Talking about issues of governance in today’s Pakistan can be part of a very relevant debate as failure of the present state system in delivering on its functions of public interest has already become a serious challenge. This has to be the focus of national discourse if we want to avoid an Arab Spring like situation in Pakistan. But there are two problems. One, instead of putting its own house in order by taking a critical review of its own performance, every state institution is using the issue of bad governance as a big stick to beat the other institutions in turf wars. Due to the skewed balance of power in the system shaped by extra constitutional practices over last few decades, the elected part of the civilian government is at the receiving end in this regard most of the time. Two, the ever deteriorating civil-military relations that constitute the core of the present crises of governance is deemed to be a taboo subject. Hence no systematic or substantial discussion on this issue of critical significance for the future of the country could take place. We very often consume our energy in debating the symptoms but there is a strong tendency of self-censorship when we come to the discussion of the root cause.
The publication of a “controversial” news report in a respected national daily about the civil-military schism over dealing with religious private militias a few days ago is a case in point. A journalist, well known for his impeccable integrity and professionalism was harassed and put on the draconian Exit Control List for authoring the aforementioned report. Such behaviour on part of the state is simply ridiculous because the civil-military schism has been a hallmark of the present system after General Zia‘s military coup in 1977, that led not only to an elected government being overthrown, but also resulted in the execution of the then Prime Minister Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. General Musharraf did almost similar things after a decade. The country’s security establishment has not worked within perimeters laid down by the Constitution of 1973, even when the civilian dispensation was supposed to have been “fully” restored in subsequent years. From the 8th amendment of General Zia to the 17th amendment of General Musharraf, distortions and deformations were imposed on the Constitution by arm-twisting and coercion. The deep state has consistently refrained from yielding itself to the control of the elected civilian governments of the country, and on many occasions, elected assemblies were dissolved through implicit or explicit pressures before finishing their term enshrined in the Constitution. To be fair, many within political elites also contributed in bringing about the aforementioned situations by committing blunders and by opportunistically joining the putschists in pursuing their vested interests. But the main faultline in the system has always been defined by failure of the security establishment to function within legal and Constitutional parameters. Protecting abrogators of the Constitution from judicial accountability epitomises this conduct as it renders the concept of the supremacy of law and Constitution to be a joke.
Be that as it may, one can clearly see a new polarisation before the impending showdown by the end of October and a constant build up to that. It is not very dissimilar to what happened in 2014. The “controversy” about the “leaked” press report which has allegedly harmed national interest also seems to be part of that build-up as there was nothing new in the said report. Difference of opinion about the Jihadist project has been a bone of contention between the civilian and military organs of state for decades. So what was new in the report? One is saying this because there have been more explosive things said by General Musharraf, the former COAS. He is the one who bragged about giving space to Afghan Taliban in Pakistan after September 11, due to what he called the anti-Pakistan policy of the then Afghan President Mr Hamid Karzai. This is something that the state of Pakistan has been denying all along. More recently, he said on the record that he could leave Pakistan with the help of the army, implying that he could defy and deceive the higher judiciary because of the support provided by the army. Not a word has been uttered about these provocative and dangerous statements-what to talk of conducting inquiries or taking actions. There have been instances of leakages or pronouncements from the military’s own sources leading to embarrassment for the institution and for the country but no inquiries were conducted and no heads rolled.
What makes the prospects of the impending showdown more obvious are the pronouncements of “defence analysts” on TV talk shows. Some of them clearly claim to be speaking on behalf of the army and its intelligence agencies while expressing serious displeasure at and disapproval of certain policies of the sitting government. No one will have any problem with difference of opinion expressed on proper forums by representatives of state institutions. The army’s feedback for all policies in general and for the national security in particular is vital. But how can retired officers be allowed to issue political statements on behalf of the armed forces who are supposed to be above partisan politics? It’s high time to bring in some rules of the game in this regard. One can also learn from the best international practices.
Accepting the provision of the Constitution and concerned laws as basis for civil-military relations is indispensable for the qualitative improvement of governance in Pakistan. It should not be regarded as a zero-sum game. The elected government, instead of pushing this important problem under the carpet, needs to address it. It can be discussed in the Cabinet’s Defence Committee to get feedback from both sides. An in-camera session of parliament can also discuss the problem and come out with policy recommendations. But the discussion should go beyond the symptoms and reach the root cause for bringing about a solution. The people of Pakistan have the right to know about the problem.