Civil-military relations in Pakistan — by Farhat Taj


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Militant outfits known for close ties with the military establishment of Pakistan held the Difa-i-Pakistan Conference (Defence of Pakistan Conference) on December 18, 2011. They declared jihad as an obligation for Muslims and threatened the US, NATO forces and India with violent jihad. One of the participants, a former General of the Pakistan Army, Hamid Gul, said that Islamic revolution rather than democracy is the solution for Pakistan’s problems.
The Difa-i-Pakistan rally, in which thousands participated, is a political tactic by the military establishment to put pressure on the already besieged civilian government. The right-wing forces are being mobilised and holding rallies all over Pakistan. If the political parties, such as the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) hold public rallies, they might come under terror attacks by some among those who participated in the Defence of Pakistan Conference. This is also part of the larger agenda of the establishment to take away political space from the political parties such as the PPP and ANP in order to entrench the right-wing political forces in the politics of Pakistan. It is not that the establishment has allied itself with the religious forces only for foreign policy objectives. The military-militant alliance has a strong internal dimension too. The alliance is aimed to neutralise the centrifugal ethnic secular political parties such as the ANP and sideline the mainstream secular political parties of Pakistan, such as the PPP. Religious forces accord religious legitimacy to direct and indirect military rule in Pakistan and the military provides space to the religious forces, which stand little chance in making inroads in Pakistani politics through the normal democratic process on the political landscape of Pakistan. Over time the tactics of the establishment to use the right-wing forces against the democratic forces in Pakistan have improved. Now the establishment has right-wingers with and without beards — Imran Khan as a case in point of a beardless Talib (singular of Taliban). The Difa-i-Pakistan rally was a combination of both: the Taliban with and without beards. The common denominator is that they both support the establishment’s use of religious bigotry in the foreign as well as domestic policies of Pakistan.

Through the media and right-wing political forces, a façade of public anger against the US, NATO and the political government of Pakistan is being created for the former’s presence in Afghanistan and the latter’s poor governance. There are no informed debates on Pakistani proxies’ interventions in Afghanistan that has brought Islamists from around the world to the country followed by the NATO and US forces. True that the PPP-led government is marred by poor governance, but the military cannot absolve itself from it. How can the civilian government ensure good governance when it has no control over the country’s foreign policy and large sections of domestic policy? Important attempts by the government to reduce the sufferings of the people of Pakistan have been thwarted by the military. A case in point is the government’s granting of most favoured nation (MFN) trading status to India. This move by the civilian government has the potential to contribute to the economic revival of Pakistan by normalising trade relations with India. But this has been rejected by the military through its proxy, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Hafiz Saeed, chief of the JuD, whose activists dominated the Difa-i-Pakistan Conference, declared that his group will never allow the government of Pakistan to grant India MFN status; he called for revenge against India for the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan and vowed to continue violent jihad in Kashmir.

As I write these lines the news is coming that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has spoken for the supremacy of parliament over the military and directly questioned the Generals for years-long stay of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The PPP-led government should have taken such a firm position vis-à-vis the military right after taking power in 2008 when FATA and Balochistan were soaked in the blood of its people under state terrorism — both continue to be so to date. The government should have asserted its authority and openly told the people of Pakistan that the military establishment is not allowing it to govern Pakistan in line with constitutional requirements. It is quite late now; but better late than never. The government must now assert its authority and show that there is a civilian leadership in this country.

Back in the 1990s, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto confronted the then ISI chief, Javed Ashraf Qazi, with the reports that Pakistani, Afghans and Arabs were involved in the insurgency in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK), which the prime minster said contradicted Pakistan’s position that the insurgency in Kashmir is indigenous. The ISI chief told her that originally the Kashmir insurgency was indigenous but now has to be carried on by the foreigners because the Indians have killed all adult Kashmiri men. This information was given by Benazir Bhutto to Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador in the US, which he reports in his book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (p 237). The point here is that with the civilian government seemingly asserting its authority, the military establishment may go to any extent to misguide and humiliate the government. Any non-issue can be converted into a matter of vital national interests — the Memogate issue is a case in point. Pakistan has no precedent of holding its Generals accountable for the crimes they committed against the people of Pakistan and in the neighbouring states. In the end, the PPP-led government may be toppled. But it may be good for the future of democracy in Pakistan that the government now appears on the high moral ground. This will give an alternative to the people of Pakistan who might be led towards a rigged next election in favour of pro-establishment political parties, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and another Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) type of religious alliance. The struggle against the military domination of Pakistan’s polity must go on.

The writer is the author of Taliban and Anti-Taliban


With thanks : Daily Times