VIEWPOINT: Civil-military relations

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ARTICLE : During the last few days, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has raised important questions regarding the civil and military relations. Speaking during the question hour on Monday, he reiterated three points he had raised earlier, vis-à-vis the military s mandate in dealing with the US, its role in domestic politics and a professed inability to protect the people from drone attacks.

Warming up to theme again, he said that the government hadn t come up with a clear statement as to what transpired during the ISI DG s meeting with the American officials during his recent visit to Washington. He also alleged that intelligence agencies were at their old games, funding certain politicians to destabilise the democratic set-up. And demanding an explanation as to why the military, despite getting astronomical budgetary allocations, had failed to protect Pakistani lives, he rejected Interior Minister Rehman Malik s reasoning that Pakistan does not possess the capability to stop drone attacks.

These are all valid and vital issues and concerns. Unfortunately, deviating from its defence-related duties, the Army in this country has made it a habit of directly or indirectly controlling the political decision-making process. This government is to blame also for willingly ceding much of civilian authority to the Army. It is an open secret that at present the Army makes all the key decisions about the conduct of war in the troubled tribal region as well as foreign policy. That reminds one of a clichéd but perceptive statement, often attributed to the war-time British prime minister Winston Churchill, but which actually came from French statesman Georges Clemenceau, that war [and foreign policy] is too important a business to be left to soldiers.

A corrupt and incompetent leadership that stumbled into power because of an accident has remained preoccupied looking after personal interests. As long as it was left alone, the Army could do whatever it liked in the disturbed areas, determining also the terms of co-operation with the US in its war in Afghanistan. Little wonder then that the Prime Minister felt it necessary to defend the abnormal relationship. He offered the explanation that the ISI chief s visit was part of a string of visits by various officials, including the defence and foreign secretaries, under the ongoing strategic partnership dialogue. That is fine for an answer. The question, however, pertained to the bigger issue of the military dominating the formulation of the country s defence and foreign policies. There is nothing wrong with the intelligence chief holding discussions with his American counterpart and other officials, but what he said and agreed to had to be decided by the government. Elected leaders, accountable to the public, rather than the military men are supposed to make all such decisions. Apparently, what the Leader of the Opposition wanted to establish was that instead of the government controlling the content of the discussions with the Americans, the Army acted independently, which of course would not, should not, be happening in a functioning democracy.

The question about the ISI s role in domestic politics is no less important. The Prime Minister could muster only a show-me-the-evidence response. He was willing to address the Opposition s concern, he said, if he had substantive proof. We all know about the intelligence agencies political activities from past experience, eg, the notorious Mehran Bank scandal of the early 90s, still pending in the apex court, in which the ISI is alleged to have bribed senior politicians and political parties to destabilise the then PPP government headed by Benazir Bhutto, and prevent its reelection. If it happened then it can happen now.

In fact, rumours are rife once again that a new political engineering project is in the works. They may or may not be grounded in reality, but the sense of alarm is genuine. The ISI is known to run a political wing. It would be unimaginable for an intelligence agency in a democratic country, such as RAW in India, to dabble in domestic politics. The ISI ought to stay within its mandate, too, and focus on protecting and promoting the country s security interests abroad.

As for the Interior Minister, his words do not deserve to be taken seriously but for the fact that he, rather than the prime minister, represents the real power in the ruling party. Note that he is interior minister, not defence or foreign minister. And yet he freely comments on all kinds of issues, including military s capability, or lack of it, to stop drone strikes. But his intellectual limitations allow him to think only like a 12-year-old, and treat everybody else at that level. Hence he tried to tell us that a nuclear-capable state is powerless to stop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) strikes inside its territory.

Experts say these machines are vulnerable to basic air defences and have limited air-to-air defensive capability. Discussing the drones in a recent issue of International Science and Technology, Security Policy , one such American expert, Andrew Callam, makes it clear that limitations restrict UAV use to missions in regions where air defence threats have been eliminated.

More to the point, he says even in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where there are virtually no air defences, members of the Taliban claimed to have shot down several CIA drones over South Waziristan. The problem clearly is not lack of capability; it is lack of respect for the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. We know it from impeccable American sources that drone attacks have gone on with the tacit approval of our government. It, therefore, should stop fooling the people. If it has good enough reason to support the attacks, it should explain the same to us.

The PML-N deserves to be commended for taking a courageous stand on all these issues. Some may want to point to its leadership s past to argue that it is now taking a principled stand on all critical issues because it has fallen out of favour with the military establishment, changing places with the PPP, which has now become a pro-establishment party. But then for anyone interested in seeing democracy strike strong roots in this country, what matters are not the political fortunes of one or the other party, but saving and strengthening the democratic system. It is imperative therefore that all branches of the state, and military as a subservient organisation of the executive branch, play their respective roles within the confines of the Constitution.



Courtesy: Business Recorder

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