By Amanat Ali Chaudhry
Civil-military relations have enjoyed a chequered history in Pakistan. The consequences of this tug of war, which has been a pronounced feature of our past, have not been positive as they have hampered the strengthening of institutions. Over the years, the country has suffered a great deal as security challenges have multiplied, governance structures are unable to deliver and the economy is going down the drain.
However, the traditional academic approach employed to assess and evaluate civil-military relations has been characterised by the ‘black and white’ phenomenon. This has been reflected in the way commentators have explained the power dynamics between civil and military institutions. The gains of one institution have been interpreted as the loss of the other.
Civil and military institutions have emerged wiser by learning from misunderstandings and follies of the past. Both institutions have realised that, while their operational DNAs may be different and the style and mannerism of their respective articulations are quite unique, their spirit and objectives remain the same. Both institutions want to make Pakistan great and ensure the nation remains proud of their endeavours.
The year 2008 was a watershed in the country’s history as the key stakeholders evolved a consensus on the need to allow the democratic project to take root by carefully nurturing it.
What is particularly encouraging is that, despite these differences on policy issues, the stakeholders preferred to engage with one another to articulate their respective positions. They also demonstrate their willingness to resolve issues through dialogue without jeopardising democracy. This mindset of restraint and cooperation represents a departure from the past when even minor differences could cause an upheaval.
The political forces in Pakistan have also recognised the need to resolve their differences through political engagement instead of undermining each other for petty interests. The manner in which all parties – despite their differences and varying ideological positions – have expressed their unstinted support for democracy suggests the extent of the change that has swept through the political landscape of the country.
There is a complete consensus within Pakistan’s civil and military leadership about the nature, dynamics and gravity of the challenges that the country is facing. This consensus augurs well for nation-building and is critical to efforts to put the country back on track after a decade of terrorism. Civil-military cooperation, which was underway during the previous political administration, has been taken to the next level during the tenure of the present government.
Now that civil-military relations are stable, predictable and more sure-footed than before, there is a pressing need to reflect on a complete consensus on the broad contours of challenges and the way forward to tackle them.
The incumbent government has made a conscious effort to institutionalise the civil-military cooperation. A framework of mutual cooperation and co-dependence between civil and military institutions has been put in place to deal with the complex web of problems.
The civil and military leadership have had an honest and frank conversation about what is needed to take the country forward. This is a conversation that was long overdue.
There is now a consensus on three fundamental issues of considerable importance: the vision regarding future of the state of Pakistan, concerns about who will do what and how, and what the accepted means of a change in government should be.
The first point relates to establishing the primacy and ascendancy of the state of Pakistan over all non-state actors by eliminating terrorism, militancy, radicalism and extremism. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a key initiative launched to flush out terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and establish the writ of the state. The military operation has enjoyed the complete ownership and broad-based support of the political forces.
The second point relates to the nature and manner of cooperation between the civil and military institutions, starting from the federal to the provincial levels. The apex committees, which have representation of the military, provide suitable forums for frank discussions and decision-making on key security challenges.
The implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor requires an elaborate and comprehensive cooperation between the civil and military institutions. Similarly, the realities of urban terrorism and the imperative of eliminating the mindset that generates terrorism call for concerted engagement and a deep-rooted cooperation. Such engagement must be forthcoming in a structured and institutionalised format between the civil and military leaders.
With regard to the third point, the rules of the game have clearly been drawn up between the civil and military leaders and were reflected during the sit-in.
There is now a clear consensus on the fact that the only way to change a government is through fair, free and transparent elections which are in line with the procedure contained in the constitution. Every government must offer itself for public accountability at the end of its term. If people are satisfied by its performance, they will either elect it again or reject it. The peculiar set of domestic, regional and foreign policy challenges that Pakistan faces require concerted cooperation, consensus on the fundamentals and a unanimous approach on how to deal with them.
The history of our civil-military relations has enabled every institution and dispensation to understand that, in the past, pulling in different directions only pulled the country apart. Today, we are indeed wiser, and thus better off.
Assumptions cannot be allowed to replace facts. Absolute cooperation and understanding – which comes only through uninterrupted dialogue with one another and realising and appreciating every organism’s constitutional and legal spheres and responsibilities – are critical and inevitable for the continued stability and prosperity of Pakistan.
Such interactions between the civil and military components serve a very meaningful and positive purpose. As a nation, we face complex and multifaceted challenges, both within and outside the country. A synergy of thought and purpose needs to be put in place to addressing these challenges prudently.
These are, without a shadow of doubt, extraordinary times and the whole nation needs to stand united behind the vision of prosperous, secure, stable democratic Pakistan. Stable civil-military cooperation is the key to achieving this purpose.