Here’s a quick gallop on the civilian military conundrum in Pakistan.
While we all know the challenges of our evolution as a nation state, we must remember that our institutions couldn’t develop as strongly as India’s, because they inherited the entire governance and institutional infrastructure of pre partition India, whilst we got odd bits and pieces and broken remnants.
We had to build everything afresh, except the military.
Thus, India inherited a mercantile -urban based strong civilian infrastructure embedded in its body politic, and centuries long legacy of urban political engagement.
Pakistan was another story.
Our political leadership, unlike India’s, rose from an agrarian, feudal, tribal, jagirdari set up, without having sacrificed anything for the country. All the public service administrators, in what later became West Pakistan, were either Hindu (70%), and even higher, in then, East Pakistan.
And those who were Muslims were mostly urban Urdu speaking, from UP, CP, and not sons of the soil, Punjabis, Pathans, Baluchis or Sindhis. Very few joined the civil services. Most lived agrarian lives, or joined the Army, especially from Punjab and Frontier.
The Pakistan Army was the only institution which, like all professional armies, has an inherent ability and training to quickly reorganize itself into a whole and effective body, rapidly regained it’s efficacy. In those post 2nd World War days it was very common for military units to be disbanded, re-raised, transferred. Change was and is the very lifeblood of an Army like ours. Hence, rapidly, the bits and pieces of those units that were to become the nucleus of our Army, became a whole, homogenous entity.
Not so the civilian institutions! Ayub’s martial law was a huge setback as it over turned the supremacy of civilians and institutions, who were weak and nascent, to begin with. And one can argue, that had Ayub not taken over, our civilian public governance institutions would have been stronger.
Perhaps. However, I don’t think so. Let us also not forget, we are a very young state. India is not. That’s a fundamental factor to remember. India just continued on governing itself as it had been governed prior to partition. Pakistan was completely different.
Everything was new, EXCEPT the Army. If Ayub hadn’t taken over, another Army chief would have done the deed soon after. It had to happen. In fact the first attempt was the failed Rawalpindi conspiracy of 1951. And this is my considered opinion.
Because inherent in that early post partition environment was the fact, that a seemingly efficient disciplined institution, the Army, with a strong colonial and elitist ethos and value system, was angrily eyeing a squabbling pack of, what appeared to them, incompetent, power hungry, corrupt politicians, fighting to preserve their status quo. Rightly or wrongly is another debate. But that was the sentiment.
And this view by the men in Khaki was further reinforced by the loot and plunder of most, if not all, subsequent civilian administrations in Pakistan. All or most, when in power, rather than work for the people of Pakistan and strengthen their institutions, weakened and destroyed them, focussing only on preserving their own power and influence.
Bhutto, riding on a wave of huge popular support, and his demagoguery had an opportunity. But, himself a feudal, quickly dislodged the democrats and socialists in his party, and welcomed the feudals who became part of his party and of every other political party. If one can point at a watershed period where institutional decay commenced, then it’s most certainly Bhutto’s period.
His three actions had huge impact on Pakistan. Nationalization. Declaring the Ahmadi community, non Muslims, and his refusal to accept Sh. Mujib as the Prime Minister, despite the Awami League’s overwhelming majority. These three actions shook the country to its very foundations. And the rest is history!
And today they are now more entrenched and sadly even more so because of the military rulers, who trucked with them to stay in power. And that is why I’m against Martial Law under the same putrid, rotten to the core, status quo system. Lets be clear. Another Martial Law will fall victim to the same conditions as the previous ones.
Another person who tried to break this stranglehold of the corrupt civilian elite, was Air Marshal Asghar Khan. And he failed, miserably.
Today, Nawaz Sharif, symbolises the new “urban- feudal” who joined hands with the rural feudal and thus acquired power by hijacking the electoral and political process with money, power and privilege, and partnering, with the Army, to further entrench themselves.
So what now?
Our hope and future lies in a system that will break the stranglehold of the urban and rural elite and which can ensure the supremacy of civilian rule. This is what will set us on the path of sustained and long term progress and development. And not the path of a police / security state.
But till that doesn’t happen, and it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, under people like Nawaz Sharir and Asif Zardari, and the forces they represent, because weak institutions suit them perfectly. We will continue to meander aimlessly and painfully in this quicksand of corruption, misgovernance and exploitation, becoming weaker and weaker.
They’ve masterfully managed to destroy whatever efficacy the civilian institutions had, so they could rule like monarchs. Their only fear is from the Army which has been a constant threat to their loot and plunder.
Consequently, whenever the civilian loot and plunder would hit new heights (or lows), the Army leadership used its muscle and usurped power. A role and power, which clearly is not rightfully theirs. But this is the unfortunate and sad reality.
And let’s also not forget that despite all its acts of commission and omission, the Army has retained it’s relatively meritocratic ethos and hence been saved from becoming another failed institution.
Imagine a Pakistan in which our Army became another police force or a civilian public sector institution.
Imagine a scenario where Generals and Brigadiers and Lt. Cols and Majors were being promoted and posted and transferred, with impunity, as we see today happening to the police IG’s and DIG’S and SSP’S and SP’S and SHO’s on the whims of an Asif Zardari, a Nawaz Sharir or the younger Sharir!
So, in my opinion, the military, which clearly has acquired huge power and influence as a consequence of weak civilian institutions, and far in excess of what it should have, will NOW only respect an equally disciplined and relatively mertitocratic civilian space.
And the hope is that our civilian institutions will develop, as soon as we have an electoral and governance system which allows people of integrity and competence to reach powerful policy making roles in governance.
It is then that we will see the correct balance of power between the Politicians and the Military.
The answer lies in building civilian institutions not destroying the military. The latter, an ardent desire of our eastern neighbor! But unfortunately till our civilian institutions remain weak, this saga of loot and plunder will continue, unabated.
And the great danger is, and a very real one it is, that the very rich and powerful and extremely corrupt political vested interests may finally infect the Army, with their virus of corruption and nepotism, thereby destroying this great institution, which today, is the strongest force keeping our enemies at bay. Or even worse, put such tremendous strains on our national unity that they divide this very disciplined force.
And if either of the two happens, I see a very dark future! God Forbid.
So the Supreme Court and the people of Pakistan, must play their part in creating some time and space for a while, to embed a cleaner, more effective, transparent system!
If not, NS will again “sweep” into power with ONLY 17% of the registered vote, as he did in 2013 and merrily go about destroying this country.
Pakistan has a great future, under stable, honest, capable, civilian leadership.
But not under the corrupt like Nawaz Sharir, nor under a military government.