Civil-military row: Democracy under squeeze


By Afrasiab Khattak
The civil military row or to be more precise the wrangling between PML (N) led elected civilian government and the military establishment is quite open and public by now. But the dark prophesies about complete derailing of democracy, postponement of the Senate election and general election haven’t come true so far. In fact polling for the Senate election will be taking place as you will be reading these lines. Preparation for general elections are also in full swing. Even then unlike 2013 general elections, one can’t confidently think or talk about a smooth transition from one elected government to another in 2018. The reason for this uncertainty is the naked political engineering by security establishment through administrative, judicial and political instruments. By now it is an open secret that aggressive political agitation by test tube political outfits for creating conducive conditions for raising of ” umpire’s finger ” wasn’t spontaneous. Several onslaughts on Islamabad by a variety of putschists had the unmistakable signature of expertise accumulated over the years by the permanent state. Even the post Panama JIT-led judicial activism has tended to reveal the long arm of security establishment behind it. The extremely selective nature, weak legal grounds and justice not appearing to be be done in accountability has seriously undermined credibility of the process. Totally different decisions in similar cases have given rise to questions in minds of the people.

Military action against civilians has always been remained an issue of debate in Pakistan

Unfortunately our higher judiciary has the historical baggage of upholding unconstitutional military coups and taking oath under PCOs of the usurpers. Its failure in prosecuting General Pervez Musharraf for abrogating the Constitution and its recent controversial role in deciding political cases has created the impression of perpetuation of the so called Doctrine of Necessity. It is disappointing for the people of Pakistan who have always struggled for the independence of judiciary and rule of law.
The contradiction between the de facto and de jure has deepened to an extent where serious questions have arisen about the sustainability of the present constitutional order in the country. The almost total marginalisation of civilian government by the security establishment epitomises a grave crises in the state system. By now it should be obvious that room for any powerful civilian chief executive in the system has dramatically shrunk. This is a serious enough crises to create doubts about the effectiveness of even the future elected government. But the irony is that political parties do not seem to be worried about it. Removing the present federal government and Punjab government by hook or by crook appears to be their only focus. The active role of some opposition political parties in the recent parliamentary coup in Balochistan is a case in point. They justify their wrongdoings by referring to the negative role of the current ruling party in the past. So the political feud is being fought out in tribal fashion without any concern about its consequences for the future.
Be that as it may, there are two fundamental issues that require special attention even in the middle of the present crises. First is the question of federation. Pak-Indian sub continent has seen two partitions in comparatively recent past on the question of provincial autonomy. In 1940s the failure of major political players on the quantum of provincial autonomy among other things led to the partition of India and creation of Pakistan in 1947. Similarly the denial of provincial autonomy to the former East Pakistan ( despite having the majority population) created a crises that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. The main political leadership learnt their lesson and adopted a federal system for the remaining Pakistan in the 1973 Constitution. But provincial autonomy remains a thorn in the side of anti democratic forces in Pakistan. Every military coup in the past attempted to to roll back the federal structure and turn the country into a unitary state. That’s why it is not surprising to see an insidious campaign against the 18th Constitutional Amendment at a time when democratic system is being ambushed. But as a participant in the debate on federation for the last many decades I want to make it clear that any subversion of 18th Amendment by dubious and unconstitutional means would leave no other option with smaller provinces but to demand parity in the National Assembly for all the federating units. It’s the medicine that was originally invented by Punjabi ruling elites in mid 1950s for countering the population weight of the then East Pakistan ( now Bangladesh). What moral ground the same elite will have if it’s raised by political forces of the smaller provinces in the face of subversion of federalism?
The second question relates to foreign policy and security policy of the country. It is pretty clear that one main bone of contention between the civil and military factions of the state is the issue of control over foreign policy. Nawaz Sharif’s effort for normalising relationship with the neighbours, particularly with India and Afghanistan became a major point of friction with the other side. So far security establishment has prevailed and support for Afghan Taliban and militants active against India is continuing. But this policy has reached a dead end and is dramatically leading to international isolation of the country. The FATF’s decision on February 23 in Paris about putting Pakistan on a grey list from the coming June is the latest indication of the failure of Jihadist foreign policy. More important than the increasing US pressure is the growing symptoms of Chinese fatigue syndrome in protecting Pakistan from adverse action by international community. It’s high time to take bold steps for getting back from the precipice. Going ahead on this dangerous path will be following in the footsteps of Saddam Hussain’s Iraq and Gaddafi’s Libya. It’s urgent and corrective measures on this front can’t wait for complete restoration of democracy.
There is a silver lining in the otherwise bleak situation. In a long time the people of Punjab province ( which is a real bastion of power in present Pakistan) are rallying behind Nawaz Sharif who has boldly challenged the political engineering of the security establishment. Nawaz Sharif will have to build an inclusive and broad democratic campaign by addressing the major socio political issues such as eliminating terrorism, bringing peace to Balochistan, empowering of FATA Pashtuns and people of Gilgit Baltistan apart from restoring sanctity of the vote for putting the country back on track.
(The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.)