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#4408, 24 April 2014
Civil-Military Equations in Pakistan: Que Sera Sera
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

During the last two weeks, there have been a series of statements and meetings highlighting a possible divide between the civilian leadership and the General Head Quarters (GHQ ). While the relationship between the two have never been cordial historically, the current round of tensions emanate from two ongoing political developments – the talks with the Taliban and the “treason” case against Gen Musharraf.

Though two meetings between the civilian and military leadership during the last one week seem to have defused the present tension, this is an issue that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Army Chief Raheel Sharif have to deal with maturity along with understanding the current situation.

First, a short analysis of the trigger that seems to have affected the civil-military relations. It appears the Prime Minister cannot be faulted totally on General Musharraf’s treason case. True, Nawaz Sharif has an issue with him, for deposing him as the Prime Minister, jailing and subsequently exiling him. Sharif will always nurse that grudge against Musharraf.

But is the treason case, how much ever it appear as politically not expedient, to be blamed only on Nawaz Sharif? When Musharraf decided to return to Pakistan, he was well aware what he was getting into. In fact, if the news reports and other stories are to be believed, the former chief of army staff and Musharraf’s successor – General Kayani did advice him not to return. For want of any other phrase explain his decision, caught by the “Musharraf syndrome” of things that none can explain, he had decided to come back to Pakistan.

What did Musharraf have in mind when he landed in Karachi? Did he think that the entire Pakistan would come down to Airport and receive him as a new messiah and saviour who had come to rescue the people? Didn’t he realise there were enough cases against him, and that it would be a long drawn battle? Why did Musharraf decide to return, even against the advice of his own military? Obviously, he was not on a State visit. And he was returning more as a leader of a political party than the former military chief.

Unfortunately for Musharraf, people did not turn up to the Airport to receive as he thought, or as made to believe by the Musharaffites. In fact, the first thing that happened when he landed in Pakistan was the thinning down of the Musharaffites themselves. Equally unfortunate for Musharraf, the Supreme Court, then led by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the entire legal community turned hostile.
With or without Nawaz Sharif’s blessings, the judiciary would have continued the cases against him. During his last years, Musharraf had not only antagonised the Chief Justice and the higher judiciary, but the entire legal community to the newest lawyer in a district court in a rural Sindh or Balochistan.

Those who are today talking about the civil-military divide based on Musharraf’s treason case ignore the above inherent hatred in the judicial system vis-a-vis Musharraf for what he did then. The hostility, in fact today is so strong, that even after the retirement of Iftikhar Chaudhry, it continues, as one could observe from the harsh statements made by the learned judges in the Court. Nor did the counsel of Musharraf make the situation better for him.

Does the above mean, Sharif is innocent vis-a-vis the ongoing treason case against Musharraf? Hardly. Sharif understood the underlying currents in the judiciary and the lack of popular support for the former dictator, and used it to his advantage as he let the trial continue.

Keeping in mind the larger interests of the country, Sharif could have avoided the trial, or reached an understanding and let Musharraf leave to Dubai silently under one pretext or the other. Though Musharraf was adamant during the initial phase of his return for any such plan, he should have understood later, that there was not much of a support either at the popular level, or within the military.

Under Kayani’s leadership, the military did not want to overtly interfere. It was not his style either. It kept a distance from the trial. Only during the last one month, developments in the hospital, statements from the learned court and the political leadership had started affecting the morale of the military. No professional force would like to see its former leader being dragged by the court and on cases linked with treason.

But was Sharif getting back at the military leadership? Was he using the trial to impose civilian control over the GHQ? It would be a disaster, if that happen to be the case. After the long exile and being out of power, one should expect that he would be politically more matured in dealing with the military leadership. It appears that Sharif allowed the trial to continue against the Musharaf more due to personal reasons, than anything institutional, in terms of imposing civilian control over the military.  In fact the ego clashes at the top leadership level in the leading institutions became the primary issue in the trial, than any institutional differences. It does not appear that the Prime Minister is attempting to teach a lesson to the GHQ, or the Supreme Court is trying to prove a point. The entire case seems more to be a personality and ego clash between individuals at the highest level.

Now, on the larger question – is Sharif anywhere closer to asserting civilian leadership over the military? True, he was elected by the people directly, and the Constitution of Pakistan categorically says that the elected government will control the armed forces. But in Pakistan’s case, both the above points function only in paper. Sharif, whose Prime Ministership was cut short abruptly twice in the 1990s should understand this.

The political situation outside the Constitution and the Parliament have not changed much either. True, he was elected by the people; but if there is a coup tomorrow, the people are not going to come to the streets and protest, as was the case during the Arab Spring elsewhere. Nor has this Prime Minister, or his two PPP predecessors made serious attempts to strengthen the institutions, that would act as a bulwark against any military intervention in the future. Unless the above two happens – that the Prime Minister enjoys unrestricted support by the people of Pakistan, and there are strong institutions with grass root support, civilian supremacy over military will remain a distant dream.

The only difference in the last fifteen years – have been the growth of media and assertion of the judiciary. Never before the military and its ISI have been questioned, as it is being done today in the media. The reports and debate in print and electronic media over the attack on Hamid Mir would highlight this fact. Same is the case with the judiciary; never before in the history of Pakistan had there been a more assertive and independent judiciary.

However, the primary question remains the same. The strength of political parties, civilian institutions, inclusive governance and support for a democratic process – all four are closely interlinked; unless there are considerable transitions and positive outputs on these four, the military will remain as the most dominant institution. Not because it is cohesive and unified, but because the other institutions are divided and weak.

If Sharif attempts to assert himself against the military, he has to strengthen the institutions and the process of governance. Else, things will remain the same, how much ever they appear as changing.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

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