By Umair Jamal
Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s arrival at the GHQ a few days ago, where he was not only given a comprehensive briefing about the country’s security situation and ongoing military operations but also chaired a session comprising of the military and civilian leadership has set a tone for both institutions’ interactions in the coming weeks and months.
Up until now, rumors had been circulating that the civilian government may develop differences due to its provocative and bold statements related to Pakistan’s foreign policy, particularly towards India and Afghanistan. Some analysists point towards the rocky history of civilian and military relations in Pakistan. Some observers, on the other hand, argue that for reasons related to civilian governments intent on implementing their own foreign policy and security agendas, it’s virtually impossible that differences will not emerge between Khan and the national security establishment.
The following three reasons explain why the current military and civilian leadership will work together, taking on issues of strategic importance rather than drifting away as it has been predicted.
First, Pakistan is facing economic and security challenges to an extent that the country has never faced before. While previously the country’s civilian and the military leadership may have their own visions when it comes to sorting out some issues of strategic significance in Pakistan and opening up to regional and other extra-regional players for economic ties, the current leadership is all about making joint efforts to bridge any distrust gaps to take on such challenges to gather. PM Khan is more interested in getting things done rather than doing politics over issues which may create a problem for him and create handicaps to employ institutional efforts to find solutions to pressing issues. PM Khan has the same position which the military’s current leadership believes serves Pakistan’s interests better: Khan wants better ties with India; the military’s current leadership is seemingly all in for that. PM Khan wants the looming instability in Afghanistan to end; the current leadership of the military has made great strides to play its part in achieving this goal. PM Khan wants the United States to deal with Pakistan in a transactional manner, where both countries stand to gain rather than one imposing its will on the other; the military for some time has followed the same position and giving up the military assistance programs which Washington tried to use as a bargaining chip again Islamabad has not made much of an impact. PM Khan wants to consult with the military to develop a consensus on important issues; the military on its part wants better relations with the civilian government and would certainly welcome Khan’s outreach.
Second, PM Khan doesn’t want to deteriorate ties with the national security establishment. And Khan’s team dealing with issues which the military may be interested in, also understands, how important it is to talk to an institution which has had the role in tackling security and foreign policy issues which challenge Pakistan’s sovereignty and stability. Recently, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan while talking to international media said that it’s important that the country civilian and military institutes on the same page when it comes to finding solutions to different challenges. In response to a question about whether the foreign policy of Pakistan will be made at the foreign office or some other state intuitions will have influence over the process, the minister said that even the government in the United States take into account recommendations of its security institutions and we will be doing the same. At this juncture, this is what Pakistan needs: internal stability and consensus among the country’s top institutions over issues which are strategic in Pakistan’s national’s security calculus.
Third, besides the above mentioned scenarios, it’s also important to note that Pakistan’s national security establishment understands that the civilian government which remains focused on resolving issues dealing with Pakistan’s economy and other aspects, should be provided with necessary space and support to work which would not only be good for the country but also for the former’s efficiency and effectiveness. PM Khan after meeting the Chief of Army Staff at GHQ said that the military leadership assured him as they remain committed to assisting the civilian government in its goals to revive the economy and standing by the government’s initiatives to smoothen over relations with regional states.
For PM Khan it’s a good start for his government and for the military, it has less burden which may have developed from the civilian side previously as the outgoing government developed serious distrust in the absence of consultation. This is what Pakistan needs and both institutions appear to be doing exactly that.
(The author Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs)