Categorized | South Asian Politics

Interesting new decision making by civilian government and the Pakistani Army

Posted on 26 February 2015 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 Pakistan has experienced different patterns of relations between the civilian authorities and the military. It started with the civilian supremacy at the time of independence. This system began to change when the military slowly increased its role in the domestic political system. In October 1958, the military assumed political power directly for the first time. Since then there have been several periods of direct and indirect military rules in Pakistan. The military has also exercised influence on decision-making from the sidelines.

  In 2015, Pakistan is experiencing a gradual rise of the military’s role while the civilian leaders continue to rule. It is an interesting mix of civil and military where the Nawaz Sharif government has given space to the Army top brass for managing internal security in return for continuity of the present political order presided over by Nawaz Shairf.

  The major decision making for general issues of governance and especially for coping with religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism are made in a new political entity, called the Apex Committee, both at the federal and provincial levels. This brings together the cop civilian leaders and the top generals of the Army for decision making on any issue of interest to the Army and the civilian government and for dealing with issues of extremism, sectarianism and terrorism. These Apex Committees have sidelined federal and provincial cabinets.

  The current determined approach to root out terrorism in a nondiscriminatory manner was initiated by the Army against the background of the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The civilian leadership was a partner in this decision, announcing the 20-point National Action Plan in the first week of January 2015 to eliminate extremism and terrorism.

 The roots of this decision can be traced back to an earlier decision of the Army in mid-June 2014 to start a full-scale security operation in North Waziristan. Later developments showed that the Army, the Air Force and the paramilitary forces pursued this operation against all kinds of Taliban groups and their affiliates in North Waziristan and some other tribal agencies. The Army top brass became more determined to chase violent groups after the attack on the Peshawar school.

 The initiation of the security operation in North Waziristan in mid June 2014 was the Army’s unilateral decision. The civilian government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not favorably disposed towards any security operation.

 The Apex Committees at the federal and provincial levels have created a new institutional arrangement for the Army top brass to prod the federal and provincial government for adopting a non-ambiguous approach to counter extremism and terrorism in cities.

 The military courts have been established but these courts have not so far started functioning. A number of lawyers’ groups have challenged the legality of the military courts in the Supreme Court.

 Some religious parties are also contesting the domain of these courts. These religious parties are also resisting the implementation of the 20-point agenda items relating to madrasas, use of loudspeakers in mosques and restrictions on controversial literature with strong sectarian biases.

All this has led the Sharif government to go slow on the implementation of the National Action Plan, although its top civilian leaders use strong rhetoric in support of countering extremism and terrorism. The matching action is missing.

  The Sharif government can neither afford to alienate the Army top brass nor can it completely delink itself from the right-wing Islamist sympathizers of Islamic militancy and the madrasa establishment. Therefore, it has adopted a midway approach of conceding space to the Army for countering terrorism and related matters in return for letting the current civilian arrangements to carry on.

 This arrangement gives some advantage to both sides. Nawaz Sharif and his allies stay on in power and the Army plays the lead role from the sidelines for improving governance and controlling terrorism. The presence of civilian government in the front assures political and constitutional continuity.

 The current civil-military cooperation can sustain civilian system and let the Army to cope with religious extremism and violence. However, the sustenance of this arrangement is not possible in the absence of a satisfactory functioning of civilian political and administrative systems.

 Civilian leadership must ensure that the law enforcing and intelligence agencies locate extremist and terrorists groups, religious-sectarian outfits and others engaged in violence, extortion and kidnappings in cities and towns.

The religious hardline and sectarians groups are more entrenched in the Punjab and these have to be dealt with by civilian authorities. The economy and financial affairs are still being managed by civilians.

They also deal with the issues of power shortages and price hikes and daily societal affairs.

Another challenge for the civilian system pertains to repeated complaints about financial corruption by the top political and bureaucratic officials.

 Still another challenge for the civilian government is political management, i.e. interaction with other political and religious parties.

 If Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of Imran Khan resumes street protest or Islamic parties and madrasa organizations decide to challenge the government, the current civilian system can run into difficulties. This can cause new strains in the on-going civil-military cooperation.

  The new political-army arrangements are currently working smoothly. These have ensured the continuity of the political arrangements created after the May 2013 elections and PMLN leaders expect this system will enable them to complete their term of office. It has also strengthened the hope that religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism will be brought under control.

 However, the civilian government cannot take administrative and political issues lightly. It will have to perform in the above mentioned domains. Its failure can cause the collapse of the current political arrangements.

 If this happens the Army may assume power directly or install another civilian government. This will create a difficult situation for the Army because the top generals do not appear to be interested in assuming power directly. They want the civilian system to continue while they have freedom in domestic governance and for countering terrorism. Therefore, the civilian leadership will have to make sure that it continues to perform in a satisfactory manner.

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