The futile quest for civilian supremacy

M. Ziauddin

What will it take for the civilians to establish their authority?

Is mere electoral exercise enough for the goal or does it place the condition of financial integrity?

The military (M) supremacy is too deep-rooted to respond to such noble notions as ‘financial integrity’. More so, because M’s own ‘financial integrity’ has never been known to be above board.

M’s commercial ventures, especially the Army Welfare Trust (AWT), the Fauji Foundation, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) are not cost-efficient, audit reports of the government have also established the fact that resources are continuously transferred from the government’s treasury to these companies, although they are supposed to operate in the private sector.

DHAs (Defence Housing Authority) are one of the biggest and richest housing projects in the country. NLC (National Logistic Cell) is the country’s biggest goods transport company. FWO (Frontier Works Organisation) is the country’s biggest construction company. Fauji Foundation is the country’s biggest corporate conglomerate. Askari Bank, Askari Insurance and Askari leasing are financially highly lucrative organisations. The defence services have job quotas in civil services, including police and railway services. On every promotion, officers are allotted plots at throwaway prices and newly built houses in DHAs are sold to officers at nominal prices which the owners sell to private parties at market rates pocketing huge profits. All of these M-specific concessions have been designed to promote legalised corruption.

Moreover, most of the country’s political families— mostly representing the feudal aristocracy and big business— owe their presence in the power corridors to M. Both ZA Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were picked up by M.

In fact, the civilian supremacy can only happen if the Army on its own decides, one fine morning, to go back to the barracks for good never to return.

But that is not going to happen tomorrow. And attempts by civilians to wrench power from M has ended only in the ignominious ouster of those who made the mistake. ZAB was hanged and Nawaz was disqualified for life and jailed on corruption charges.

M did not take over the country on the day Pakistan was born. It came upfront in October 1958. But things had started happening around 1954 when Pakistan joined CENTO and SEATO, US-backed military pacts aimed at keeping the region insulated from incursions of communism.

And perhaps by the 1970, GHQ was framing almost all the national policies including those related to internal, economic, defence and foreign affairs. The elected houses were being used only as civilian façade to cover up the reality of being a security state.

Had Ayub abdicated as per the constitution in favour of the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Abdul Jabbar Khan, and not tried to hand over the country to General Yahya Khan, perhaps we would have escaped the ignominy of civil war in East Pakistan. We did not have a constitution when Bangladesh was born.

Pakistan is a product of a constitutional process and it was born out of British India Act of 1935. So, while the nation of Pakistan flowed out of a constitutional process, most of the constitutions of nation-states that came into being in the 17th century subsequent to the Treaty of Westphalia were drawn up after the fact.

But for Pakistani Generals, the constitution is because of the country and not the other way around. That is why every time a military take-over has happened, the author of the coup did not think twice before doing away with the constitution.

This undergraduate understanding of how Pakistan came into being and why it won’t exist for long without a constitution is directly related to the mind-set of our military officers.

During the first three decades of our independence, the career preference of the brightest among our educated youth would be according to the following order: 1. Medicine; 2. Engineering; 3. Central Superior Services; 4. Air Force; 5. Navy; 6. Army and; 7. private sector.

That is the kind of stuff that had reached the staff colleges in the early decades following independence. Things have only worsened subsequently. Now, it is the private sector, mostly multinationals which attract most of our brightest and not-so brightest educated youth. That is why most of the bright youngsters today are joining business schools.

Despite the wide intellectual gap between the civil and military mind-sets, M occupies a higher moral ground relative to civilians in its own self- image and also in the eyes of the general public because of the heroic images it has developed on its own. This has been done by writing the narratives of all the wars it has fought since the one it waged for Kashmir immediately after independence, equating by association our ‘heroes’ with those of early Islamic history.

During the 11-year rule of President General Ziaul Haq, the general re-enforced with a vengeance the supremacy of M. During the 1990s the M ruled from behind the civilian façade. During the 9-year rule of General Musharraf, the grip of the M further tightened over the country. During his six years as COAS, General (R) Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani also tried to further deepen the Army’s role in the government.

The reaction of M to the guilty verdict of the special court trying President General (R) Musharraf on treason charges was too abrupt and too terse, reflecting M’s self-image of being superior to even judiciary.

Nawaz has been replaced by Prime Minister Imran Khan, a cricket celebrity and a world-famous social worker, who is also the founder of Shaukat Khanum Cancer hospitals. So far PM Khan has tried not to leave M’s page. And to prove the point that the two are continuing on the same page, the current incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been given an extension of three years.

Finally, most of those pursuing this futile quest for civilian supremacy ignore the elephant in the room—the judiciary. Power flows through the barrel of the gun, said Mao and our judiciary owns this dictum as faith.

The writer is the former Resident Editor, Dawn Islamabad, former Editor, The News, former Executive Editor, The Express Tribune & former Assistant Secretary General, PFUJ.

1 comment

  1. The author has mentioned only one way in which civilian supremacy can happen which is not likely to happen for once and all in near future but there are other possibilities also in which this may happen ultimately, none of which will be pleasant for nation and state but then this M would be itself supporter of bringing civilians on driving seat until favorable circumstances. The economic nature evident chance is not difficult to forecast, crack with its own weight. With every passing year the situation will be worsen if M fails to realize quickly and doe not curtail their overstepping and increasing financial demands. Other possibilities are far less digestive and I hope the author might also have those in mind but was realistic about his safety so did not intentionally mention.

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