Civil-Military Relations

The Irony

Civilian leaders, in order to command respect of the uniform, need to show greater ability, vision, organization, unity and a deep commitment to the well-being of the common citizenry.

By Maj. Gen Inam Ul Haque | January 2020

Civil-Military relations in Pakistan attract immense attention both nationally and internationally. At the heart of the matter is the controversy of civilian control over the armed forces. This is a constitutional aberration, where a seemingly subservient organ of the state wields immense influence, sometimes behind the scenes, but mostly in an overt manner.

In the literature on the subject, there is a hierarchy, where, at the top is a “National Purpose”, for which nations exist, leading down towards “National Interests”, which can be “vital” – for which nations go to war, and/ or “peripheral”. Below the “Interests” are “National Aims and Objectives” and, thereafter, this hierarchy leads to policies. From “National Security Policy” flows “Defence Policy” which further leads down to “National Security Strategy” and, thereafter, “Military Strategy” for the armed forces. It would be an interesting question to ask the Federal government to produce a “Defence Policy” compiled by our civilian government.

In countries where civilian supremacy over the armed forces is considered and ensured as a bedrock of distribution of power – like the US, UK, India and Australia, etc. - such policies are issued and revised from time to time to give guidance to the armed forces about threats and response priorities in the obtaining and future environment. In the absence of the civilian leadership’s competence, diligence and involvement, civilian control over the armed forces remains at best a pipe-dream, as evident from the reality of military take-overs in our history. The rhetoric that the military does not allow nurturing of the civilian capacity and capability to govern is a flawed escape argument, just like the criticism of the military’s performance while in government. The environment of each military take-over would substantiate this point. In my considered opinion, if the military does not take over in any dispensation, it is not because of the superior governance of the democratic dispensation, it is the military exercising due restraint.

Without succumbing to the temptation of ‘ífs’ and ‘buts’, and arguments for and against this lop-sided aberration, the simple truth is that for civilian leaders to command respect of the uniform, they need to show greater ability, vision, organization, unity and a deep commitment to the well-being of the common citizenry, alongside greater sensitivity to the national security challenges. If one draws on personal experience of some four decades, it would be safe to conclude that the military is always willing to carefully cede authority to civilian leadership, provided the civilian counterparts are able to wrest it and deserve it.

One is also mindful of the understandable criticism, as the notions of ‘ability’ and ‘deserving’ are subjective at best. It is instructive to cite the series of ‘National Security Seminars’ at the military-run National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad, where a broad range of leaders, including politicians, both elected and non-elected - from councilors to the members of assemblies and Senate, businessmen, media leaders and other notable citizens from all walks of life across genders - are schooled in the imperatives of Pakistani state and society. In the absence of any other forum for the purpose, the NDU has taken upon itself to impart the requisite knowledge, inculcate some discipline and bring some rationale to an otherwise chaotic national leadership where politicians have traditionally won by delivering fiery and bombastic speeches but repeatedly failed on delivery. The consequent dependence of elected officials on a politicized and self-serving bureaucracy makes a toxic mix.

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The writer has an interest in International Relations and Political Sociology. He can be reached at

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