Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan Always on a Bumpy Road

The most basic precondition of a true democratic setup is a healthy civil-military relationship. In all democratic countries, an elected civilian government enjoys full control over the military. However, in Pakistan, control over governance has oscillated between the two; a decade of civilian supremacy followed by a decade of military rule. The reasons for this periodic shuffling are incompetent political leadership, weak political parties and institutions, rising power of civil-military bureaucracy, serious security threats to the country and frequent use of military in aid of civil power.

In the early days of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam clearly articulated the role of the military in the following words:

‘Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people. You do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted.’

Leadership Void

Soon after independence, in 1948, the Father of the Nation and the first Governor-General, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, passed away. Thus, a leadership void was created after just one year of the country’s establishment. The first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was Quaid’s right hand lieutenant, was also assassinated in 1951. About the rest of the leadership lot, the Quaid had ruefully remarked that ‘he had false coins in his pocket.’

Delayed Finalisation of Constitution

Similarly, in 1954, there were nine members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet, who were not members of the Parliament, including Commander-in-Chief General Muhammad Ayub Khan. Moreover, Pakistan took nine long years to finalise its first constitution that was enforced on 23 March 1956. This inordinate delay allowed the Governor-General to continue with his authoritarian rule. This all was happening at a time when the country direly needed healthy democratic traditions. In addition, the first general elections in the country, which were due in 1951, were held after a lapse of almost quarter of a century, in 1970. This further strengthened the non-democratic and authoritarian tendencies providing space to civil and military bureaucracies to assume a dominant position in governance.

Weak Political Parties

For any healthy constitutional and political system to function smoothly, strong and well-entrenched political parties are essential. Unfortunately, political parties in Pakistan have failed to develop into strong vehicles of national political will. The main reason is that most of our leaders belonged to feudal and capitalist classes and were thus, by their very nature, inimical to a democratic polity. Their incompetence and constant wrangling for power led to ceaseless infighting. For instance, as early as 1953, a clash between the leadership of the Punjab and the central government led to the imposition of Martial Law in Lahore, the provincial capital.

Weak Institutions

After independence, Pakistan had to start from scratch. There was no established parliament, no civil secretariat, no supreme court, no central bank and no organised armed forces. There was a paucity of competent parliamentarians. The proportion of the Indian Civil Service officers who opted for Pakistan was small. The same was true of the higher judiciary. Unlike other institutions, the proportion of Muslims in the Indian Army was comparatively substantial, i.e., 33 per cent.  This is also one of the reasons why the armed forces of Pakistan assumed greater importance right in the beginning and were better established than other institutions of the state.

Rising Power of Civil-Military Bureaucracy

Due to lack of basic infrastructure, Pakistan had to make new beginning in all spheres. But the low level of literacy made this task very difficult. The country needed competent and a determined leadership to build and nurture democratic institutions. But such a leadership was hard to come by in a rural society in which the political, social and economic life was dominated by the landed aristocracy. The feudal leadership of political parties was not capable of dealing with the multifarious problems faced by the country. It depended heavily on the civil and military bureaucracy. The result was the bureaucratic elite became disproportionately assertive, steadily increasing their power at the expense of the political elite. For instance, a civil bureaucrat Governor-General of Pakistan, Ghulam Muhammad (1951-55), dissolved the National Assembly in 1954 and the Federal Court justified and validated his unconstitutional act on the basis of the ‘law of necessity.’

Wrangling for Power

The first President of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza, relied on the military to ensure state’s integrity when the PML President, Qayyum Khan, threatened direct action and the Khan of Kalat declared his secession from Pakistan. In order to deal with the disturbed situation, Mirza took extreme step; he abrogated the Constitution, dissolved the legislative assemblies, dismissed the central and provincial governments, banned all political parties and postponed general elections indefinitely. He also declared Martial Law and appointed General Ayub as the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), who in turn removed Iskander Mirza on October 27, 1958 and himself became the President. Thus began the era of military-dominated governance.

Military’s Sway over Political Setup

After seven years of instability (1951-58), in which as many as seven prime ministers rose and fell, the military regime put the country on the path of economic and political stability. Hamid Khan, a renowned lawyer, writes in ‘Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan’:
‘Ayub’s term of office [1958-69] was the golden era for the bureaucracy, which exercised its powers, unbridled by any political interference.’
Again, after the restoration of democratic governance during 1988-99, four governments were dissolved by the President of Pakistan invoking Article 58 (2)(b). On 12 October, 1999, the military once again ousted the elected government and Pakistan was again under their despotic rule.

Civil Dependence on Army

From the very beginning, the Army remained involved in civil administration.  In 1947, it was the Army that was asked to establish civil secretariat in Karachi. They vacated their barracks, renovated them to house the secretariat and the staff coming from Delhi. It was the Army which largely contributed to safeguarding the movement of several refugee convoys carrying millions of refugees from East Punjab as well as establishing their camps at Lahore. In short, the army was frequently called in aid of civil authorities in all natural disasters, emergencies and other civil functions.

Present Situation

Presently, however, the situation is different. Pakistan’s political leadership is more mature and political parties are better established. The country has developed a middle class, an active civil society, a vibrant media and an independent judiciary. Whenever required, Parliament is getting briefing on security matters from the Services Chiefs and decisions are taken through consensus. Although military enjoys autonomy in its internal affairs, somewhat healthy civil-military relations exist. The Army is more deeply involved now than a decade ago in support of activities for the civilian government: law-and-order tasks; relief and rescue operations after natural disasters; the use of its organisational and technological resources for public welfare projects; greater induction of its personnel in civilian institutions; anti-terrorist activities; and containing narcotics trafficking.

The Way Forward

Presently, civil-military relations do not seem as healthy and cordial as they should be. There are apprehensions on both sides. The government’s tacit support to Geo in ISI bashing case has increased the tensions between the two pillars of the state. Apparently, army and the government are poles apart on the issue of operation against Taliban.

It is imperative that in the larger interest of the country both these institutions join hands to save Pakistan from the monster of terrorism and steer the country out of multifaceted crises which are adversely affecting Pakistan and its citizens. It is often said that Pakistan is in a state of war and no war can be won when there is disunity among the state institutions.

By:Maqsood Ahmed

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