Source: Daily Times
The reason why civilian governments and the army find themselves at odds on occasion is less their different perspectives on global or, for that matter, domestic developments and more because both are victims of their own propaganda
Are the civilian government and the ISI at odds over the cancellation of the visit of the ISI chief to Britain? The irrepressible Fauzia Wahab let on as much during a TV talk show. Nor did she stop there. She went on to accuse the ISI of scrapping the visit without obtaining the required consent of the government, adding that such actions were unacceptable in a democracy. Ms Wahab’s demeanour suggested that Mr Zardari was equally peeved.
Predictably, opponents of the regime exploited her revelations to suggest that, in fact, a major breach had occurred between the army and the government. Others took it as a sign that the army had cut Mr Zardari adrift and that it was a portent of things to come. One recalled a similar speculation during Benazir’s second term (1993-96) although one has no recollection of a spat becoming so public or culminating in the denunciation of one side by the spokesperson of the other.
In the vexed history of army-government relations, General Waheed’s tenure as COAS (1992-95) was the smoothest of all. Not because he agreed with government policies — they made him livid on occasions — but because he rarely transcended his remit.
Waheed would seek out BB and tell her what he felt. Loath to displease him and thinking that to do so was not worth it, BB would oblige. Both benefited. BB was relieved, almost upbeat that, unlike Aslam Beg, Waheed did not choose to make a public issue of differences nor ratchet up the pressure on her; and the army got its way. BB wisely, in retrospect, rejected attempts by her aides to stiffen her resolve. Being on the same page as the COAS was more important, she felt, than the hollow victory she may have gained in asserting ‘civilian supremacy’. Resultantly, the rift of the kind that we are currently experiencing between the army and the civilian government would have been unlikely had she been alive.
The reason why civilian governments and the army find themselves at odds on occasion is less their different perspectives on global or, for that matter, domestic developments and more because both are victims of their own propaganda. The army believes that not only should it have the final word in matters concerning ‘national security’ but also that it knows best what is good for the country. Over time, this sentiment has mutated into ‘what is good for the army is good for the country’, which is not always the case. Had Pindi confined its definition of national security to military matters and defence strategy, it would not raise civilian hackles. What does grate with civilians, however, is the army’s definition of ‘national interest’ to encompass foreign affairs and select domestic issues that civilian governments, of all hues, strongly feel is their preserve. True, some COASes, like General Jehangir Karamat, were indulgent but only up to a point that, alas, in most cases was usually no further than the tips of their noses.
On the other hand, civilian governments go about chanting the mantra of the ‘supremacy of civilian institutions in a democracy’ knowing full well that in Pakistan neither democracy, properly understood, nor civilian supremacy has existed since 1956 (ZA Bhutto’s years were an aberration). Hence, mouthing such a refrain ad nauseam is dangerous, deceptive and vastly counter productive because, repeated often enough, elected governments start to believe it and then act on a belief that for all its democratic virtues is patently untrue, nay a dangerous delusion in Pakistan.
The fact is that Pakistan today is a diarchy. It has two supreme bodies: the army and the civilian government. And, much like in a modern marriage, each vies to gain the upper hand. This dynamic seems innate in humans. And the tussle need not necessarily be unfriendly. Married couples, for example, coexist happily even as each tries to get his or her way. Moreover, if asked, they would sincerely deny that they were conscious of the existence of a silent rivalry in their relationship. But it exists, nonetheless, and can become public, contentious and ugly, often leading to a rupture, especially if the intention of one of the two is to attenuate rather than reconcile their differences.
It is precisely such an intention that Ms Fauzia Wahab believes the army harbours, judging by what she said and her angry tone. Hopefully, she is mistaken. Considering the several emergencies that the nation faces, anything that deflects attention from the task at hand would be calamitous.
Prior to his disappearance into the bowels of the Presidency, one had remarked to Mr Zardari that his statements regarding Pakistan’s future relations with India were not merely novel but revolutionary. They amounted to reinventing Pakistan’s foreign policy. All that we had been saying and doing for the past six decades had been made to stand on its head. Implicit in this observation was the question of whether the army, the other pillar of the diarchy, had been taken on board before he had sounded off on his plans for the future. Mr Zardari did not respond but clearly, as events showed, he had not and undoubtedly because he believed that as head of the newly elected government and its supreme commander, the army would follow where he led. Reality bit soon enough. There was a furore and there has been no more talk of his revolutionary India policy. But, by then, his credentials as a leader who knows how to safeguard national security had become tainted in the eyes of the army.
To avoid such a situation in the future, the need for prior consultation and good coordination between the army and the civilian government cannot be overstated because when it is missing it can prove to be costly as the falling out over the visit to Britain shows. As for the gutsy Ms Fauzia Wahab, in view of the post that she holds, one’s advice to her would be to delicately poise her public comments on sensitive issues between say a cliché and an indiscretion, or else her boss’s problems will increase manifold.
The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org