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How can we prevent future
military interventions?

Even if the military withdraws or refrains from direct intervention in the political sphere, its vast resources and its past experience of political power are likely to make the military remain a political factor.

By Former Senator Javed Jabbar | December 2022

The writer held Mr Javed Ansari, the recently demised Editor of SouthAsia in high esteem, and with great affection for his extraordinary qualities of self-effacement, integrity and professional capability. His last email to me on 4th November 2022 kindly invited me to contribute an essay on hybrid rule in Pakistan. As other contributors will present more insightful essays than this humble self, herewith , through the valued courtesy of Syed Jawaid Iqbal Editor-in-Chief of SouthAsia, one takes the liberty of providing a related perspective originally written 14 years ago at the invitation of PILDAT but which may also be valid in 2022. No change has been made in the original text.

How can we ensure the continuity and supremacy of civil, political, democratic rule in Pakistan and prevent military interventions in the future?
Answers to the question posed above have to begin, alas, with a negation.

There is simply no way to ensure with one hundred per cent certainty that there will be no military interventions in Pakistan in the future.
Four possible scenarios prevent absolute certainty.


War. Imposed by external forces. Invasion of territory. Threatened destruction of the singularity of the Pakistani State. Danger to our nuclear assets. Collapse of a civil government. Its inability to provide effective leadership or exercise control. The military takes over.


Internal implosion. Prolonged break-down of law and order. Intense widespread civil war. Terrorism on a mass-scale. Danger to nuclear security. Grievous economic decline. Inability of a civil government to control conditions. The military takes over.


A collective decision by relevant Corp Commanders or senior Generals that, regardless of whatever aspect of the national situation, other than the two scenarios above e.g. in view of massive corruption by civil office-holders, in the face of economic or national security threats, imminent sell-out of national interests etc., military intervention is unavoidable. The military takes over.


A single individual, a serving Chief of Army Staff driven by (un-admitted, un-acknowledged) individual ambition cloaked by a messianic persona that claims to save the State and the nation from the depredations of the civil, political leaders who have once again abysmally failed to maintain integrity and have brought the nation to disaster. The COAS acts with the consent of the senior Generals or, over-riding their reluctance, uses the sheer force of his personality and the infallible military principle of: “thou shall always obey thy commander” in order to re-impose military rule. The military takes over.

Whether the world at large, or part of it, accepts or does not accept any one of the four scenarios as justification is a separate issue and is not being addressed in this note.

Throughout most of human history there has never been a clear, sharp line drawn between the political and the military domains, except for a handful or less, of instances in more recent history. The line of separation has always been blurred, if not non-existent.

In the era of the Greek city-states, the Senate witnessed attempts to assert civil and political control over military ambition, often without success. For most of the subsequent two and a half thousand years, monarchs have embodied military dominance even as they may have sometimes ruled in a purely political or religious capacity. Even popes and prophets have played direct military roles.

It is only in the 20th century, after about 200 years of intellectual evolution of political thought, and less than 70 years of practical application, a mere fraction of time in human history, that there has emerged a worldwide consensus and practice of separating the civil and the political spheres from the military sphere.

Most of what follows is going to be a wish-list. Without apologies. Or reservations. It is only when we compile wish-lists that ideal goals are defined. And the journey of a thousand miles can only begin by making wishes into horses. Then, trying to get astride the horses — to gallop towards those distant goals.

First responsibility: the military

The onus to prevent military interventions in the future is on the military, not on the civil, political spheres.

Regardless of whether some political leaders call upon the military to step in and save the nation, it is the duty of the military leadership to observe the sanctity of the oath they have taken to desist from the political domain.

Even if the military withdraws or refrains from direct intervention in the political sphere, its vast resources and its past experience of political power are likely to make the military remain a political factor.

If the military ceases to be overtly present in politics, or also withdraws from a covert role, it is likely to maintain an interest in some critical aspects of external policy. These aspects and issues include: Kashmir, India, nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, USA, NATO, Iran and China.

The challenge for political leadership is how to gradually disengage the military from its acquired tendency to play a central or a determinant role in all the above issues without including a perception of self-diminution and self-erosion in the military leadership. At the same time, the political leadership has to convince the military leadership that, as the 21st century advances, the capability and the commitment of democratically elected and publicly accountable individuals is now generally recognized as the best way for the military itself to ensure the national interest.

12 sectors for reform:

There are about twelve separate, yet inter-connected categories and sectors of society and State, and in the external sphere, whereby the continuity of the political and democratic process in Pakistan can be ensured.

The cumulative outcome of the actions and initiatives identified in these 12 sectors has to be the enduring establishment of two conditions in society.

One: in which for every citizen the rule of law — as expressed in an un-mutilated Constitution — prevails over the rule of force.

Two: in which respect for differences and diversity supports a democratic culture at the individual, family, social and political levels.

It is also possible that, well before all, or some of the steps noted in the twelve sectors are actualized, these two ideal conditions in our society are created, and made virtually permanent.

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