Civil, Military Leadership Remained On Same Page In 2019 But 2020 Might Be A Tough Year

Civil, Military Leadership Remained On Same Page In 2019 But 2020 Might Be A Tough Year
Dr. Ejaz Hussain looks at the development related to civil-military relations in 2019. He argues that in 2019, the PTI government created a hybridity in both legal and institutional scenarios in terms of civil military relations. 

Civil-military relations (CMR) remained at the center of politics and the state in Pakistan in 2019. As argued here, the pattern and type of CMR marked a departure in the post-Musharraf period (2008 till now) in terms of hybridization. The latter refers to institutional and legal/constitutional configurations that the civil and military leadership accorded to the political system in order to, at least theoretically, realize functional harmony which, in popular parlance, is termed as ‘being on the same page’.

Under the Imran Khan-led PTI government the phenomenon and practice of hybridity or ‘sameness’ were consolidated both legally and institutionally. Legally, the civil government issued a plethora of ordinances − and, in cases, passed bills in the parliament – to further accord space to the military in, for example, economic management. The establishment of Economic Development Council, and the inclusion of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in it, in a case in point.

Institutionally, the civil department further eroded its capacity of, for instance, governance and, thus, relied on the military to maintain law and order in different parts of the country. Importantly, new institutions such as CPEC Authority were established that were headed by officers from the armed forces than the officials from the civil government. Also, institutional hybridity was ensured by placing super-bureaucrats, with militant background, in very important civil departments especially in the Punjab – which the PTI-led provincial found extremely hard to manage. Moreover, with respect to institutional hybridity, the Khan government left no stone unturned to accord ‘extension’ to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The civil government miserably failed even to issue a right notification. Eventually, the matter was judged by the country’s Supreme Court that provided for ‘conditional’ six-month extension in service of the COAS.

Here it becomes pertinent to mention the fact that though the political executive, as one of the three components of the government, consciously avoided any tussle with the top military brass in order to ensure tenurial survival, the apex judiciary, it seemed, filled in the void by seemingly challenging the powerful military, at least, at two occasions.

First, the Khosa-led Supreme Court (SC), while accepting a petition by some serial petitioner, intervened in the ‘extension’ proceedings by disagreeing to the government’s version of extending the chief’s tenure without any legalities. The SC, however, passed a rare but strong judgement that pointed out the absence of law with respect to ‘extension’ of COAS and/or serving generals. However, maintaining ‘judicial restraint’ the SC re-referred the matter back to the parliament which is supposed to do the required legislation to ensure extension/reappointment of COAS.

Secondly, the SC, while deciding ‘high treason’ case related to former COAS General Pervez Musharraf, the Special Court led by Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth sentenced Musharraf to death by hanging. This unprecedented verdict against a former chief of a powerful army invited institutional reaction and response. Within no time, DG ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor in a, short but meaningful, press conference registered institutional displeasure, resentment and resolute to preserve and protect the members of the military “family”. The civil government, while reflecting hybridity, also sided with the military vis-à-vis the judiciary by not only questioning the two verdicts but also filing a file in the ‘extension’ case; similar action can not be ruled out in the Musharraf related case.

Again, however it is the civil government that is criticized by certain legal circles for not withdrawing the ‘high treason’ case as the former was principally a complainant in the case. Remember, the case was filed by the Sharif government which ultimately faced the music by challenging the military (fraternity).

The Sharifs, this time around, are surprisingly maintaining silence on the Musharraf verdict and its political implications for civil-military relations in the years to come. Compared to the PML-N, the PPP, on its part, welcomed the Musharraf verdict owing to the tragic fact that Benazir Bhutto (BB) was assassinated when Musharraf ruled the roost. While highlighting symbolic attachment with its former leader, the PPP observed the BB’s death anniversary, on December 27, in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, where BB breathed her last.

Politically and socially, 2019 carried reminiscence with 2014 in terms of protest politics. In 2014, Imran Khan and his followers staged a long sit-in in Islamabad against Nawaz Sharif government for allegedly rigging the 2013 election. This year, the PTI was protested against by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulame Islam (JUI-F), who, with his organized cadre, took on to the streets of the federal capital in a move to send Imran Khan home for being a ‘puppet’ of the powers-that-be. The Maulana, however, failed to achieve his stated objective and, contextually, dispersed in a dubious manner.

Lately, however, he vowed again, after being silent in the wake of ‘extension’ saga, to stage agitation politics if the Khan government tried to legislate on extension for, in Maulana’s view, the parliament held no sanctity on account of being “selected” by the pro-Khan elements from the militablishment. In the view of Maulana’s critics, no political party questioned the overall conduct of the 2018 election nor did political stakeholders sought legal resort against it. This, however, is not to overlook the general trend of pre-at-post election rigging in the country.

Other than the above, the PTI government looked lucky to have not met with any other spell of protest politics on, for example, the behalf of PML-N and/or PPP. Indeed, the latter bore the brunt of the PTI government’s anti-corruption drive that invoked institutional instrumentality, i.e. NAB, FIA, to hold up bigwigs of the two major rival parties. Little wonder, during most of the year, the senior leadership of both the PML-N and the PPP was engaged in multiple ‘corruption’ cases. Indeed, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari spent much of 2019 behind bars.

Quite surprisingly, however, both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari found themselves out of jail in the final months of 2019. The opinion is mixed on the dynamics of such sudden release offered to the two senior and popular politicians whom Imran Khan hated the most. In all probability, it seems unthinkable Khan could have pardoned them for his entire political plan and rhetoric is predicated on the so-called ‘corruption’ of the said and other non-PTI politicians.

Nevertheless, if one keeps tab on CMR during the last couple of years, it is legitimate to argue that both the Sharifs and the Zardaris were somehow able to negotiate with the powers that be behind the doors. From the perspective of civil-military relations in the past decades, it seems irrational on the part of the military authorities to put them eggs in one basket. Also, with issues related to misgovernance, economic non-performance i.e. price hike, and organizational weaknesses of the PTI, it seems very implausible the latter could enjoy the pleasure of the ultimate power center for that long.

In 2020, the litmus test for the Khan government is to ensure ‘extension’ legislation for which time is running out. If the government is serious on it, it has to mend ways with the opposition especially PML-N and the PPP. Given improvement in their relations with the militablishment lately, it is very likely these parties would support the said legislation. However, if the Khan government kept bypassing the opposition, it will have to offer an extraordinary show of legislative competence to manage the senate if it decided for a simple ‘act of parliament’ that did not require constitutional amendment.

At the moment, however, it seemed the Khan government has ostensibly decided for judicial engagement by filing an appeal against the ‘extension’ judgment in the hope of getting the ‘six-month’ bar removed and the COAS tenure extended without institutional intervention of the apex judiciary. This and the Musharraf case will indubitably test the judicial nerves of newly appointed Justice Gulzar Ahmed and his associates.

It is very hard to predict the outcome of the filed appeal in the ‘extension case’. However, if one goes by the salient features of the two judgments, it will amount to judicial retreat and institutional compromise if the said judgments are reversed in letter and spirit: If the SC upholds particularly the ‘extension’ judgement and, meanwhile, the Khan government remains unable to do the required legislation out of miscalculation or arrogance or both. The SC is not likely to accord another ‘conditional’ and ‘ short term’ extension if the matter is referred to it once more. In that scenario, the Khan government will have to appoint a new COAS who may not have the mood or mindset to work with Imran Khan (government) due to obvious reasons.

To avoid the undesired, in 2020 the best course available to the involved stakeholders is to start thinking on the concept of the ‘separation of powers’ which, indeed, can serve as the basis to resolve the lingering crisis of imbalanced civil-military recaptions.

In 2020, if the political parties, the judicial and the military failed to capitalize on the contextually available choices of institutional respectability and constitutional centrality, intra-institutional instability will grow in size, that would, ultimately, impact politics, polity and the state in extremely negative terms.

The writer has a PhD in civil-military relations from Heidelberg University. He is DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright fellow and taches at Iqra University, Islamabad. @ejazbhatty