A brief history of civil-military relations in Pakistan

Pakistan came into existence on 14th August, 1947 as a result of the partition of subcontinent. In the initial course of our history till the enactment of first constitution in 1956, Indian independence act 1947, and government of India act 1935 was used as legal framework to govern the newly created state. Despite all controversies and obstacles, Pakistan survived as independent country.

After independence in 1947, Pakistan indulged in her first military expedition in 1948, when Kashmir was attacked by Indian army on request of Maharaja of Kashmir, against the public wishes, on question of accession to either India or Pakistan. Founder of Pakistan, Governor General, and leader of nation, Quaid-e-Azam, ordered the army chief, General Gracey, to attack Kashmir and ensure accession of valley to Pakistan. He deliberately refused the commandments of his civilian boss, because he was working under the authority of governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten.

The civil military relations equation of country approached further exacerbation when the first constituent assembly was dissolved by governor general, Ghulam Muhammad, with the aid of commander in chief, General Ayub Khan in 1954. The nexus of civil-military bureaucracy halted the constitutional process and political evolution, which was already jeopardized by internal Muslim League conflicts, and feudal sanctioned political engineering against the Bengali nationalists.

General Ayub was supposed to retire in 1954, but he was granted extension and made the defense minister of country. Later, he assumed charge as the martial law administrator in 1958 by subverting the constitution of 1956.

Our initial history suggests two lessons on question of civil-military equation: firstly, intervention of non-democratic forces in democratic process results in national disaster, and secondly, military expedition in political arena badly hampers the professional capability and excellency of armed forces.

After a few years, the Operation Gibraltar blunder, 1965 war, separation of East Pakistan, were all results of the political unbalance, absence of democratic process, and opportunism reflected by top civilian and military leaders.

Civil military relations seemingly became normalized during Bhutto regime. He conceded to many demands put up by then military leadership in aftermath of 1971 tragedy including maintaining secrecy of Hamud-Ur-Rehman Commission report and initiating proxy war against Soviet supported regime in Afghanistan.

But, inability, rigidness and dictatorial attitude of Mr. Z. A Bhutto put him on whims of military leadership. Military was invited to suppress the political opponents, but they thwarted the Bhutto regime in 1977.

General Zia Ul Haq took full leverage of political instability and dependency of powerful civilian ruler on support of top military brass. Later, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif came into power subsequently.

Both the civilian leaders used military against each other and some elements of military also gained full advantage of absence of democratic values in top civilian leaders of country. Poignantly, undemocratic forces toppled their government while they cherished the ouster of each other.

When General Pervaiz Musharraf imposed martial law on October 12, 1999, military didn’t face any resistance against coup in any area of country. When he left office in 2008, country adopted the path of slow and steady democratic transition, and democratic evolution by achieving some balance of interest between political forces and establishment mainly named as Kayani doctrine.

Till today, this perplex equation reveals some systematic facts. First, democracy has never been strengthened in country on grass root level by inculcating reverence for democracy in public minds. Second, coup has always been welcomed by overwhelming majority of people. Third, military always seeks space in political spectrum beyond constitutional role. Fourth, there is drastic difference between the practicality and theory of civil military relations in Pakistan.

Every Pakistani asks about an impeccable way to solve this question on permanent basis because it’s the major obstacle in political and economic growth of country. Whenever the issue of civil military divide acquires space in press, it leads towards enormous suspicions raised on future of political process and eventually halts the national progress in multiple ways.

The solution lies in upholding the constitution as supreme law of land and ensuring the rule of law as foremost principle in any case. The authority of democratic forces resides on moral authority besides their parliamentary and constitutional authority. Without inculcating democracy in their own political parties, political forces cannot squeeze the space for non-elected powers in Pakistan.

Military should be granted legal role in national security matters by discouraging their de-facto role. Grand national dialogue between parliament, judiciary and military is essential to ensure balance in civil military relations and smooth transition of democracy.

Legislators can play their role in convincing all the stakeholders in meaningful dialogue instead of bashing in front of media cameras and press conferences. Politicians should also choose “good captains” as heads of armed forces instead of searching for “loyal lieutenants” and weighing them on basis of their personal affiliations.

70 years of chaos, instability and constitutional breakdowns reveals one important and primary lesson: that future of prosperous Pakistan lies in democracy.

Armed forces are key organ and engine to foster the national development by ensuring peaceful security environment. But we must get rid of ambitious hawks who always try to convince us to get rid of democracy by spreading rumors and instigating political and military institutions against each other for sake of individual interests.

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  2. Dr Hashir Amin Malik says

    You said it all rightly : “. Politicians should also choose “good captains” as heads of armed forces instead of searching for “loyal lieutenants” and weighing them on basis of their personal affiliations.”

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