Gilani struggles under the military jackboot

In the national interest, the army must give up being a state within a state and accept civilian rule.

Despairing at the role played by the Pakistan army in meddling in the country’s politics and governance in the context of the ‘memogate’ scandal, prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called the army a ‘state within a state’.

A few days later he said the army chief and DG ISI’s replies sent directly to the Supreme Court were unconstitutional and dismissed Lt Gen Khalid Naeem Lodhi (Retd), the defence secretary, for neglecting to keep the government informed. The army retaliated and Pakistan is again in full blown political and constitutional crisis – even as the internal security situation continues to deteriorate.

The history of civil-military relations in Pakistan is not very encouraging. The military jackboot has ridden roughshod over Pakistan’s polity for most of the country’s history since its independence. While generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Musharraf ruled directly as presidents or chief martial law administrators, the other army chiefs achieved perfection in the fine art of backseat driving. The army repeatedly took over the reins of administration under the guise of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ and, in complete disregard of international norms of jurisprudence, Pakistan’s Supreme Court merrily played along.

Fledgling democracy

The army ensured that Pakistan’s fledgling democracy was never allowed to flourish. The roots of authoritarianism in Pakistan can be traced back to Ayub Khan who promoted the idea of ‘guided’ or ‘controlled’ democracy. The ‘political militarism’ of the Pakistan army imposed structural constraints on the institutionalisation of democratic norms in the civil society. The concept of the ‘Troika’ soon emerged as a power sharing arrangement between the president, the prime minister and the chief of the army staff (COAS).

Now, an activist judiciary – fresh from its victory against General Musharraf – has stepped in as another key back seat driver. In January 2012, the Supreme Court forced prime minister Gilani to appear before it in person to answer the charge of deliberately ignoring its directive to institute graft proceedings against president Asaf Ali Zardari. He has been called again to face contempt charges. If judicial activism continues to hold sway, the ‘Troika’ will soon become a Quadra.

Many of Pakistan’s key national policies have always been dictated by the army. Only the army can determine Pakistan’s national security threats and challenges and decide how to deal with them. Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir is guided by the army and the rapprochement process with India cannot proceed without its concurrence. The army directs and controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

The civilian government has no role to play in deciding the doctrine, force structures, targeting policies and command and control. In practice, the army chief controls the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), even though the DG ISI is supposed to report to the prime minister. The army decides the annual defence expenditure and senior armed forces appointments – the civilian government of the day merely rubber stamps these decisions.

The politico-military standoff within Pakistan following the ‘memogate’ scandal threatens the continuation in office of the weak civilian government. To cap it all, the economy is in a serious mess – the funds are low, the debts are high, exports have dwindled to a trickle and the rupee has fallen to all time low of 90 rupees to a dollar. Pakistan has become a rentier state that is dependent on US largesse to meet its obligations for the repayment of its burgeoning debt.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Pakistan is headed towards a dangerous denouement.  The likelihood of a military coup is being openly discussed again despite Kayani’s unequivocal denial of any such plans. Pakistan cannot survive as a coherent nation state unless the army gives up its agenda of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, attempting to destabilise India through its nefarious proxy war and stopping its meddling in politics. The army must pull itself up by the bootstraps and substantively enhance its capacity to conduct effective counter-insurgency operations.

The Pakistan army has let down Pakistan and must make amends. In the national interest, the army must give up being a state within a state and accept civilian control, even if it does so with bad grace.

(The author is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)

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