What exactly is the state of civil-military relationship?

LAHORE: What exactly is the state of civil-military relations at present? Will the two Sharifs (the prime minister and the army chief) co-exist? If they will, then why the army and the government are keeping silence on the media comments that the situation is extremely tense and one Sharif will have to quit? Did the government take the steps the army wanted it to take after the recent corps commanders meeting? If not, why? And what can be the result of the tensions between the civil and military leaderships?

These are the questions being discussed by the intelligentsia as well as the public at large at different fora. However, nobody is in a position to come up with satisfactory answers reflective of the viewpoints of both sides. And if the state of uncertainty is allowed to continue, people will be free to make speculations about the likely future scenarios, a situation not good for the economy which is already in a bad shape, notwithstanding the tall official claims about improvement.

After the corps commanders meeting about two weeks ago, the ISPR had issued a press release which said the army chief, appreciating the achievements and effects of the military offensive and intelligence-based operations (IBOs) against terrorists, acknowledged the full support of the nation for ‘our ongoing’ efforts to eliminate terrorism and extremism. Gen Raheel, however, underlined the need for matching complimentary governance initiatives for long-term gains of the operations and enduring peace across the country. Progress of NAP’s implementation, finalisation of Fata [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] reforms, and concluding all ongoing JITs [joint investigation teams] on priority were highlighted [in the meeting] as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations, said the ISPR. 

The army chief also directed to expedite return of the Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs), overcoming all obstacles for development works in affected areas and rehabilitation of all displaced families. Once a press release is issued, it means that the military leadership doesn’t want to take media questions.

But the very same day an English language newspaper quoted a senior security official as saying while the army had successfully eliminated the terror infrastructure, a lack of initiatives by the civilian authorities could undo the gains. Also, the paper claimed that the military leadership has “already” conveyed its reservations to the federal government over lack of progress on certain aspects of the NAP. The official also elaborated on some other points of the press release, and said “all these are major obstacles to achieve the ultimate goal of terror-free Pakistan.” About a week later, another English language daily reported quoting officials that while progress on nearly half of the 20-point National Action Plan is showing a downward trend, reforms in Fata, the return of Afghan refugees and issues associated with the operation in Karachi were the factors that prompted the last week’s call from military commanders for “matching governance initiatives”.

The report also mentioned how Rs 500 million were being converted into dollars and taken out of Pakistan every day, with the relevant authorities doing nothing to stop this illegal business by unregistered companies, something responsible for the depreciation of Pakistani currency. Some reports suggested that the government was feeling uncomfortable with the army chief’s visits to the US and before that to Saudi Arabia. A TV channel invited a former major general a few days ago who said that in the given situation the army chief would have to follow one of the models set by his predecessors. Staying as a silent spectator no matter what happens to the country is one example set by Gen Kayani, he recalled. Tendering resignation like Gen Jehangir Karamat; forcing the rulers to step down and pave the way for fresh elections, as done by Gen Waheed Kakar; and military takeover as done by Gen Musharraf are other options available to Gen Raheel, said Gen Ijaz Awan, who is also a former ambassador.

But he said Gen Raheel could also come up with a new model of his own: forcing the prime minister to go for a year-long leave for medical treatment, with somebody else acting as the head of government. The system should stay intact, he said. In his option this was the best option and was also under consideration. Appearing in the same show, a retired judge Shaiq Usmani said that all constitutional options have come to an end and now the army would have to use its own influence to set the situation right. What is surprising is the fact that nobody has reacted to such utterances. If the government and the army are on the same page, as some people claim, the two sides should do something to reject all speculations and rumours. They should deny the claims being made on various media outlets. The silence from both sides would only deepen the impression that the situation is not normal.

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