First, I would like to share with readers an extract from one of my columns titled “How Will the Cookie Crumble?” that appeared in The Nation on December 24, 2009. This extract is reproduced for the purpose of retrospection on the state of affairs in which present-day democratic Pakistan exists. This analysis assumes even more importance because of a recent Zardari-Sharif meeting with the explicit purpose of expressing PPP-PMLN political solidarity specifically on the emerging nature of civilian military relations in today’s Pakistan.
“Social scientists spend their lives trying to understand human behavior, political conduct and its sociology, leadership dynamics, social psychological processes in national and global conflict behavior, technology, media, the rise and fall of civilizations, its causes and, in short, the conceptual elements and phenomenology of human existence; indeed, history and philosophy included.
Hence, it is not an accident that social scientists, academics, social theorists and scientists are at the forefront of national policy making and political advisement in most advanced nations, globally.
The sad irony in a country like Pakistan is that the acquired existential wisdom gained through knowledge and socio-political inquiry is generally a wasted commodity. The affairs of the state, historically, are run by vested interests and the political elite, including army generals, whose personal and institutional interests are in direct conflict with the overall interests of the masses. This injudiciously and non-ingeniously designed political reality causes politics, in itself, to become an artless, skill-less and brutal infringement on the political-economic-social-cultural rights of the majority of the nation’s citizens. Politics in Pakistan are being practiced for the benefit of the select few. Meanwhile, the nation at large is considered a non-entity, deserving none of the attention that is its fundamental prerogative. The land of the pure, Pakistan, lays in wasted ruins at this stage of its political history.
The tragedy and atrocity of this political “ruin” is being witnessed anew now in so-called democratic Pakistan. The battle is old: the ruling-elite is fighting for its privileged existence and the continuity of its political-economic dominance at the cost of the masses. Obviously, at stake is the public’s welfare and the future existence of this nation.”
The vital questions on national policies and strategic discourse in the context of my December 2009 observations above are: have the political dynamics of a democratic Pakistan changed in substance in the last one year during the PMLN regime in Islamabad? Has the vested interest ruling class been replaced with ultra-nationalist public welfare focused on democratic dispensation in the country? Have the national policy-making and strategic decision-making processes been transformed to promote national interests? How far have civilian-military relations evolved to deal with some of the fundamental issues confronted by this nation today?
To say that Islamabad is faced with a multi-dimensional crisis is an understatement. Domestic economic conditions are dismal. Skyrocketing prices of daily consumables have economically marginalized the majority of common citizens. The terrorism issue is unresolved. Law and order is nonexistent. Gas and power supply shortages have undermined the nation’s commerce and made a formidable impact on the daily existence of the majority of its people. Nothing appears to be under control; instead of being resolved, issues and problems are getting worse. Stalemates seem to be the norm for every issue and at every corner of the political process in the country. On top of this, it seems that Pakistan’s democracy is nothing more than the continuation of the political, economic, social “status quo” that has plagued this nation for over six decades. In addition, at this critical juncture, civil-military relations are most certainly on a bumpy track and need careful analysis and in-depth deliberations.
It appears that Pakistan’s political and military establishments are both determined in their respective views as national institutions, and their leaderships’ attitudes and conduct reflect substantial differences in strategic interests that are very real. In fact, these differences in strategic perspectives are related to the largely unspoken nature of antagonism between two vitally important national institutions: the civilian regime in Islamabad wants to expand its hegemony and bring the military under its absolute control, while the military establishment is determined to maintain its legitimate and strategic input in the country’s political processes and foreign policy decision-making. From a historical perspective, relations between the civilian regime and the military in Pakistan have never remained stable. Given the nature of political ground realities in Pakistan, this kind of institutional antagonism is to be expected. Conflicts tend to arise - but these sorts of issues can be resolved in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. And that is what the civilian regime in Islamabad has to fully comprehend. Aggressive criticism of an incumbent federal minister (in charge of the Ministry of Defense) has not maintained the spirit of creating mutual trust and confidence between the two national institutions. The irony is that the said Minister still continues to hold his ministerial portfolio. How can that be justified? Am I missing something here?
Hasn’t the army leadership supported the democratic process in this country since 2008?
The important questions in the context of civil-military relations in present-day Pakistan are: Can the Pakistani military leadership surrender its legitimate right of policy input into some of the most vital strategic national issues to the civilian government in Islamabad? Can the Pakistani military establishment stay a non-actor, a silent spectator and non-participant in national decision-making processes?
What if the civilian regime in Islamabad makes a fundamental error in judgment in its foreign policy deliberations that are directly related to the engagement of the Pakistani armed forces, in some form, in a foreign conflict or a foreign country?
For instance, Islamabad has accepted a massive financial grant from Saudi Arabia. What if the Saudis demand Islamabad provide them with military assistance (military personnel, trainers or military equipment) in their ongoing military-political conflict in Syria? Should the Pakistani military establishment comply with the civilian regime’s orders without due consideration of Pakistan’s national interests?
What if the US-Nato demands from Islamabad’s civilian regime expect a specific political-military role for Pakistan in Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia, or elsewhere in the Muslim world or against our powerful neighbors China and Putin’s Russia? Should the Pakistani military establishment endorse such foreign policy directions on the orders of the civilian regime in Islamabad?
Can the Pakistani military establishment abandon its “India-centric” strategic doctrine because the civilian regime in Islamabad wants to grant India MFN status to promote trade - seemingly under pressure from the US?
Can the Pakistani military establishment set aside its political role to analyze, monitor and respond to the emerging dynamics of the “New World Order” being promoted by the US and its allies?
Let us not deny the fact that Pakistan’s armed forces are still the most sacrosanct and popular national institution amongst the majority of common citizens. Indeed, the military establishment has large public support for its role in national decision-making processes in vital issues of national interest.
So... let us see how the cookie crumbles now.
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.