The civil-military relation is one topic that would never cease to exist in Pakistan. Perceptually, this reality seems to have entrenched in the minds of the people of this country. In one of the recent meetings of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with his so-called favorite journalists, one question that kept the audience amused was whether the military and the government were on the same page. The PM evaded the question that raised the speculations about this relation to a new height.  This one page syndrome has captivated this country for too long now.

Pakistan has been vying to develop a democratic culture since its existence, but for obvious reasons this dream has remained unfulfilled till date. On the face of it after the transition of power from one democratic government to another in 2008, the country had formally crossed one democratic milestone.  That the Pakistan People’s Party, an anti-establishment outfit, could get this feast done was not a small deed.  Another badge that the PPP government feels proud to decorate its chest with is the so-called 18th Amendment, through which the lost prestige of parliament has been restored.    During its five years tenure the PPP government had repeated ad nauseam Benazir’s slogan that ‘democracy is the best revenge.’  The audience to this slogan was Pakistan’s military. The revenge, however, empirically speaking since the evidence abounds, had been taken not from army’s dictatorial position but from the democracy itself. Governance issues from the energy crisis to urban and tribal terrorism to the absence of the rule of law plunged the country to a new low during the PPP’s tenure.  The subsequent intervention of the military establishment to save the country from both the real and the imaginary enemies worsened the political landscape with the result that democracy began to resemble a paper tiger.  All those years one topic that refused to leave the policy debate was the quality of civil-military relations.  The question is, whether there is a solution to this problem.  

The Nawaz government is struggling to survive military’s overbearing role owing to its chief’s cherished dream to cleanse the system as much as he can before he retires in November this year. 

Military’s tinkling with the political setup had begun early on during Nawaz’s tenure.  Nawaz Sharif wanted to solve every problem through dialogue. Having regained power after a lost battle against General Pervaiz Musharaf in 1999, Nawaz still felt the bitterness of Kargil. He could not forget how Musharaf’s intervention debauched several developmental project his government had environed while he donned the Amir al-Mu'minin hat.

On coming to power, Nawaz went to attend Narendra Modi’s oath taking ceremony. He wanted to reconcile with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that had been slaughtering Pakistani soldiers and other law enforcement officers. On the Afghan front, Nawaz was ready to tolerate Indian presence as he looked into the situation wearing a business person’s specs. On Musharraf’s front Nawaz wanted to impeach the ex-Chief of Army staff according to Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

In a quick stroke, a political storm was created, and we had the notorious dharnas (sit-in) by Imran Khan’s PTI and Maulana Tahirul Qadri.  One after the other each of Nawaz’s desire dwindled. The military was back into an invisible power.  However, the culmination of military’s possession onto the power clutch came with the attack on Army Public School.            

A resolve emerged between the army and the civilian government to put the house back in order.  National Action Plan was devised and four apex committees, one for each province, were formed.   The government was required to manage things on the governance front with an aim to put an end to the corruption that had been fueling terrorism in the country. Karachi’s law and order situation was the direct result of the turf war where each party from religious to political was involved in snapping money through extortion and kidnapping for ransom.  The implementation of the National Action Plan required the government to strengthen the law enforcement agencies especially the police and its intelligence apparatus.  It required the government to formulate policies to make the religious groups accept the writ of the state.  The military courts were developed for two years to make up for the criminal justice system that would otherwise allow acquittal of important and dangerous criminals in the absence of weak prosecution. 

The government’s response to the NAP remained weak.  Neither NACTA nor the criminal justice system was strengthened. Hate speeches kept making rounds, whatever action had been taken was on small fries from non-consequential mosques and seminaries.  Discrimination and exploitation in the name of religion had remained intact. The registration of seminaries is still not completed. Terror financing, the mother of all evils, was left to fester more wounds. It opened more space for the military to intervene and take a larger share of command and control. The recent announcement by the army chief of his desire to see across the board drive against corruption had made matters worse for the government.  The army is firmly on the driving seat with almost all the security and governance issues in its hands. 

So what is the solution to this problem?

Pakistan army’s political intervention is a reality, which is not going away anytime sooner. The best course is that the military and the civilian government decide and divide the subjects both would govern and command. There can never be the so-called situation of the civil military relation being on one page.  There have to be two pages one for the military and one for the politicians. However, these two pages could be leafed out of a single book of joint governance in a political dispensation.