October 20, 2018

Cocooning Civilian Supremacy but how?















Dr. Abdur Rehman Cheema, photography by Noor Muhammad.

By Dr. Abdur Rehman Cheema and Samra Anwar.

The power still runs through the barrel of the gun though many in Pakistan would celebrate the completion of the two democratic governments next year, how far democratic regimes have been able to secure control over affairs of the country remains in question.

The Army Chief’s statement indicating the issue of rising debts and deteriorating current account balance was viewed as encroachment of the military on civilian space. Clearly, the army is not the economic manager of the country. However, the Prime Minister, perhaps learning from the mistakes of his party head, reaffirmed the Army Chief’s stance saying the later has the right to comment on the country’s economy. Well, too simple to assume that the Army Chief should be assumed to have used his right to speak at par with an ordinary citizen under the constitution, it speaks of the long legacy of command, control and influence on all the institutions of the country. Why not the Army Chief should leave the task of commenting on the economic situation to the finance minister who is mandated for this purpose?

One of the areas where civil and military regimes struggle to align is that of the foreign policy. Historically, the Pakistan’s foreign policy has been driven by security interests. More so, around half of the country’s life under military rule, it was obvious. Theoretically, military is part of the government and in essence, should be subject to the civilian authority. However, as a matter of realpolitik, matters are run differently than they appear.

As a matter of fact, where Pakistan stands today in geo-political paradigm, major interventions with regards to foreign diplomacy have been led by military regimes. Some of the examples are General Ayub’s signing of pro-US accords, General Yahya’s failure to solicit Chinese and US support in 1971 war, General Zia’s Soviet Jihad and General Musharraf’s war on terror. These were major decisions of foreign policy taken by military-led governments.

As for civil governments, Mr Liaqat Ali Khan’s cancellation of USSR visit was something that caused havoc to the Pakistan since friendly relations with Russia might have resulted in a different Pakistan in terms of peace and prosperity. The other example is the concept of pan-Islamism which is a political movement and advocates for the unity of Muslims under one Islamic State that should act like an umbrella. Mr Zulifkar Ali Bhutto-led civil government also endorsed the idea and worked towards the collectiveness and togetherness of Islamic countries by facilitating the Islamic Summit Conference at Lahore. Pak-China friendship started in 1950 and the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Liaqat Ali Khan played a major role in bringing the two countries closer. Similarly, the Pak-Saudi friendship has a long history. The friendship between the two countries has lasted ever since Pakistan came into existence.

With the continuity of the political process, civilian leadership has made several inroads in gaining some of its lost space to the military bureaucracy. In fact, as it is said, first deserve then desire, civilian leadership has not only shown increased maturity with the smooth transition from one government to the next government but with the changes of prime ministers with in each government.

Samra Anwar. Photography by Zohaib Abbasi

On the whole, as a nation and from the military and civilian institutions, Pakistani people have done better in many instances where many feared that things might go wrong. Firstly, learning from the mistakes of General Musharraf, the military showed restraint once Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri had their sit-in in front of the Parliament in 2014. Secondly, though the end is to be seen, the judiciary showed courage to proceed against General Musharraf.

The judiciary and the civilian regime again demonstrating confidence to implement the death sentence of Mr Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of the Governor Punjab, Mr Salman Taseer. Mr Mumtaz Qadri was the official guard of the Governor who opened fire on him for the Governor’s siding with the Christian woman charged with blasphemy. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive topic in the country where many misuse this law to settle their personal scores with their rivals. With the demonstrated unity among government institutions, different factions in the Pakistani society also showed restraint and no instance of law and order situation was created as many feared.

Parliamentary Diplomacy is primarily the actions and duties of the parliament with regard to foreign interventions. With the continuity of the political process, onus lies with the parliamentarians to demonstrate their commitment and grip over the state affairs with their well thought out professional judgments. For this to happen, the political parties have to have competent bureaucrats and think tanks who should articulate and brief politicians on government policies.

Parliamentary friendship groups need to be strengthened and empowered. Moreover, the functioning of these groups should be made public. Parliamentarians to Parliamentarians’ dialogues should be held frequently in order to be on the same page and to know what is going on in other democracies. For instance, there are certain parliamentary watchdogs that facilitate parliamentarians to parliamentarians’ dialogues. Again these dialogues should be purposeful in terms of learning from other country’s experiences as well as maximizing the outreach to the world by means of communication and connection and not merely a source tourism on public expense.

Additionally, path dependence and decades’ old legacy inertia would not be overturned in any short duration. It’s a good omen that in many aspects, political, civil and military elite has increasingly prioritised economic security as the key component for stability of Pakistan. The recent convergence of civilian and military interests to carry forward the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) demonstrates this understanding.

Easier said than done, the pathway to civilian supremacy demands demonstrated commitment, sincerity, professionalism and courage on behalf of the civilian institutions of the state and more from the political leaders.



About the authors:

Dr. Abdur Rehman Cheema is Charles Wallace Fellow at the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University, UK. E-mail: arehmancheema@gmail.com

With a doctorate in development studies from Massey University, New Zealand, he has been actively involved in teaching, research, design and implementation of development theory, planning and practice. His areas of interest have been looking at the interconnected issues of socio-economic development including governance, education, agribusiness, environment and climate change and of regional developments, for example, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Samra Anwar is a development consultant with interest in issues of public policy and governance based in Islamabad. E-mail: samraanwar@gmail.com.

Samra Anwar is a development practitioner experienced with a demonstrated history of working in the development sector with major focus on electoral reforms, democracy, good governance, legislative reforms, political parties’ oversight and reforms, governance oversight and reforms, democratic oversight and reforms and political economy. Her areas of interest are research & development and advocacy & lobbying.


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