Civil-military relations have had a chequered history in Pakistan. In the best of times, it has been a working relationship defined by narrow set of the rules whereby military has allowed civilians to take the front seat while it deals with complex security and terrorism-related problems. In the worst of times, there has been a pronounced tug of war which led to intermittent coups.
I would only add that the traditional academic approach employed to assess and evaluate the civil-military relations has been characterized by ‘black and white’ phenomenon, which is reflected in the way commentators have explained the power dynamics between civil and military institutions whereby gain of the one has been interpreted as loss of the other.
The consequences of a kind of tug of war and power struggle, which is a pronounced feature of our chequered past, have not been positive. The country has suffered a lot with security challenges multiplying, governance structures being unable to deliver and economy faltering.
The year 2008 marks a watershed in the country’s history as key stakeholders evolved a consensus on the need for allowing democracy to take root by carefully nurturing it. While the military returned to its professional duty, the politicians elected in 2008 took over to run the country.
Although the then civil government registered a marked failure on a number of fronts in terms of governance and economic performance; what is encouraging is that despite serious differences on key policy issues, the stakeholders preferred engagement and dialogue to articulate their respective positions, and demonstrated their will to resolve them through dialogue without jeopardizing democracy.
This display of restraint and cooperation represents a departure from the past. Political forces in Pakistan seem to have also recognized the need of resolving their differences only through political engagement. The way they have expressed their unflinching support to democracy gives an idea about the extent of change that has permeated the political elite.
There is, now, a complete consensus within Pakistan’s civil and military leadership about the nature, dynamics and gravity of challenges facing the country. This consensus augurs well for the nation-building and is critical to efforts to put the country back on track. Civil-military cooperation, which got underway during the previous government, has been taken to the next level during the incumbency of the present PML-N government. Now this relationship is stable, predictable and more sure-footed than before.
The incumbent government has made a conscious effort to institutionalize the civil-military cooperation. A framework of mutual cooperation and co-dependence between these two organs has been put in place to deal with complex problems. Both civil and military leaderships have frequent conversations on how to take Pakistan forward.
There is now a consensus on three fundamental issues of huge importance:
1. What is our vision regarding future of the state of Pakistan?
2. Who will do what and how?
3. What are accepted means of a government change?
There is now a clear direction as far as Pakistan’s future is concerned. The optimism is returning and the international community has started to look at Pakistan in promising light, away from doomsday scenarios
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 to flush out terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and establish the writ of the state. The military operation has enjoyed a complete ownership and broad-based support of the political forces and the people of Pakistan.
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 having representation of the military and civilian leaders provide suitable forums for frank discussions and decision-making on key security challenges.
The National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism outlines key action areas to eradicate terrorism, militancy, radicalism and extremism through a broad set of measures spread over an extended period of time. The implementation of the NAP both in letter and spirit requires an elaborate and comprehensive cooperation between the two institutions. The realities of urban terrorism and imperatives of undoing the mindset that generates terrorism call for concerted engagement and deep-rooted cooperation in a structured and institutionalized format.
As regards third point regarding government change, the rules of the game have clearly been drawn up between the civil and military leaders, which reflected themselves during the days of political upheavals one year ago. There is now a clear consensus on the fact that the only way to change a government is through fair, free and transparent elections in line with the procedure contained in the Constitution of Pakistan. Let every government offer itself for public accountability at the end of its term and if people are satisfied with its performance, they will elect it again or reject it if they are not happy with its performance.
There is now a clear direction as far as Pakistan’s future is concerned. The optimism is returning and the international community has started to look at Pakistan in promising light, away from doomsday scenarios, which is manifest from The Washington Post story published a few weeks ago describing Pakistan being successful in transitioning from the worst days.
This change in our fortunes and ‘can do’ confidence prevailing among the public is the direct consequence of excellent civil-military relations. The peculiar set of domestic, regional and foreign policy challenges Pakistan faces require concerted cooperation, consensus on fundamentals and unanimity of approach on how to deal with them among the top civil and military leadership.
These are extraordinary times without any shadow of doubt and the whole nation needs to stand united behind a vision of prosperous, secure and stable democratic Pakistan. No challenge is too insurmountable to be overcome provided we have the determination to do so. Fortunately, we have the civil and military leadership at the top that understands what needs to be done and has demonstrated the will to defeat all those elements that want to see Pakistan embroiled in conflict and terrorism.