Civil-military balance in
Pakistan may spiral into crisis


By Talat Masood

In order to comprehend the power dynamics between the civil and military relationship in Pakistan, it is necessary to study what the rationale was for the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. And how over the years, Pakistan’s politics and its ethos has drifted away from the direction its founding fathers had originally visualized. It was the farsighted leadership of M.A. Jinnah, his unflinching faith in democracy, resolute determination and the support he enjoyed from the millions of Muslims of India that compelled the British and Congress to yield to the demands for a separate homeland for the Muslims that contributed to the creation of Pakistan. 
Jinnah believed in the supremacy of the civil, and in some of his addresses to the nation, advised the military to remain within constitutional boundaries. For him any deviation from it by the military and especially through acquiring political power was anathema. 
The reality however, was that Pakistan inherited a weak political and state structure at the time of partition. Muslim League was the only major political party that truly represented the voice of the majority of the Muslims in India and it had a bigger following in India than in parts that constitute present day Pakistan.
The military and the bureaucracy were relatively stronger institutions because they were part of the British establishment that Pakistan inherited during independence. The British did most of the induction in the armed forces from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab areas that primarily constitute Pakistan today.
Soon after the creation of Pakistan, adversarial relations with India resulted in two major wars in 1965 and 1971 that greatly influenced Pakistan in giving security its highest priority. Consequently, the military received higher resource allocations in comparison to other state institutions. Pakistan’s initial leaning on the US and being a part of military alliances CENTO, SEATO and Baghdad Pact elevated the importance of the military.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa discussing the existing situation at one-to-one meeting at Prime Minister House.

Pakistan’s active participation in the 1980’s Afghan war and subsequent events of 9/11, further enhanced the role of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Military rule under General Ziaul haq and then after a few years, of General Musharraf, was a serious setback to democracy. Foreign assistance too was mostly directed toward the military. Nuclearization of South Asia further boosted the position of the military.
Moreover, military institutions that were created with the aim to rehabilitate retired officers over the years has developed and expanded its commercial activities in several sectors and contributes toward the national economy. These too contribute in boosting the armed forces’ image as well as its importance.
Lately, the army’s role in further cementing the Pakistan-China relationship has been significant. It is in the forefront in the policy formulation and execution of several CPEC related projects.
With the revival of the democratic process, new centers of power are emerging and the monopoly of the army is being occasionally challenged. Judiciary, parliament and media are now relatively more assertive. General (retd.) Musharraf’s trial did not go too far, but still created some waves. The pursuit of missing persons in the higher courts and some judges becoming more assertive while questioning any transgression of constitutional authority are significant developments in restoring the civil-military balance, notwithstanding that the army still remains the most organized and powerful institution in the country.
It is only when civilian leadership is able to overcome its weaknesses through improved governance and effective leadership that it will be in a position to reclaim its constitutional authority. There is a need to introduce legislative measures for ensuring improved budgetary and parliamentary oversight over civil and military bureaucracy.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairing a high level civil-military meeting at PM House.

The political leadership in Pakistan generally draws its strength from dynastic lineage and patronage that has distorted the structure of the political parties. Majority of the leadership is generally elitist and has not aligned its aspirations with those it represents. This vulnerability allows other state institutions to manipulate the political party leadership from within and externally. It is only natural that if political parties fail to deliver and meet even their minimum expectations, the role of the army in national politics will not reduce. This trend will seriously affect Pakistan’s democratic credentials and have an adverse effect on its economy.
The instability in Afghanistan, highly adversarial relations with India, the unresolved Kashmir dispute and the threat from inimical forces such as TTP and Baloch separatist parties enhance the important role of the armed forces. Any improvement in relations with India and the US will also facilitate toward enhancing the power of the civilian government.
Whenever political leaders have tried to assert their constitutional authority in exercising power, it has invariably led to a serious crisis. Former Prime Minister Bhutto was removed from office and later hanged through fabricated charges. Leaders of the major political parties are facing trial in civilian courts and the relations between the government and opposition is highly confrontational. 
Imran Khan by subtly sharing power with the army leadership enjoyed good relations with it. However, of late, as he has tried to assert his prerogative of selecting from among the senior Lt. Generals for the post of Chief of Intelligence, problems have arisen and could develop into a serious crisis if it is not resolved amicably. In any case, the close relations, frequently described as the civil-military leadership being ‘on one page’ will be hard to maintain in the future.
Pakistan’s civilian governments, including the present one, has had their own failings. But in all fairness, they have also inherited extraordinary challenges that are not that easy to address. While Pakistan has had a continuation of civilian governments since 2007, they have fallen short of exploiting the full potential of its people or its material resources. What is essentially needed is the building of institutions of governance, strengthening political parties internally and placing the economy on the right track while giving human security the highest priority. 

(Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.

E mail: