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Will PDM Protestors Settle For Anything Lesser Than Civilian Supremacy?

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The post-Musharraf era has witnessed a steady rise of Pakistan Army’s profile among different departments of the state machinery, primarily on account of its role in combating, preventing and investigating terrorism, extremism and militancy in our society. The wave of terrorism and militancy, which started in July 2007, continued till 2013 and may be even after that.

This allowed the Pakistan Army to play a decisive role in the decision-making processes as well as in the processes related to the implementation of the decisions and policies. The successive civilian governments became heavily dependent on army and its top brass for the implementation, internal security and in the process of policy making to deal with the threat of terrorism, extremism and militancy.

In fact it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the successive civilian governments were completely clueless and frightened as to how to deal with this new menace of terrorism that was perceived as an existential threat by powerful actors in the domestic and international arena. The natural result of all this was that the army started to dominate the policy making as well as policy implementation processes of the state.

The patterns of traditional politics remained a corollary of this dominance of the state machinery by the military in this era. The political parties and their leaders started to be so much dependent on military and its affiliated intelligence agencies that schedule of the political engagements of their leaders—like rallies, corner meetings and visits to remote areas—were all prepared in consultation with the military or at least military’s advice was taken into account while preparing the political schedule of political parties’ leaders.

The linkages between Pakistan’s mainstream political parties and Pakistan military are not a new feature of the country’s political life. Nor are the dominance of a country’s decision-making processes and implementation processes a new feature of a country’s public life. The new development, however, is that the successive governments and civilian leadership have conceded a lot of ground to the military as far as decision-making and implementation processes within the state structure are concerned. This has been largely an outcome of civilian institutions inability or failure to rise up to the occasions and meet the challenge of terrorism, extremism and militancy.

The civilian leadership and civilian institutions simply don’t have the capacity to deal with this new threat. Resultantly, the military and its affiliated intelligence agencies have deeply penetrated and captured the state institutions and their decision-making and implementation processes as well as the political life in the country. This was the situation of our state machinery when 11 political parties held a rally in Gujranawala last night and its leadership came up with an anti-military message in their speeches. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the host of this rally, clearly attacked the present top brass of Pakistan Army for conspiracy to oust him from power and for bringing Imran Khan as the new prime minister after a rigged parliamentary elections.

This could be described as a first open and direct challenge to the ascendency and dominance by Pakistan Army of the country’s political life and state structure in the post 9/11 era. Mainstream political parties have in the past reached this consensus to keep the army away from politics after General Musharraf resigned as President in 2008. But it remained a pipedream in the face of continued dominance of the state structure by Pakistan military in the face of continued rise of the threat of terrorism, extremism and militancy. The attempts by these mainstream political parties to assert civilian supremacy were neutralized by the establishment when it started propping up second grade political parties like PTI to the front of political games sometimes in 2011.

However, one thing should be kept in mind that the military and its affiliated intelligence agencies are not a monolith as far as any given political situation in the country is concerned. The military or its political impact, to be more precise, has never been seen to be uniform in nature. For a layman’s understanding we can say that military top brass never puts all its eggs in one basket in any given political situation. There are historically many political events in our unfortunate political history where we see different segments within the military and its affiliated intelligence agencies responding differently in any given political situation prevailing in the country without causing much strain to the unity and integrity of the institution.

In the post-Musharraf period, Pakistan Army and its top brass has tackled quite a few events of political crises and agitations by the opposition political parties. The present COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has twice dealt with political agitations—once when immediately after he assumed office, PTI leader Imran Khan launched a long March on Islamabad and second at the time of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s long March on the capital.
On both the occasions, General Bajwa tried to diffuse the political tensions by meeting the protest leaders. But this time it is different: General Bajwa and other members of the top brass are directly the target of this agitation.

At this stage we cannot say that Nawaz Sharif is mounting a serious challenge to the military’s ascendency or dominance of the state structure and political life of the country. Firstly, the agitation is in initial stages and so far there has been no serious confrontation between the protestors and coercive machinery of the state. Use of force could have a serious destabilizing effect. Secondly none of the political leaders have set for themselves any goal as to reassert civilian supremacy.

The rampant opportunism of Pakistani political culture may make us believe that the political leaders of the protest might just settle for regime change and would not push too hard for civilian supremacy. Any internal readjustment in the power structure is likely to pacify the protest leaders primarily because of the realization among the political leadership that now it is not possible for anyone to govern Pakistan—a very hard country as far as internal security is concerned—without the active support and assistance from the military.


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