Look who’s talking

Instead of sparring in the media, the civilians and military should reconsider their positions

Look who’s talking
The right to speak for individuals or on behalf of institutions comes either from a sense of entitlement or ownership. In Pakistan, as far as one can discern, the civilians speak with a sense of entitlement (however bloated). And General Headquarters (GHQ) speaks from a strong sense of ownership that it projects through its influence, direct or otherwise, on governance and foreign policy.

The latest public spat between the civil and military arms of the state addressing one another via the media is the best manifestation of these, one could argue, bloated senses of entitlement and ownership.

The entitlement is rooted in the “voter power.” It is the voter who decides and empowers leaders to speak on their behalf and determine their fate. The sense of ownership of “the territory called Pakistan” within GHQ, and accompanied by strong concerns on the civilians steering this ship, is rooted in four military dictatorships under Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

Unfortunately, this sense of ownership is coloured with a superiority complex, which is institutionally instilled in the cadets who carry it with them throughout their career. This explains the propensity among most armed forces personnel to justify military take-overs, most of which were in turn justified by arguments of civilian corruption and inefficiency.

The Musharraf coup, for instance, deployed corruption arguments. But the trigger for it was the denial to land his aircraft with 198 other passengers on it on October 12, 1999. A detailed account of this by Captain Tariq Baloch circulated in recent days is hair-raising.

That incident aside, the decay in the political economy today is attributable to four military rules, which distorted segments of governance, leading to the deployment of scores of civilian military officers. This has, over time, stunted the growth of the civilian bureaucracy, created a conformist class of politicians and civil society and ushered in polarization between pro- and anti-army camps.

The sharpness of this division obscures constructive debate on the economy and foreign policy, with the stakeholders often ignoring their rights and responsibilities as envisioned in the constitution. Members of Parliament, for instance, defend the constitution and by implication the rights of their voters. Over the years, they have acquired enormous protocol and privileges for themselves too, all in the name of the vote—a stark contrast to the magnitude of the execution of their responsibilities (if we look around at the people’s socio-economic deprivation).

The armed forces, on the other hand, have on four occasions abrogated the constitution and in the process created a privileged regime that sees no harm in allocation of state lands at dirt cheap rates to its officers. It sees no problem in steering foreign policy, primarily because of these four stints (33 years in all) during which the army oversaw and controlled all state institutions.

Ever since the Afghan jihad of the 1980s, GHQ has never looked back. Nor did it relent on foreign policy. The post-9/11 global “war on terror” complicated matters for the political economy and foreign policy. Pakistan’s discord with India (over Kashmir), the Afghanistan (over the Taliban) and the US became more pronounced.

The consequence: failures of domestic governance are compounded by external factors directly linked to foreign policy. The strain on the security sector emanates from that foreign policy which is directly responsible for our image. What the world sees as Pakistan’s Taliban and Kashmir connections have led to the impression that we sponsor terrorism. This has debilitated financial conditions, dissuading most foreign investors, sportsmen, artists from visiting.

Having successfully fought off the so-called insurgency, which was largely externally driven terrorism, GHQ should realise that the issues it is uncomfortable with i.e. relations with India, the economy, the lackadaisical response of civilian institutions in to terrorism and extremism requires an approach of an entire government apparatus.

Most of the religiously denominated challenges that the army wants to fight together with the civilians are the result of a foreign policy with a strong footprint from the army. However well-meaning the army is, and one must not doubt its honesty and commitment to national defense, it will serve these objectives best only by raising them at the National Security Committee, instead of media messaging. It shall have to absorb the fact that the norm the world over is an elected government. Direct or indirect military interventions are consigned to the dustbin of history.

Politicians shall have to perform their responsibilities with integrity and inclusion. The economy, according to independent experts, is in bad shape. The government, in praising its economic achievements, is looking backwards at a time when a forward-looking view of the economy suggests genuine threats requiring urgent action.

Instead of being irrationally defiant about their rights and privileges, the civilians must realise that an election is just the first step towards empowerment. The next ones are transparent performance. One of them is governing through inclusion as no single institution can provide the cure for the war on the economy, terror and radicalization.

Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad