Bridging the civil-military divide in Pakistan – by Talat Masood

Bridging the civil-military divide
Monday, September 07, 2009
Talat Masood

The motive of former ISI and military officers in resurrecting past skeletons on the media still remains a mystery and subject of intense speculation. Although the revelations and counter incriminations were nauseating, still they can serve a useful purpose if we as a nation are prepared to draw some lessons which, of course, we have never done in the past.

In order to attract public attention, these retired officers while narrating the past episodes went ballistic and the media relished it. This interestingly brought into sharp focus the gross meddling of army in politics, exposed bankruptcy of the political elite and, in the process, paradoxically showed these very officers in an extremely bad light. The question is, how do we proceed from here to correct the nation’s course?

The talk of ‘minus-one’ formula, poor governance, pervasive corruption, the parliamentarians’ lack of interest in legislation and the military dominating foreign and defence policies are clear evidence that Pakistan’s political culture and civil- military relations remain frozen. Despite agreement on the charter of democracy and brave talk of our leaders of taking revenge, the situation has not changed much. The overall spread of radicalism, threat from Taliban militant entities, especially those in FATA, and its linkages with terrorism coupled with an economy in deep distress are serious threats that cannot be under-estimated. Moreover, the whole world is today concerned about the stability and security of Pakistan.

These internal and external compulsions demand that President Zardari should make a serious effort at improving his credibility. Our current president, by an accident of history, is the most powerful politician and represents the country’s largest political party, combining both presidential and executive powers. The decisions he makes and the way he conducts himself would very much influence Pakistan’s present and future. He has only one choice — to change and rise to the challenge. If he fails he takes the system and the party with him.

In an awakened Pakistan, there is no scope for military take-over but it is equally true that there is no space for politics without accountability and good governance. What good is a democratic government that falls prey to cartels and denies its people essentials such as atta and sugar?

Performance legitimacy is as crucial as electoral legitimacy. It is performance that restores confidence in the people, strengthens institutions and sustains democracy. By marginalising Aitizaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and some bright members of the young PPP leadership, President Zardari has denied himself and the government valuable talent. Rather than encourage cynical deal-making, what we expect from our leaders is to encourage a more inclusive approach in handling party affairs and national issues. Our politicians need to do some serious introspection about this common phenomena of buying property abroad and even leading parties from abroad. Now General Musharraf has also joined the ranks. These actions do not go unnoticed by the masses. In fact, there is a growing demand that there has to be an end to the rampant culture of impunity.

As pointed out by several columnists, President Zardari would have done himself and the nation a great favour if he had reinstated the judges on his own and not waited for the tidal wave of opposition to build up and the army to intervene. Similarly, he is now dragging his feet on the 17th Amendment, not understanding that accumulation of power is not as important as exercising authority, and that comes from leadership, good governance and integrity.

If President Zardari feels that all he needs is legitimacy and support of the US he is mistaken.
He will soon realise that there is no permanence in inter-state relationship and once Americans come to the conclusion that PPP government’s poor quality of governance is having an adverse effect on the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda, they will pull back their support.

Indeed General Kayani has been very supportive of the democratic process and has clearly distanced himself from politics. He understands the folly of military getting involved in politics. Besides, the political dynamic of Pakistan is very different from what it was 10 years ago. All major political parties are solidly opposed to military involvement. The fight against militancy requires the undivided attention of the military on professional matters. Moreover, the fight against militant demands public support and that can only be mobilised by a democratic government, as the absence of it was so obvious during the Musharraf era. Nonetheless, the military has to travel a long way to adapt itself to true democratic governance. The transition can be expedited, provided that the parliament becomes more effective and good governance inspires confidence in civilian leadership.

It is also important that military and intelligence services carry out serious internal reforms from the point of view of improving their professional competence to be able to relate to new threats and also to fully integrate into the democratic process. Experience has shown that military forces, which are subservient to the civil government, are far better placed to resist foreign aggression as compared to those from authoritarian states. Strengthening state institutions and improving conventional and counter-insurgency capabilities should go hand in hand and be treated as mutually supportive. Democracy is, therefore, an institutional and national imperative for moving forward.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general. Email: