By Shahzad Chaudhry
When the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill was finally submitted in the US Congress in 2009 for approval, it contained two clauses that especially irked the Pakistani military. One dealt with the promotion to two-star rank and beyond within the military that the bill envisaged needed approval by Pakistan’s civilian government if American aid was to continue; and second, the Pakistani military was not ever to upstage the civilian political setup.
The first clause was misplaced because all promotions are always subject to approval of the Ministry of Defence; and all promotions to two-star and higher are gazette notified by the government and announced only with the express approval of the president. The second clause was judgemental and inappropriate as a comment or condition for an institution of another state.
There was a reason why the US was obliged to ensure support to the democratic setup that had resumed its position in 2008 after a prolonged military-sponsored political order under Musharraf. Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state had ‘midwifed’ this reconciliation process between PPP’s Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf to change course to a democratic setup – something they would usher in the Arab world later in the shape of the ‘Arab Spring’. Having spent Musharraf’s capacity to support their interests and mission they now needed to ease Musharraf out and replace him with a more enthusiastic controlling power at the helm.
Seemingly, what the PPP government sought in lieu for their facilitation of this mission was American influence to ensure civilian dominance over the Pakistani military, even if it meant for such demeaning conditions to be placed in the KLB legislation by the Congress; and of course the monies that came with it.
It was a convenient win-win for all players under the rubric of instituting and ‘stabilising democracy’. The military, however, was the common target as democracy found its roots – again. Who was ‘democracy the best revenge’ against anyway? Not the head of the PPL or Wapda, or some such character.
There were two reasons why the military felt humiliated and found the insertions derogatory: one, that a foreign government was imposing conditions on Pakistan and its military as a quid pro quo for the aid that it proposed to give – this was by any standard direct interference in the matters of a sovereign state, something that was a patently internal matter in the domain of civilian-military relations and was shaped by dynamics that were entirely domestic.
Second, it was largely – and perhaps correctly – perceived that the conditions had been agreed to by the Pakistani government through their ambassador to the US – some accounts even suggested that the language was peculiarly that of the ambassador.
There were similarly two different perceptions of this development in Pakistan. Mostly those from the government and the upper educated elites saw the two clauses as the means to finally leash the military to a subordinate position and deliver to the civilian political leadership greater controlling power over the military. To them the military’s harangue was indicative of its intrinsic reluctance to ‘any’ control vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts which implicitly meant that the military not only wished to continue to dominate policy but would also take over if indeed their interests so demanded.
They, the ‘civilians’ just could not see it another way. Such an assumption was based around historical precedence but without reference to any qualifying context. The four military interventions in Pakistan’s political history did not happen in a vacuum; this consideration is conveniently forgotten in any mention of military takeovers. This was the mother of all divides afflicting a struggling nation.
The next perception is speculative, as well as circumstantial. While in hibernation during the Musharraf rule, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto signed a ‘Charter of Democracy’, a well-known memorandum to iron out the rules of the game to enable a more sustaining democratic political order. This has been a critical piece of informal understanding that has propelled Pakistani democracy to better levels of maturity and tolerance for each other.
To many though, who have now seen both parties in power, the arrangement is also a means of condoning the malfeasance and mis-governance that goes with the quality of politics that these two have practised. The result is a persistent erosion of social and public interest, most conveniently neglected by the opposition in favour of the ruling party.
The two parties also reached an informal understanding that has them both committed to defying any attempt by the military to overthrow the democratic political setup, which in itself is laudable, except that such a notion considers kosher any means including vilifying the military with an aim to erode its credibility in public perception and lower its image even if foreign support was to be elicited.
India and the US would happily contribute to this project: US because for it the overwhelming return from its uni-polar exclusivity is the universal acceptance of western democracy as the only acceptable standard in political order; and India, because of the traditional rivalry between the two nations and the dominant role in it of the two competing militaries – if the Pakistani military is weakened in any manner it implicitly strengthens the Indian military.
Beyond 2009 the opportunities to malign the army were many and came in quick succession. As militancy and terrorism entrenched itself as an ‘existential’ threat, it gave cause to critically recount the policies under Zia and Musharraf to use religion-inspired militants for the two Afghan wars. Mumbai 2008 found common cause, both with the Indians and those who wished to malign the military in Pakistan. It remains the most popular means to lash the military with.
As the military has remained busy fighting the Taliban, the governments have mostly distanced themselves from providing relevant politico-economic initiatives to complement the counter-insurgency effort. What has also found unfortunate mention is a deliberate ploy to let the army embroil itself in this unending war against the militants because, first, it keeps them off any design to take over when civilian structures do not perform.
Second, such a war is debilitating and slowly saps the very core of a military’s resilience thus weakening it from the inside. Third, because of the nature of war, which must rely on eliciting information, the military’s resort to means and methods against its wayward citizens can be conveniently called to question in any court of law. The recent issues between the courts and the military happen to be just one such case in point.
(To be continued)
The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff.