While speaking at the Defence Day ceremony in GHQ, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that ‘rift in civil-military relationships is a myth’. He also said that ‘perception of imbalance in civil-military relations is wrong and there is no clash between the two’.
Imran Khan’s statement is welcoming and satisfying: provided what he said is true. If Khan is talking about the present, he might be true. But the rift has been a reality in the past. The country had experienced stand-off between the civilian and military institutions in the recent government of PMLN. The rest is history. People have a different perspective on his statement but I think this is a start of a new era of civil-military relations.
A lot has been said on the civil-military relations in the third-world countries. The reason is the military intervention. Many books, articles and research papers have been written on this matter. Googling this issue would give you enough resources to make yourself a ‘PhD’.
There might be a possibility that ‘rift in civil-military relations is a myth’. But in the past, as said earlier, it has been a reality. Be it Nawaz Sharif’s era or Benazir’s government, there were deadlocks in the relations between the powerful military and weak civilian institutions that caused hindrance in country’s progress. Now, a new debate has begun due to the recent statement of Imran Khan.
Let’s be clear. Civil-military relations have played a decisive role in the country’s history. We have experienced four military takeovers so far. Military has always remained a powerful institution greatly influencing the civilian institutions. It still has the same capability.
On August 30, Imran Khan paid a historic visit to the military headquarters. He was accompanied by the finance minister, defence minister, information minister and foreign minister. This visit is being regarded as ‘historic’ because civilian leadership held a meeting with military leadership for more than 6 hours which was chaired by Imran Khan himself. In this meeting, Khan and his cabinet members were not only briefed about different matters by military leadership, but matters related to internal and external security were also discussed by the both. Perhaps, this has happened for the first time in the history of Pakistan that a civilian leader has discussed different matters in GHQ with military leadership for so much time. This visit of Imran Khan must be taken positively pertaining to civil-military relations.
If we analyze the long history of military interventions in Pakistan, two fundamental problems are considered to cause powerful military to intervene in civilian matters.
First, military intervention in political and government affairs is due to the failure of politicians and weak civilian institutions. Politicians have failed to ensure ‘good governance’ and build strong civilian institutions. Allegations of corruption on the politicians are also a factor.
Political parties and their leaders have not only been able to perform well but they have always relied on the power centres rather than the public. They have not allowed their political parties to become strong as a political institution. Due to their weaknesses, politicians have always looked towards the army and asked the army to interpose in civilian matters. When the politicians will be corrupt, civilian institutions will be weak and civilian leadership will look towards the army for ‘help’, it would certainly be not possible for a powerful institution like the army to remain isolated. Hence, the result comes in the form of military interference.
People have a lot of expectations from Imran Khan. He has a charismatic personality with a lot of support from the populace, especially the youth of Pakistan. Nation thinks he can ensure good governance in the Pakistan, end corruption from the roots of the country and build strong, unbiased civilian institutions with zero political interference. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf itself is a very organized and strong political party, and it has a lot of respect for democratic culture and traditions.
If this happens, the possibility of military intervention in Pakistan will be minimized and military will not wade into areas out of its domain. This is what a true democratic society requires: do what you are authorized to do. Imran Khan’s political opponents accuse that he has been supported by the establishment, especially the military. Even if we consider it to be true, it seems that this is the best opportunity for the start of a new and pleasant era of civil-military relations, provided civilian government performs better than the previous governments. This can lead to peaceful civil-military relations in coming years.
Second and most important thing is that there are some internal and external issues on which the civilian government is very little involved. The military has a great impact on the foreign policy.
In the presence of a political leader like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the foreign policy of Pakistan was in the hands of the civilian government, and it has also been the same in the times of Ms. Benazir Bhutto. Some internal issues are related to the external issues. After Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Ms. Benazir Bhutto, there was no political leader who was recognized as a global leader and could defend Pakistan’s foreign policy on regional and global front. During the last era of Nawaz Sharif, there were such situations that General Raheel Sharif had to be active on diplomatic front himself.
On the other hand, Khan enjoys a great reputation and he is internationally recognized and respected. Military is ‘happy’ with him so far as witnessed in his meeting with Bajwa & company in GHQ. It will not be difficult for him to get acknowledged on the international front. He can handle diplomatic front efficiently and also make important decisions pertaining to regional and global matters. As he rightly said that ‘Pakistan will not fight any other country’s war’. Military’s stance is the same on this issue.
Imran Khan has the capacity to beef up civil-military relations and make civilian institutions strong. Khan should involve the military in the foreign and internal security matters as the military is also a stake-holder. This would ensure peaceful relations between the two in the future. Of course, there are challenges facing this ‘dream’. But if Khan does these two things, Pakistan would owe him a lot in the future. Let’s see how Khan and his cabinet solves the ‘myth’.