergencies, there should be a joint cooperation between the two agencies to enhance cooperation and reduce mutual distrust.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the outgoing COAS on the eve of his retirement, hit the bull’s eye by saying that for the first time in our history, the Army had become target of public criticism which has been taken earnestly by the army, and it has been resolved that the future role of army would be apolitical.

This realization reflects the true thinking of the army and would augur well for our future political stability.

—The writer is former member of Provincial Civil Service and author of three books, based in Islamabad.