Welcome, but not enough —Ejaz Haider

What is missing here is the inability of legislators to reward or punish the armed forces and a lack of capacity among them to understand the issues the military brings to the table.

The army has decided to make legislators privy to the internal security threat and how it has gone about addressing it. Three in-camera briefings have been held so far and the third, ongoing, promises to pan out into a week-long discussion and interaction of legislators with the army top brass.

A welcome development this, is it enough? No.

Specialised legislative committees dealing with intelligence and defence affairs are a norm in developed democracies where legislators monitor and oversee budgets, functioning, procurement needs and performance of the military.

The dealings offer a complex interplay between politicians and entrenched bureaucracies and there is a growing corpus of literature on the pluses and minuses of even highly evolved systems like the one practised in the United States, an outstanding recent work being Peter D Feaver’s Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight and Civil-Military Relations (2003).

Yet, leaving aside the minuses and the capacity of the military (like all bureaucracies) to develop workarounds to push through its agenda, it should be clear that an oversight/monitoring system is better than no system at all — or a situation, prevalent in Pakistan, where the military has traditionally shielded its activities from the civilian enclave.

Beginning with Samuel Huntington’s classic, The Soldier and the State (1956), scholars have determined that the central problem of civil-military relations is civilian control of the military. Later studies have shown that civilian control must be effective in order for the military to accept civilian supremacy.

This is where the rub lies. Consider a scenario.

Political parties are allowed through elections to come to power; the legislature begins to function; there are committees (as indeed there are) that deal with the armed forces; the army even gives briefings to legislators and the committees conduct hearings. Can this be called civilian control? Perhaps. Can this ensure effective civilian control? Certainly not.

What is missing here is the absence of a system of civilian control, the inability of legislators to reward or punish the armed forces and a lack of capacity among them to understand the issues the military brings to the table.

While the form of democracy may offer the trappings of civilian control, such control, if it can be called that, remains ineffective and therefore of no use.

There is a dilemma here, as Feaver points out.

A state needs a military powerful enough to defend itself, but it must also ensure that its coercive arm does not become a threat to it: “The civil-military challenge is to reconcile a military strong enough to do anything the civilians ask with a military subordinate enough to do only what civilians authorise.”

Huntington too had to deal with what Feaver calls the “cold war puzzle” and posited two types of “control”: subjective and objective. While the subjective definition of civilian control presupposes a conflict between civilian control and the need for military security, objective control, according to Huntington, denotes the “maximising of military professionalism”.

In the latter case, then, civilians, while dictating security policy would give the military the operational freedom to determine what could best secure policy objectives. Professional officers, experts in the management of violence, would remain subservient to civilian authority in return for professional autonomy.

Huntington’s idea was shaped and underpinned by three variables: external threat, the constitutional structure of the US, and liberalism. He argued that the Soviet threat necessitated that the US maintain a large military establishment for a long time.

However, the other two variables prevented the necessary allocation of resources for this purpose. He thought that without a change in the “ideological constant” of liberalism, the US would not be secure.

The paradox was: how to address the external threat without giving up civilian control? Objective control was the answer — it maximised military effectiveness while ensuring effective civilian control.

Feaver’s theory is more complex and deals with civil-military relations in the US in the backdrop of a system with entrenched objective control. Yet, as his work reveals — come out as it did when there was great friction within the Pentagon between the generals and civilian DoD functionaries — objective control is not a straightforward issue; neither is it a linear concept.

To be precise, none of the existing theories and models adequately explains the nature of civil-military relations in Pakistan. Also, as Huntington has argued elsewhere, it is incorrect to posit civil-military in such dichotomous terms, given that the civilian enclave is not a cohesive entity like the military.

The reason I mention these two works, a little less than five decades apart and dealing with the situation in the US, is to flag the point about the sheer inadequacy of the point at which we stand — while acknowledging, I must add, that the current trend is welcome. What is important is to put the ongoing exercise in Pakistan in a perspective to realise that there are miles to go still.

From this viewpoint, it is significant also that some legislators — with the possible exception of Khurram Dastagir Khan of the PMLN — who have been interviewed by some tv channels, notably Dawn News, have come up with observations that manifest a woeful lack of understanding of these issues. Mr Khan was the only one who considered the briefing inadequate and wanted to question and discuss the nature of the threat, its genesis and the means to address it.

But, and this is the plus, if we can get a few more legislators like Mr Khan who are prepared to apply their minds and the mandate to quiz the army on what is happening, this process could begin to become more useful. That ostensibly is, or should be, the rationale behind it.

What is amusing is the fact that there is newness in this exercise both for the army, still grappling with its old mindset, and the legislators, acting wide-eyed like kindergarten children being pulled into the world of grown-ups. Both will learn on the job. But the politicians will have to learn faster.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 10/10/2008


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