A new beginning

Prime Minister Gilani congratulated the nation on the passage of the 18th Amendment Bill and praised the armed forces for supporting democracy and not interfering in political matters. Apparently, the military establishment has taken a backseat for a change and given enough space to the politicians to settle affairs. This is indeed a turning of the corner as far as civilian-military relations are concerned and a break from the past practices of the military establishment. Two years ago, Prime Minister Gilani had rightfully said that today’s world calls for a new and balanced relationship between the civilian and military institutions, based on mutual respect and dignity. In Pakistan’s context, redefining the contours of the civilian-military relationship is of utmost importance, considering that the country for the most part of its existence has remained in the throes of undemocratic rule because of the conflict emerging between the political and military class. This paved the way for many a usurper to stride into power after abrogating the constitution. Pakistan was turned into a praetorian state due to successive military coups, consequently relegating civilian institutions to a secondary status in clear defiance of democratic norms. Now that a democratically elected government is in place, it is up to the politicians to prove that political governments are better than military dictatorships.

A new beginning in the civilian-military relationship has been witnessed after the February 2008 general elections. It can be said that the war on terror has played an integral part in mitigating the tension between the government and the military establishment. The PPP-led government created across the board consensus politically and at the public level against the threat of the Taliban. This made it easy for the military to get considerable local and national support during its offensive against the terrorists. We cannot of course overlook the contribution of the military in breaking the back of the Taliban. We have seen retaliatory terrorist attacks in the actual war theatre as well as elsewhere in the country, but that was not unexpected. What is different this time is that the militants who used to rule the roost in Swat and the tribal areas have now been either killed or forced to flee their strongholds. The government and the military are now on the same page as far as fighting terrorism is concerned. It is also gratifying to know that the armed forces have apparently decided to keep away from political matters. This may just prove to be the best thing to have happened to Pakistan since its inception.

Military dictatorships are inherently bad for a country and Pakistan has had its fair share of coup-makers. In the past, the judiciary has played a controversial role in giving legitimacy to every military dictatorship, citing the notorious ‘doctrine of necessity’. Apart from all the other positive things in the 18th Amendment, one of the most significant changes is that it would put a stop to such judicial endorsement. As per the new amendment, “any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.” The judiciary or any other individual or institution would in future not be allowed to validate a military coup against any government.

An ideal prescription to set Pakistan on the road to institutional supremacy would be a harmonious relationship between the politicians and the armed forces. A democratic Pakistan with an appropriate civilian-military architecture would go a long way in eliminating extremism from the country and the region.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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