Civil-military relations: cul de sac?

Memogate: one word that is being repeated again and again throughout Pakistan. It seems that most people have already reached their own conclusions and are baying for blood. Treason, they shout. When asked, what about evidence and a fair trial? They are least bothered about the nitty-gritty. They believe in ‘swift (in)justice’. Sensibility is something missing from our usual discourse. Thus, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s suggestion that a high level committee comprising civil society members, senior judges and members of the national and provincial assemblies should investigate the Memogate issue should be welcomed. It is the appropriate thing to do. Pointing fingers at someone until facts are ascertained about the veracity of the memo through a transparent investigation would be jumping the gun. The government should take the Opposition on board and conduct an impartial investigation. Ambassador Husain Haqqani is on his way back to Pakistan and is willing to fully cooperate with the investigation. Blind hatred for an individual and/or a political party has led to disastrous results in the past. Repeating the same mistakes again would be detrimental to the future of Pakistan.

That said, it is all the more important to point out that in all the hullabaloo surrounding the ‘Memogate’ scandal, one thing that the rightwing is ignoring — on purpose, it seems — is the issue of civil-military relations. The contradiction and the imbalance in the civil-military relations affect the political class as a whole. It is an ongoing problem, which is not just limited to one political party or the other. The military’s power tentacles have suffocated the political class to a point where they see no way out of it. This, in essence, is Pakistan’s biggest problem. Economic crisis, intolerance, persecution of minorities, sectarian conflict, ethnic wars, ‘kill and dump’ policy being pursued in Balochistan, terrorism — both internal and external — are all but the result of this power imbalance between the civilians and the military establishment. A weak civilian democratic government cannot overcome these problems on its own. It needs the support of all organs of state, civil society and most of all, the Pakistani nation. Impatience with democracy will not solve anything; it will only make matters worse by strengthening the anti-democratic forces. And then Pakistan would be back to square one.

The need of the hour is for all democratic forces to unite and demand that the military be subservient to the civilians, as it should be as per our constitution. Targeting the political class for all the troubles this country is facing is not just unfair but completely off the mark. The military and its expenditures, defence or otherwise, should be scrutinised. The activities of the military and its intelligence agencies should not be kept secret from parliament. Accountability should be across the board and not just limited to politicians. It is the right of the Pakistani nation to know how the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was able to hide in Abbottabad for so long. The perpetrators of Mumbai terror attacks and whoever aided and abetted them from the state machinery, serving officers or retired, must be punished. Pursuing strategic depth policy in Afghanistan has led to chaos; it is time to scrap this policy. But to do all this, the democratic process must be allowed to flourish, as only a strong civilian set-up will lead to civilian supremacy and bring an end to the military’s highhanded policies.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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