OPINION

CIVIL MILITARY RELATIONS
IN CONTEMPORARY PAKISTAN

DJ re-prints Hasan Askari Rizvi's
comprehensive study of the subject from the Journal of the
International Institute for Strategic affairs

Governance in Pakistan is a delicate balancing act between the military chiefs and the elected civilian government. It is a power-sharing arrangement whereby the military has important influence over foreign, security and key domestic issues, and mediates confrontations among feuding political leaders, parties or state institutions- if such confrontations are deemed threatening to political order and stability. Although the civilian government enjoys considerable autonomy for political and economic management and exercise of state authority, it is expected always to consider the military's sensibilities. The military has repeatedly demonstrated that it can and will influence the nature and direction of political change without necessarily assuming power.

How to cope with this kind of 'soft' military intervention is a common dilemma for civilian leaders of states that have experienced prolonged military rule. The civilian regimes that succeed military rule face serious identity crises. On the one hand, these governments want to prove that they are not under the tutelage of the military and can act autonomously. On the other hand, they cannot afford to alienate the military leadership, whose support is crucial to their survival. Their task is complicated by the fact that the top brass are loath to surrender the power and privileges that they enjoyed during the years of military rule. The military ensures that there are sufficient constitutional and political safeguards to sustain their entrenched position in the period after their withdrawal from direct rule. Extended military rule in a multi-ethnic and diversified society also increases political fragmentation and creates vested interests supporting authoritarian and non-democratic political arrangements. These conditions make the task of political management difficult for any post-martial law civilian regime aiming to establish its credentials as a genuine democratic government while not alienating the senior commanders.

The Transition to
Civilian Rule

The ascendancy of Pakistan's military began shortly after the country achieved independence in 1947. The rapid degeneration of the political process enabled the military to become an important decision-maker at the national level, culminating in the direct assumption of power by the Army Chief, General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan, through a coup in October 1958. He ruled under martial law until June 1962, when he civilianised his regime by co-opting some politicians and establishing a constitution which legitimised the continuation of his rule after the withdrawal of martial law. A second coup was staged in March 1969' by General Yahya Khan, who surrendered power to an elected civilian leader in December 1971' after the military debacle in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. The military overcame the trauma of defeat within a few years, and General Zia ul-Haq reasserted military dominance by overthrowing the civilian government in July 1977. He presided over the longest period of martial law in Pakistan's history (July 1977 December 1985) and handed power over to a civilian government through a carefully managed disengagement.

The civilian system that replaced Zia's military rule in 1985 enabled the military to shift its emphasis from overt 'rule' to a more subtle, but still ubiquitous 'role'. Instead of exercising power directly (although the coup option is still available), the military has become a formidable political actor, influencing the nature and direction of political change. This planned transition began when Zia introduced far-reaching changes in the 1973 Constitution, emphasising an all-powerful President (Zia himself) and a weak Prime Minister.

The Constitution was also amended to allow Zia to continue serving as Army Chief after the restoration of civilian rule (making him Pakistan's longest-serving Army Chief, from March 1976 till his death in August 1988). He created the semblance of a participatory system by setting up a parliament through non-party, regulated election and installing a docile Prime Minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Zia saw his relationship with the Army as crucial to his survival and thus guarded its professional and corporate interests. He underlined his primacy in the political process, not merely through his enhanced presidential powers, but also by projecting his position of Army Chief as a 'bridge' between the newly established civilian government and the powerful armed forces.1 He periodically lashed out at the civilian government to keep it in line. When the Prime Minister tried to assert his autonomy, Zia sacked him in May 1988, thereby demolishing the civilianised system he had created. He was trying to co-opt another set of civilian leaders who could serve as 'adjuncts to military supremacy' when he was killed in an air crash in August.2

The military's decision not to assume power after Zia's death led to the holding of multi-party elections and subsequent transfer of power to a civilian government in December 1988.3 Since then, the Army Chiefs have emphasised professionalism and no direct involvement of soldiers in politics; they have generally supported the democratic process and civilian governance.4 This support is tactical, however, based on a realistic assessment of the political situation. It does not change the fact that they are central to the political process.

A Pivot in the Power Structure

The Army Chief is a pivot in Pakistan's post-1988 power structure. Together with the President and the Prime Minister, he constitutes one-third of the 'Troika' -an extra-constitutional arrangement for civilian-military consensus-building on key domestic, foreign policy and security issues. The Troika meets periodically; senior military and civilian officials are summoned to give briefings relating to the issues under discussion. The Army Chief also holds meetings separately with the President and Prime Minister on political and security affairs. Another institution that has gained prominence is the Corps Commanders' meeting. Presided over by the Army chief, this conference includes top commanders, Principal Staff Officers at the Army Headquarters and other senior officers holding strategic appointments. Its members not only discuss security and organisational and professional matters, but also deliberate on domestic issues such as law and order, and general political conditions—especially when the government and the opposition are engaged in intense confrontation. These discussions are intended both to underline senior officers' political concerns and to develop a broad-based military consensus. Executing the consensus decisions is left to the Army Chief, thereby strengthening his position when he interacts with the President and the Prime Minister.

A smooth interaction among the Troika members ensures the military's support for the Prime Minister, which contributes to general political stability. If serious differences develop among these key players, political uncertainty and instability are likely. The Prime Minister - the civilian side of the power equation - can find him or herself in a difficult situation. The military is well placed to exert pressure on him. Furthermore, the 1973 Constitution, as amended by Zia in 1985, greatly strengthened the position of the President vis-a-vis the Prime Minister, making it difficult for the latter to emerge as an autonomous power.

The Prime Minster's position was boosted somewhat by an April 1997' Constitutional amendment curtailing the President's powers so that he cannot dismiss the Prime Minister. However, so long as the Prime Minister presides over divided and mutually hostile political forces, he will have to work in harmony with the President - and the Army.

The military's primary consideration is not direct exercise of power, but protection and advancement of its professional and corporate interests. If these interests can be protected, it would prefer to stay on the sidelines. Given military's political experience, organisational resources and institutional strengths, its senior commanders are reasonably confident that they can pursue such a strategy. The senior commanders are willing to negotiate their interests and accommodate the civilian leaders. What is not acceptable to them, however, is a frontal attack on their institutional and corporate interests as they define them, a deliberate campaign to malign the military, or unilateral decision-making by the civilian leaders on matters which directly concern them. They will not support a discredited civilian government nor allow the military's name to be used by civilian leaders, whether in government or in opposition, in their power struggle. The scope for manoeuvre for the civilian leaders can thus expand if they establish a relationship of trust and confidence with the military.

The Military's Interests

Among the Pakistani military's major interests and concerns, six stand out:

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) National security is obviously paramount. During the Zia era, the military directly controlled nuclear policy and the conduct of the Afghan War. Nuclear policy has remained their close preserve, even under civilian rule. Benazir Bhutto complained in September 1991 that she was denied information about highly sensitive aspects of the country's nuclear programme during her first term as Prime Minister. The role of the Foreign Office and the civilian leadership in formulating and implementing the Afghanistan policy increased after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops, but senior Army commanders and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) continue to have a significant input. Similarly, the Army maintains deep interest in policy towards India, including Kashmir. The military elite are not opposed in principle to Indo-Pakistani rapprochement, but they are concerned that the civilian government not ignore what they see as New Delhi's 'hegemonic' agenda. Strong and credible conventional defence and nuclear-weapons capabilities are considered vital to ward off Indian pressures and to enable Pakistan to conduct independent foreign and domestic policies. Unless the military is satisfied that there are credible guarantees against India's efforts to interfere, it will resist surrendering its nuclear-weapon option and advise caution on normalising relations. Furthermore, the military-like most civilian policy-makers—will not want to improve bilateral relations unless India addresses the issue of Kashmir.

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) Overseas weapons and equipment procurement is another military interest with foreign-policy implications. The three military services thus press the civilian government to pursue foreign policy to facilitate this objective.

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) Military autonomy and civilian non-interference in internal organisational matters and service affairs is jealously guarded by senior commanders. The service chiefs generally resist any Ministry of Defence tampering with their personnel recommendations, including promotions, transfers and postings. Military leaders view their autonomy and civilian non-interference as crucial in maintaining service discipline and professionalism. If the political leaders are able to make in-roads into the military and establish their lobbies, the senior commanders think, the military's overall discipline, organisational coherence and institutional capacity to cope with the political environment will be compromised.

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) The military is opposed to any unilateral cut in defence expenditure by civilian leaders. Its senior commanders are prepared to discuss budgetary issues with their non-military leaders, but they are opposed to critical public statements by government leaders or to any reduction that has not previously been cleared with them.

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) The repeated exercise of power under martial law has enabled officers to accumulate considerable perks and privileges, which the military inevitably wants protected - along with generally improving service conditions.

bk_box.gif (810 bytes) The military also expects a civilian government to ensure socio-political stability. The senior commanders therefore constantly review the government's political and economic management, especially its interaction with the political adversaries, the handling of law and order, and such issues as corruption, use of state machinery and patronage. Army Chiefs have not hesitated to comment publicly on the political situation, advising political leaders to put their house in order, not to crush their opposition, to settle contentious issues through political means and negotiations, and on the need to establish a corruption-free, transparent and effective administration. Their interest in these matters stems from the assumption that a polity in turmoil cannot sustain a professional military. Furthermore, with the military's industrial and commercial activities expanding through its four welfare foundations, the government's economic and industrial policies have also acquired direct relevance.5

On a number of occasions, top Army commanders have used their influence to moderate a conflict among the politicians and/or forced them into a settlement when they felt that a confrontation would cause a major constitutional or political breakdown. They supported the President in removing civilian governments in August 1990, April 1993 and November 1996, having concluded that these governments could no longer ensure domestic peace, stability and order. In December 1997, on the other hand, the Army ultimately supported the Prime Minister in his bitter confrontation with the President and the judiciary.

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