Giving a Constitutional Role to the Military

Columnist MALIK AYAZ HUSSAIN TIWANA makes a case for giving the military a constitutional role in governance of the country

When we talk about democracy, we talk about the welfare of the people, their aspirations, their emotions and their dreams. When these aspirations and dreams are shattered then the people have all the right to ask for change.

It has been the fourth time that the Armed Forces of Pakistan have taken over the reins of the country. Each time the reasons have been different. The military take over of 1958, set a precedent, which has been subsequently followed thrice and the story of military interventions, in Pakistan, is not to end with the take over of October 12, 1999. However, after each military take over, there has been the problem of legitimacy. This has usually resulted in either the constitution being held in abeyance (as it is this time - at least for the time being) or its abrogation altogether, causing adverse effects on all the other institutions of statecraft.

Due to frequent military interventions in Pakistan a question has arisen, yet again, as to whether it would be prudent or necessary, to give the military a constitutional mandate, which recognizes, allocates and defines the military's role during certain conditions and emergencies.

A politically mature leadership would always try to ensure that the military is kept out of politics under all circumstances. They try to achieve this by strengthening the political institutions and by resisting the temptation of using the military as a convenient vehicle to achieve their own personal/partisan ends. But alas, in our case this has not been so. Unfortunately, the politicians have repeated the same follies over and over again. In the absence of a safety valve (as was in the shape of the 8th amendment), military interventions have been the end-result of political failure, which in its turn, has been often produced by the lack of a middle opinion and mutual trust amongst the politicians apart from their greed, corruption, hypocracy and lust for absolute power.

In Pakistan, the Armed Forces, being the most well organized, disciplined and powerful sector of our traumatic national life, have had to play decisive role in almost every political crisis either openly, as in the four military take overs or from the back seat, as during 1954-1958 Ayub's Defence Ministry days and most of the post-Zia period of 1989-1999.

As all military governments came to power by illegal and unconstitutional means, namely the coup d'etat, they faced a legitimacy problem and each time a reference to the Supreme Court was made and each time the courts have been mindful of the 'national interest'. During the Zia era 'The Doctrine of Necessity' was a product of such a reference for Oct 12, 1999 military take over, the legal battle lines are already being drawn.

When precisely to move in and get the politicians to change a course or get rid of them altogether, depends on a number of factors that can hardly be predicted. However, by having constitutional provisions, like in the Turkish Constitution, the question can be made predictable. The main advantage of having constitutional provisions concerning the role of the military is that the country and the concerned politicians will then know when to expect what and will accordingly, pull back from the brink before it gets too late.

By standardizing and laying down the rules as to what constitutes a threat to the country's integrity, when does political instability reach the stage of disaster or when does vigorous party politics degenerate into simple rioting and when it turns into civil war, the military can warn and then intervene backed by the third pillar of the state i.e. the Judiciary (independent and powerful). The politicians can both advance or retard the date, depending on their own actions, or even postpone it indefinitely.

On the other hand, the disadvantage of having constitutional provisions is that the politicians are sure to begin courting generals. This would involve the military into day-to-day controversies and the senior officers might find themselves on different sides thus causing multiple divisions within the military, with dangerous consequences. The military's factions can be twisted around by cunning politicians and on a really emotive issue can be sucked into a ruinous civil war.

The constitutional role of the Armed Forces cannot be fixed solely by the words of a constitution. It must find support from national thoughts and emotions. Each nation has its own peculiar conditions and requirements. Factors such as its degree of educational and social development along with economic, ideological, cultural and historical background, will have profound influence on its political system. (A monitoring role like in Turkey, would be more suitable than a governing role, like it was in Indonesia till recently). In our case the military being the most cohesive, disciplined and powerful institution of the state, would continue to exercise a direct or indirect role in the affairs of the country.

As we enter the new millennium, we have to judge whether our uneducated masses can comprehend the new challenges of the 21st century, in a fast moving world of globalization and cyber space. Our security environment and economic condition does not allow us the luxury of political turmoil and subsequent destabilization. In order to achieve a solid and cohesive nationhood, the military must work within a framework, which includes the other organs of the state and not in a vacuum. Even then, the role should be at a conceptual level - setting and insuring the direction for the nation (e.g at the level of National Security Council) - and not getting involved in the everyday running of the administration. In other words, a monitoring role of an umpire for the smooth functioning of an unadulterated constitution, an independent election commission, an independent and a powerful institution for accountability. The Armed Forces must remain the 'saviours' of the Pakistani masses, by keeping the political process active through the chosen representatives of the people. Let there be a debate on the subject, after which, a decisive action must follow.