Pakistan – Civil Military Relations in Pakistan


The three A’s that dominate the destiny of Pakistan are the Army, Allah and America – not necessarily in that order. Today the power play in Pakistan is between the declining Super Power of the USA and the rising power of China. In looking too closely at the tactical level details of who said what within the Supreme Court of Pakistan and outside its walls, we are losing our focus on the larger geo-strategic scenario. This will be shaped by the new cold war in Asia between the USA and China. That may well shape the outcome in Pakistan. The logical question that follows is where is India in this equation?

This article is published with the kind permission of „Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine“ New Delhi-India

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Even as we evaluate the state of Civil-Military and Inter Services synergies in India, recent events have made it imperative that we take a close look at Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan. It is crucial for us to evaluate where these are headed and calibrate our responses accordingly.

Pakistan has been singularly unfortunate that it lost its towering political leader Mohd Ali Jinnah so soon after Independence. It was ill served by its squabbling bunch of politicians that followed, as also by the vaulting ambitions of its military men and bureaucrats. This resulted in over 30 years of direct military rule in Pakistan. Over militarised states tend to overreach and overspend on weapons. This imperial overstretch causes the state to collapse. Pakistan has been close to economic collapse twice in the last 10 years. It has been kept afloat by some US$ 30 billion worth of doles by the USA and its allies.

Musharraf left only after the Americans had scripted an alternative arrangement wherein the NRO was used to strike a bargain with Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. She was a charismatic and popular leader. The Military-ISI complex saw that and killed her brutally. Her husband Zardari simply lacked credibility and had a severe image problem. His Prime Minister Gilani strove to work out a compromise by kowtowing to the Army and making himself acceptable to the Chief and the Chinese

The Pakistani Army now has a pivotal position in Pakistani politics. In a very perceptive piece – Hasan Askari Rizvi writes that while the Army does not rule directly it controls key aspects of state like national security, foreign policy and key domestic issues. Direct rule is simply replaced by a covert behind the scene Role that usually reduces the civilian governments to a democratic facade. The civilian governments have an acute identity crisis. They wish to appear autonomous and yet bank heavily on the support of the Army Chief to survive. None of them have been able to complete their terms. Gen Musharraf’s decade long rule had floundered badly once he caved in to Chinese pressure and attacked the Lal Masjid. It was his Blue Star. The ISI itself possibly had a covert hand in stoking this dispute with the Supreme Court that led to his exit and exile. Musharraf left only after the Americans had scripted an alternative arrangement wherein the NRO was used to strike a bargain with Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. She was a charismatic and popular leader. The Military-ISI complex saw that and killed her brutally. Her husband Zardari simply lacked credibility and had a severe image problem. His Prime Minister Gilani strove to work out a compromise by kowtowing to the Army and making himself acceptable to the Chief and the Chinese.

The entire edifice of Civil-Military relations in Pakistan however unravelled abruptly with the US Seals raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. This raid created a severe crisis that highlighted the limits of Pakistan Army’s highly duplicitous policy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. In 2001 Gen Pervez Musharraf had been coerced into joining the Global War on Terror on pain of being bombed back to the Stone Age. However by 2005, the American attention had shifted entirely to Iraq and Pervez and the ISI used this period to revive the Taliban and do all in their power to ensure that Mullah Omar and Haqqani would rule in Kabul once the Americans left. This strategic overreach has backfired. The imperatives of a state sponsored Jihad have so thoroughly radicalised the Pak military and society that the facade of being US allies in the War on Terror is no longer even remotely credible. There is a seething cauldron of Islamist rage against America in the Pak Army and populace in general. Gen Kayani who was constantly being lionised by the Americans as their man in Islamabad realised that his position was becoming dangerously untenable. There was seething rage in the military cantonments and he nervously went about placating his command. Gen Kayani is relatively junior and his distance from his Corps Commanders is far less than that of Ayub and Musharraf. As such he is far more susceptible to the peer group pressure. The Collegium of Corps Commanders has thus emerged as a key institution in Pakistan and by extension shapes the national policies. Post Abbottabad the image of the Pak Army has reached a new low after the 1971 War. This post Laden image of ineptitude was made worse by the Mehran raid which clearly indicated the level of Jihadi penetration in the armed forces. The Pak military now tried to align itself in tune with the popular anti-American mood in its rank and file. They came out in the open with increasingly hostile stances towards America that bordered on brinkmanship. They sensed the relative weakness of America and banked rather heavily on the rise of China. The key battle in Pakistan is now a new cold war between an America in decline and a China, which the Pakistan Army is desperately hoping, is in the ascendant. The nervous civilian leadership meanwhile was now terrified of a military coup and approached the US to save it. In a strange series of developments and leaks thereafter, this led to “memogate”.

In any normal state, it is the military that would have been on the back foot. Not in Pakistan. The civilian regime seemed guilt ridden and red faced that it was trying to save itself from a military coup! Pakistan’s Military-ISI complex now decided on a soft coup to get rid of the Zardari-Gilani duo. The twin pincers of this bloodless coup were to be the highly egoistic Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court and a move to get Parliament to call for early elections. The ISI was now busy building-up its newest democratic poster boy in Imran Khan. He would be the new democratic facade far more in tune with their Jihadi agenda. Besides, Imran is also a Pathan and to that extent can help the Punjabi-Pashtun biradari of the Army to keep its flock together. A Net Assessment would indicate four Alternative futures for Pakistan:

Gen Kayani who was constantly being lionised by the Americans as their man in Islamabad realised that his position was becoming dangerously untenable. There was seething rage in the Military cantonments and he nervously went about placating his command. Gen Kayani is relatively junior and his distance from his Corps Commanders is far less than that of Ayub and Musharraf. As such he is far more susceptible to the peer group pressure. The Collegium of Corps Commanders has thus emerged as a key institution in Pakistan and by extension shapes the national policies

  • A hard military coup: This is unlikely as the Army was fairly discredited during Musharraf’s long rule. Besides the economy is in shambles and the international situation quite unfavourable for military intervention. The military needs a civilian buffer to stave off direct foreign pressure.
  • A soft coup: This is what the Pak Army is attempting via the Supreme Court.
  • A street revolution: If the Supreme Court fails to get this government’s scalp, ISI’s latest poster boy Imran Khan could be used to whip up an Arab Spring in Islamabad.
  • The present government survives: This is a wild card scenario. This is the first civilian government that is fighting back. It could sacrifice Gilani and possibly survive but only for a while. Early elections are now very likely.

Meanwhile the exiled General Musharraf announced grandly that he was coming back but then had second thoughts about the timings. The Eagle could land shortly on the shores of Pakistan. Is there an underlying grand American design? Who is scripting a new scenario? The US was extremely unhappy with the Pak Army and its brinkmanship of choking their logistics supply line to Afghanistan. Could we be seeing a new script being enacted wherein the Supreme Court would pressurise an early exit of the Zardari government? Early elections could see the installation of Imran Khan – the poster boy of the ISI. Musharraf may well be hoping to be the new President in this dispensation. The Pakistan Army meanwhile is pulling back from its brinkmanship with America and has restored logistical conduits to Afghanistan. It has pushed the Americans far enough. The Americans have in turn split the Pakistani civil-military dispensation wide apart and made that state dysfunctional. The situation however is highly fluid and touch and go. What is quite certain however is that the days of the present dispensation are most definitely numbered. The Zardari-Gilani duo knows this and has mustered the courage for grandstanding against the Army to gain popular sympathy before the inevitable vote. In the end, the three As that dominate the destiny of Pakistan are the Army, Allah and America – not necessarily in that order. Today the power play in Pakistan is between the declining Super Power of the USA and the rising power of China. In looking too closely at the tactical level details of who said what within the Supreme Court of Pakistan and outside its walls, we are losing our focus on the larger geo-strategic scenario. This will be shaped by the new cold war in Asia between the USA and China. That may well shape the outcome in Pakistan. The logical question that follows is where is India in this equation?

India’s stance

In retrospect therefore India’s most recent initiative to push for peace with Pakistan was singularly ill timed. We were told Gilani was a man of peace and the Pakistani Army was fully on board. It now transpires that civil-military relations had never been so bad in Pakistan’s entire history. How then did we fail to see it? The Pakistan Army wants a quiet Eastern Front so that it can focus unhindered and undisturbed upon hanging Karzai. That is why perhaps it had given its nod to the peace parleys. It is common knowledge that these peace talks were held under American pressure. Bruce Reidel has gone on record to state that India must be pressurised to negotiate with Pakistan. Our subservience to these pressures was fully on display in Maldives. There is a school of thought that as a democracy, we must support the democratic forces in Pakistan. We may have to be more circumspect in that case. Our open support to Gilani could be the kiss of death for the PPP in its democratic battles with Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif. Outwardly at least India must be seen as being completely hands off in the internal struggles in Pakistan and must be prepared to deal with whosoever comes to power. Covertly can we do more to shape the outcome in Pakistan? In theory we should. In practice do we have the capabilities? Mr Gujral, in his quest for peace at any cost (mostly at our cost) we believe had wrecked these capabilities of the R&AW.

About the Author
Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (retd) – The writer is a combat veteran of many skirmishes on the Line of Control and counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. He subsequently commanded the reputed Romeo Force during intensive counter-terrorist operations in the Rajouri-Poonch districts. He has served two tenures at the highly prestigious Directorate General of Military Operations. He is a prolific writer on matters military and non-military and has published 24 books and over 100 papers in many prestigious research journals. He is also Executive Editor of Defence and Security Alert (DSA) magazine.

Note by the Author:
The Pakistani Army now has a pivotal position in Pakistani politics. In a very perceptive piece – Hasan Rizvi writes that while the Army does not rule directly it controls key aspects of state like National Security, foreign policy and key domestic issues. Direct rule is simply replaced by a covert behind the scene Role that usually reduces the civilian governments to a democratic facade. The civilian governments have an acute identity crisis. They wish to appear autonomous and yet bank heavily on the support of the Army Chief to survive. None of them have been able to complete their terms

Defence and Security Alert (DSA
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