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Pakistan’s Dying Democracy And The Bleak Future

In democracies all over the world, civilian governments do diplomacy and make policies. To implement their policies, they utilise different tools available to them. The military is one of their tools which the governments use to make their voices heard by others. The military keeps itself battle-ready and up to date, so that if the government asks them to move, they come up with the plan of action and share its pros and cons and it is adjusted. But once the ruling setup — civilian in this case — decides to move, military moves and does its utmost not to let the government and the people down. The civilian governments take full responsibility for any failure and pay the price.

In the representative democracies, the political control of the armed forces is the essential part. Democracy requires the supremacy of the civilian institutions over the defense and other security policy-making infrastructure. The constitutions of the representative systems protect the state from the danger of politicians with military ambitions and military generals with political ambitions. The constitution, in general, does not address the model of how to establish armed forces and what measures should be taken by the civilian authorities to have full control of security agencies, which include the intelligence and the military. However, several principles are shared by the constitution, those principles guarantee the proper direction and control of the military by the civilian institutions.

In Pakistan, which claims itself to be a democracy, there is a constitution with a one-person-one-vote system and has general elections after every five years.

However, here the retired generals and military spokespersons lecture how the military actions are not the option, while their arch-rival uses this option time and again. They run the foreign service and pay diplomatic visits without the presence of any civilian leadership, whose main job description says that (s)he would be the top diplomat. During the crisis, all the civilian setup, the parliament, the leaders, wait and see what comes out from the military top brass’s closed-door meetings.

The media proponents of military dominance in Pakistan often argue that since the politicians are incapable and incompetent, the military has to jump in to control the situation. This is a rather flawed argument and it is based on lack of understanding or simply ignorance of the facts. First of all, in Pakistan’s case, every 10-11 years, the establishment creates a new dispensation that suits their agenda, which they insist is the best option for the country and the masses.

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Then they launch incompetent lot on the condition that they would let the establishment enjoy uninterrupted power on some key positions for the sake of “long term interest of the country”. If the launched civilian leadership digress, they are punished by the negative publicity, charges, media trials through their media cronies, and those voices in the media who look at the military for the “job”, or involve them in the cases using the controlled accountability institutions.

Another argument comes from their media proponents that whenever the world leaders want Pakistan’s cooperation they begin with the army chief, then they pay the visit to the civilian leadership just to tell them that “bosses” are on board so you better be there as well. The argument goes that the politicians are so incompetent even the world leaders trust military generals more than the civilian leadership. This argument is faulty as well because it demonstrates either the naivete and shallowness of the person or simply their dishonesty. The world leaders want to deal with generals because they do not believe Pakistan is a democracy and they believe that generals take over everything and do not let the civilians make decisions.

After 9/11, when General Musharraf was under pressure, he agreed to deliver on every demand that came from then US Secretary of State General Collin Powel. If General Powel would have to deal with the democratic setup, with cabinet, parliament, and opposition, his job would be much difficult, like it happened when Saudi Arabia requested Pakistani involvement in Yemen and Nawaz Sharif sent the request to the parliament which rejected the request.
Although Pakistan had to pay some price, it was worth paying instead of engaging Pakistan’s military into Saudi-created mess.

Pakistan is a clear deviation from such principles. Here, neither the civilian setup wants to assert its writ over the military, nor the military has any good reason to work on the commands of the civilian government. Instead, the military has its strong political ambitions to run the country in a way they believe is the right way. The failed civilian government, failed foreign policy, dwindling economy, control of powerful mafias over food, oil, and other commodities are the very consequences of military control and civilians’ lack of interest to follow those very principles. They know, if they would even try to assert their stance, they will be punished and would be made examples for others to come.

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During different times in history, different solutions were presented to force the military to come under civilian power. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was asked why he supported Operation Gibraltar in 1965, he allegedly responded that the generals need to get a kick on their back to behaving and do only what they are made to do. But history witnessed that after the debacle of East Pakistan, the military toppled the civilian government just six years later and ruled for the next 11 years.

Another idea, which is nowadays very popular among the detractors of establishment control of the governments in the media and top of the line political figures — Shahid Khaqan Abbassi is among its strong proponent. It is that there should be a dialog among all the stakeholders like politicians, judiciary, bureaucracy and military leadership, called by the military, in which all the future modalities about how the governments should be running in the future would be discussed and agreed upon.
The point is: why is the establishment has to do it when they know that they are enjoying complete control? Even if they will have such dialog, they will have the upper hand — maybe they will secure some new constitutional amendments, which would further legitimise their role in politics, something many of the politicians would support.

On the horizon, there is no hope that in the coming years or even decades, Pakistan would enjoy the civilian rule. After what happened to Bhuttos and Sharifs, no one will have the courage to stand up or assert their power in the civilian lot – unless something happened where the people began to reject this status quo. However, the question is, “will the people have the will to stand up to bring above a civilian from the same lot of politicians who, time and again, let masses down?”

I don’t think so!


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