The power matrix in Pakistan has been in a perpetual state of flux. Numerous military takeovers and some outrageously vagrant policies of our political leadership have prevented a rational, well-balanced, political and democratic system from evolving and flourishing. Our civilian governments have always felt overawed by the military and its proclivity to influence events or to simply take over. They have resented this and have felt compelled to repeatedly try to establish and assert their ascendancy over the military.

This has almost always resulted in an internecine struggle for primacy. It has badly affected governance and thwarted the emergence of a workable system of government. Self interests of most rulers of Pakistan, both civilian and military, have generally held precedence over national interests with disastrous results for the country. And all this has led to a confused and unstable political system which has persistently under-performed and failed to bring genuine democracy, peace, progress and prosperity to the people of Pakistan.

Predictably, the current ruling party’s compulsive efforts to acquire and assert its ascendancy and primacy on all state institutions continue even today; regardless of the daunting security and economic challenges.

 Recently, baser instincts got the better of some hawks in the ruling party. Swayed by the urge to avenge real and perceived personal indignities suffered at the hands of the erstwhile General Pervaiz Musharraf regime they let off some steam in the media, regrettably, making snide swipes at the Army as well.

This was an avoidable and absolutely unwarranted provocation; particularly when the war on terror and other internal and external threats required all institutions of the state to be united and genuinely on the same page. It made for poor statecraft; even poorer leadership.

This untimely diatribe has had many consequences. First, it was needless since General Pervez Musharraf had already been indicted by the Supreme Court. Second, it forced a response from the Army thus straining civil-military relations. Third, it created a demoralizing effect down the rank and file of the Armed Forces. Fourth, it created a totally preventable distraction when the Government’s war on terror was going through a very difficult, sensitive and critical phase. (Or was this “distraction” then the actual motive for this apparently senseless harangue?) Most regretfully, it may have brought the perennial albeit latent power struggle to the fore once again.

 Historically, this compulsive urge to grab power and achieve ascendancy over other organs of state has led to unbelievable overt and covert maneuvers by the main players. At times, they have not even hesitated to marshal the support of foreign powers to achieve their political designs. The last PPP government made naïve albeit botched attempts to gain ascendancy over the Armed Forces and the intelligence agencies. First, it tried unsuccessfully to place the ISI under the Minister of Interior; a certain Mr Rehman Malik. Then, through a manipulation of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill it tried to acquire some sort of a control over the Armed Forces. Far from granting primacy to the ruling party of the day these attempts actually created a gulf between them.

It is an accepted fact in all democracies that the military must of necessity be willingly subordinated to civilian oversight and authority. Pakistan cannot be an exception to this universal rule. The Constitution stipulates so, as well. However, Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances throughout its troubled history have always precluded a practical implementation of this arrangement. A tense balance of power has always existed with both sides eyeing each other warily and with undisguised suspicion.

A practical manifestation of this constitutional edict will emerge only, when and if, the political elites and parties achieve viable and credible moral and ethical superiority over the military and other institutions.

To set the balance of power right and to put every organ of state in its circumscribed space as per constitutional edicts, the political elite and their parties will have to first cleanse themselves of unethical elements and practices. It is utopian to seek absolutely clean politicians in all parties, but a thorough cleansing is the need of the day. A close look at the personal affairs of some of the Parliamentarians/political elite leaves a lot to be desired. There are issues of electoral misdeeds, fake degrees, tax evasion, false declarations of assets, corruption, misuse of authority, misappropriation of development funds, political patronage, nepotism, favoritism, self serving legislation, stashing of assets abroad and so on and so forth; all these aspects need to be tackled. Most importantly, all elections at the national, provincial and local levels need to be free, fair and accepted by all.

Only a cleansed and fairly elected civilian leadership can possibly acquire the required legitimacy and the moral and ethical superiority to stamp its authority on all other organs of state. It is naïve of politicians of less than pristine credentials to even seek moral ascendancy and primacy over them. Corrupt leaders, even with legislated powers, will always lack the moral strength and courage to gain an edge over their subordinated institutions.

And that is where Pakistan’s dilemma and the crux of the issue lies; in the political elite’s moral deficit.

The PM and his coterie of advisors need to take a realistic stock of the situation. They need to stabilize it as their current engagement of the TTP plods into unchartered domain. They need the army to solely concentrate on its task of defeating the terrorists and not be distracted by the shenanigans of certain political hawks.

It is imperative for the PM to carry a willing team with him through these trying times. Success will not be achieved by a frustrated, fragmented and demoralized group without any institutional cohesion.

The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).

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