Successive governments, including the present one, have made serious attempts at improving civil-military relations, but mostly on the basis of compromises and undermining the Constitution.
Among the most serious weaknesses that Pakistan continues to face and has a direct impact is the country’s unending experimentation with hybrid democracy. It is unfortunate a country that was created on a democratic surge for a separate homeland for Muslims has failed to develop a proper functioning democracy and keeps experimenting with a model of governance in which the military is always the dominant player. Foreign affairs, economic and security-related policies are heavily influenced by the thinking and direction given by the army leadership. Political government and the Opposition look toward the military’s top leadership for leveraging their position instead of drawing power and strength from the people.
It is not surprising that the Parliament, Senate and civilian-run state institutions do not carry the same weight that these are supposed to in a democratic country like ours. The credibility of national and provincial elections has been frequently compromised due to gross mismanagement and by manipulations of the political leadership in connivance with bureaucracy and the army. Imran Khan, despite his huge following and mass appeal, singularly focused on having the next Chief of Army Staff of his choice without realizing that this was exactly the same motivation that brought ignominy and even gallows to leaders in the past. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was misled by the astute power play of General Zia as his professional reputation and modesty acted as a perfect cover for his ambitions. He posed to be meek and his horizon limited to his military career. Similarly, Nawaz Sharif’s one major consideration of selecting General Musharraf was that he was an Urdu-speaking Mohajir, and would not be having a strong political base. However, all those were false assumptions and betrayed warped thinking and shortcuts to a fundamental distortion in civil-military relations.
Inherited politics trumps efficiency and fair selection of leadership. The dominance of the Bhutto family on Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Sharif’s on Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) has been there ever since these political parties were formed. In a similar vein, several other smaller political parties, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and Qaumi Watan Party are greatly influenced by inherent politics.
Absence of strong democratic culture within the political parties and army leadership’s prolonged involvement in politics and power-sharing has seriously distorted Pakistan’s politics. Pakistan, from its very inception, suffered due to the absence of weak political institutions. At the time of Partition, there was no major political party that had a significant presence in all the provinces that constitute Pakistan today. The Unionist party was mostly in Punjab and the Muslim League and the Awami National Party, led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, dominated the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP), now KP. And in 1947 Pakistan Muslim League had a weak presence in Sindh. But seventy-five years should have been enough to correct course and what is even of greater concern is the fact that the present leadership instead of pursuing politics that would move the country toward democratic consolidation is further weakening it. Another rather disturbing phenomenon is a sense of defeatism creeping in among the people and intelligentsia. Discussion on television channels and analytical pieces in newspapers are suggesting different variants of power-sharing as though we as a people are not fit for democracy. However, we must first ask ourselves what we are good at. Micromanaging its economy, Pakistan has been on IMF programmes for more than twenty times. We have faltered badly in matters of governance, in educating our people or caring about their health and social welfare. Moreover, have the country not tried direct military rule, or has its experience of hybrid power-sharing, including the present one, been a success? We cannot continue to take cover by shifting responsibility and placing blame elsewhere. Despite these setbacks let defeatism not overtake us. We have to succeed to survive with dignity and honour.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board.
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