The PILDAT International Conference on Civil-Military Relations that was held at Hotel Avari, Lahore on October 21-22, 2008 also concluded that Civil-Military Relations in the constitutional domains of Pakistan remain a key issue of governance in Pakistan and the country must discuss and learn from experiences of other countries of the world that have, or are in the process of moving towards democratic consolidation. The subject is of critical importance to Pakistan and its democratic future and an open debate and discussion is a healthy way forward towards approaching this complex relationship, believed a wide variety of experts, speakers, eminent participants, young professionals and students who actively participated in the two-day conference.
Opening the two-day conference Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director of PILDAT said that PILDAT has been promoting and working on the issue of a constitutional domain of civil-military relations in Pakistan, as the key issue of governance for the country, since September 2004 when it instituted a Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations to review civil-military relations and explore the prospects of improving them with the objective of promoting constitutionalism and democracy. The basic objective of the continuing Dialogue has been to enable the civil and the military to understand each other’s perspectives and to address the contentious issues that cause strains in civil-military relations and hinder consensus-building, democratisation, stability and security. The conference, he explained, is a continuation of the dialogue process which PILDAT wishes to hold in the public domain so as to involve citizens, political parties, media and the military to engage in a dialogue and discussion. The objective of the conference, he stressed, is to discuss and brainstorm issues affecting civil-military relations in Pakistan and to reiterate the parameters of exclusive domains, as well as the overlapping and shared areas, of the civil and the military in Pakistan as a way forward for the country. Mr. Henning Effner, Resident Representative of FES, welcomed conference participants and thanked PILDAT for hosting the conference on this issue.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider, Former Governor and Interior Minister traced the history of military’s foray into politics. He believed that military has no political orientation but is sucked in when political institutions and parties do not perform. It has interests and worries for Pakistan as being part of fabric of Pakistan. He upheld the principle of civilian control and said that military should be subservient to it for a democratic and prosperous future of Pakistan.
Speaking at the Inaugural Session, Sirdar Zulfiqar Ali Khosa, Special Advisor to Chief Minister Punjab, who was representing Mr. Shahbaz Sharif at the Conference, reiterated the position of PML-N on civilian supremacy and control over the defence sector.
Addressing the Inaugural Session on the subject of a Comparative Overview of Civil-Military Relations around the World, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi said that there has been a considerable decline in direct military rule in the first decade of the 21st Century and the trend is towards some kind of participatory governance. The experience of a large number of military governments suggests that these regimes cannot successfully play a transformational role and often fail to remove the root causes of fragility of civilian institutions and processes. The military top commanders know that they cannot hold on to power and have to transform military rule into an acceptable civilian rule. On the other hand most military rulers do not intend to give up power altogether either due to self cultivated ‘saviour’ complex or they develop power ambition. These considerations over-ride other issues and thus make it difficult for the military rulers to create viable political institutions and processes. However, he said, given the hazards of direct military rule and its current unpopularity at the international level, the top commanders are likely to opt for the options, although the option of direct rule will not completely go out of practice. Other strategies of expansion of military’s role in the developing countries leave reasonable space for civilian elite but the latter has to respect the sensitivities of the former. The bargaining power of civilian elite can improve if they improve their capacity for effective governance and political management, work towards ensuring socio-economic justice and seek political harmony through accommodation with their political adversaries within the democratic and constitutional framework. They need to sustain political and legal legitimacy and reduce conflict and tension in and around the country. He said that while Pakistan yet again experiences a return to democracy and democratic rule in the country, there remain serious strains in civil-military relations in Pakistan. It is up to the civilian government and political forces to demonstrate that they are up to the tackling and finding workable solutions to various challenges facing Pakistan.
Addressing Session 2 titled Closer Home: Civil-Military Relations in India, the key note Speaker Mr. N. S. Sisodia, Former Secretary Defence India and currently Director Institute of Defence Studies, said that a combination of favourable historical circumstances, the committed and visionary leadership in the formative years of the Indian Republic and a strong infrastructure of democratic institutions, together with a professional and apolitical military, have ensured an effective democratic oversight of defence forces in India. Scholars have cited many other factors which have helped develop and maintain a healthy relationship between the democratic government and the Armed Forces, like the sheer size of India; diversity of peoples, cultures and languages; unfavourable logistics; a nationally representative military; ineffectiveness of military rule elsewhere; widely-held belief in democracy and the political awareness of the masses; the institutionalization of diverse centres of power; and even an ‘addiction’ to decades-old habit of democracy! He said that there is a modicum of truth in these assertions. The Indian Armed Forces are not the interpreters of national interest and cannot act autonomously. Defence Secretary acts as the Principal Adviser to the Defence Minister while the Chiefs of Staff act as Principal Adviser to the Minister in purely military matters. They are members of the Defence Minister’s Committee along with civilians like Cabinet Secretary, Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary and are only in attendance in the Cabinet Committee on Security whenever required. While they are invariably consulted on security and defence-related issues and have operational autonomy, the final decisions on policy issues and important matters rest with the Government. He said that the relationship between the Civilian Government and the military in India has been under strain on a few occasions, but the ultimate supremacy of the elected, civilian government has never been questioned.
Concluding the Session, Senator Nisar A. Memon, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence said that politicians in Pakistan, alongside the military, need to work closely together towards carving out a future of Pakistan in which both sides can serve within their established domains.
In Session 3 of the Conference titled Establishing Democratic Oversight of Defence Sector, Dr. Volkan Aytar shared the Turkish case study and said that discussing security issues and advancing the agenda of civilian and democratic oversight of the security sector have always been difficult in Turkey. Historically, human rights associations faced tremendous pressures and difficulties, and even social stigma, and had to fight against claims that they have “hidden agendas” to demoralize the Turkish security forces and undermine the secular and republican roots of the regime. Notwithstanding positive developments in civil societal dynamism since 1996 and more specifically since 2000, NGOs continue to face administrative measures, court cases, nationalist attacks and others. While since 2000 the discourse of democratization gained considerable strength, developments in 2005, such as the Semdinli scandal (which exposed the continuity of the “deep state” formations and networks especially in the eastern and southeastern Anatolia), the ‘re-securitizing’ amendment to the TMK and to the PVSK and the nationalist backlash are alarming enough to underline the fact that both democratization wave and the agenda of civilian and democratic oversight of the security sector are far from being secure and complete. More civil societal contributions are needed to help transform not only legislation and administrative practices, but also social mentalities still viewing the state as ‘sacred’ and the bargain between security and rights as necessary and inevitable.
Sharing the work of Geneva Centre of Democratic Control of Armed Forces – DCAF, Mr. Roland Friedrich said that DCAF experiences of different countries have shown that there is no one-fits-all approach for moving security sector governance into a more democratic direction. In order to identify lessons learned and best practice, different security sector reform processes have been followed in various contexts and with emphasis on defence reform. Starting from DCAF’s approach to supporting locally-owned reform processes, he shared DCAF’s experience of working in the Western Balkans, Turkey and Indonesia.
Concluding the Session, Justice (Retd.) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, Session Chair, said that there is a strong need to learn from international experiences to put Pakistan’s own house in order for a democratic future and constitutional civil-military relations in Pakistan.
In the Session carrying Case Studies from Indonesia, the Indonesian experts Mr. Ali Wibisono and Dr. Makmur Keliat said that Indonesian military reform has been part of national endeavour that involved all concerned elements within the nation. This endeavour has accomplished formidable achievements, but they have been largely confined in the categories of normative-legal products and only lately in substantial terms in the form of white defence paper, defence doctrine, and defence strategy formulations by the department of defence. Indonesia has accomplished several formidable achievements in civil-military relations reform, comprising of political neutrality of the military, disconnection of the military from political party, implementation of regulations for active members of the armed forces, re-organization of the armed forces in terms of abolition of social-political roles, and other indicators civil-military relations reform in Indonesia’s democratic transition. However, military reform should be conducted more in terms of formulations of defence policies and doctrines defence by Department of Defence as well as the armed forces. Civilian supremacy over the armed forces should be affirmed in the structure of the state. It should materialize as a political authority embedded to a legitimate national leadership in conducting decision making process in defence sector.
Mr. Sartaj Aziz, the session chair, said that while discussing the Indonesian case study, we should remember that President Suharto’s decline in 1998 was the direct result of economic crisis and caused the per capita decline by 20 per cent. Dictatorship prevailed during this time but as soon as Asia recovered from the economic crisis, the need to revive the civilian rule was felt.
The second day of the conference was devoted to discussing Pakistan’s peculiar civil-military relations and finding a way forward. Session 5 titled Pakistan: The Complexities of Civil-Military Relations was chaired by Mr. Shahid Hamid, Former Governor while Mr. Tasneem Noorani, Former Federal Secretary and Brig. (Retd.) Shaukat Qadir, Former Vice President IPRI spoke on the topic of Cataloguing of Issues in Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Quadir Baloch, Former Governor Balochistan served as the Lead Commentator.
While Brig. (Retd.) Shaukat Qadir recounted the history of military coups in Pakistan, while Mr. Tasneem Noorani said that the factors impacting civil military relations in Pakistan have remained constant over the years. The criterion for assessing the performance of a civil government is far harsher than those assessing a military govt. While the honeymoon period allowed to a military government to show results is around three years, the civilian governments come under serious scrutiny of the media and the powers that be, in one twelfth the time. In a country like Pakistan, whose army is large, well-funded and comprising well trained officer, chances of the army taking a back seat any time soon, like in our neighbourly country, appear bleak. Mr. Shahid Hamid said he is a firm believer of the civilian rule but there has to be a balance and army bashing needs to be avoided. This is not correct that the army protects its corporate interests. It is incorrect that the army is waiting in the wings to humble the politicians so that they could takeover. The Officers Corps of the Pakistan army in all the mentioned four military takeovers was not involved. They are professionals and they should be respected. One role that has been readily conceded by all civilian governments to the military commander is an advisory role. You can see even this now. Second is the aid to the civil power. In Pakistan it has gone beyond the normal aid to civil power. Under aid to the civil power, military has been granted far larger role than is the norm all over the globe. That there are Bonapartist tendencies in the Pakistan army, but t avoid these is to ensure we choose the army chief on merit.
Session 6 titled Pakistan: Civil-Military Relations & Challenges to Democratic Consolidation was chaired by Justice (Retd.) Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui while Mr. Aqil Shah talked on Military Autonomy and the Prospects of Democratic Consolidation in Pakistan. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqua, Defence & Security Analyst and Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, MNA, Secretary Information PML-N spoke on the subject of Roadmap for Democratic Government in Pakistan. Mr. Aqil Shah gave what he termed as not a structural explanation of why military takes over but a view from organizational norms, attitudes and beliefs of military that makes interventions less illegitimate in Pakistan and makes it more appropriate. He said that shared norms allow military take a view in which instead of civilian control, overthrow of civilian institutions is much more acceptable and respectable.
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa said that even though there is a civilian government in power in Pakistan, there is no change likely in civil-military relations as there remain key structural issues. Military remains autonomous and the civilian side remains authoritarian. She said that there is elitist system of political economy and socio -politics in which military is part of other elites in the country which makes the system of governance of Pakistan to be held by the elite of Pakistan versus the people of Pakistan.
Mr. Ahsan Iqbal believed that Gen. (Retd. Pervez Musharraf, as a violator of the Constitution of Pakistan should be tried for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan. He believed that application of Article 6 against usurpers is the only guarantee against military coups in the future of the country.
Presenting his views on what should be the way forward for Pakistan in the concluding session of the Conference, Dr. Askari said that the conference was a rewarding experience. In order to move forward as a nation, it is useful to understand civil-military relations, but to understand these, we need to get out of the blame game for the civilians or the military. Perhaps responsibility and blame would have to be shared by civilians and the military. He presented 5 recommendations: firstly the country needs to decide what system should be adopted. If we are committed democracy and constitutionalism, the role of the military is clearly defined according to that and a coup can never be justified by any means; Politicians’ role cannot be judged the way we judge the military. Parliaments are not like military regiments and a different criterion is to be adopted. For politicians, Parliament is the academy and the political process, elections and the whole society is the training ground. If politics is not allowed to flourish, political parties not allowed to function, politics can never improve. People need to be trusted to decide who should govern in a free and fair election. Repeated military interventions in Pakistan and ability of the military to mould the institutions and processes have created a crisis of confidence in the civilian institutions. Through 4 Martial Laws, the military has shown that it is an important ladder for social and economic advancement. Therefore, a lot of people seek advancement through cooption. The whole psyche of the nation has to be changed. Secondly, Pakistan needs to define its regional role i.e., the whole philosophy of strategic depth. Pakistan has the habit of overplaying its role with the US assistance. Pakistan must seek strength from within and should learn from China in this connection. Thirdly, there has to be a cost of violation of constitution whether it is by civilians or by the military men. Fourthly, we need to build the capacity of the civilian institutions and processes through fair and free elections over a long period of time, through political continuity and strengthening the Parliament. Political parties need to develop think tanks to provide them with policy options. Fifthly, there is a need to control the role of intelligence agencies.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Talat Masood said that if Pakistan also wants to be an Islamic country, it should have an ethical framework based on Islamic values and tradition coupled with democratic values. Pakistan is going through a struggle in 21st century and that struggle is for the soul of Pakistan. The daunting twin challenges of militancy and economic distress are before us. It is not the time to blame or squabble but to find internal solutions to our problem.
Dr. Pervez Hasan said that the way forward for Pakistan is civilian supremacy over the defence sector. He believed Article 6 of the Constitution needs to be operationalised to punish all violations of the Constitution.
Mr. Shahid Hamid said that the common objective of all of us is to establish the civilian supremacy of the military institutions. For this the first requirement is an empowered civilian defence minister. Defence Committee of the Cabinet needs to co-ordinate the finance, foreign and defence policies of Pakistan within the defence paradigm of national security. We also need to have a civilian defence secretary. In addition to parliamentary control, we need media oversight. We need a law governing inter services intelligence that sets broad parameters within constitutional limits.
Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mahboob said that in order to improve civil-military relations, both sides need to work. The society needs to understand to elect better leadership to lead the country. It will reduce the vulnerability of the civilians from the military but also from other institutions outside the country. Political parties and Parliament need to become more effective and stronger. The empowerment of the civil institutions and the development of better political leadership are definitely going to take time and the military should realise that Pakistan inherited under-developed political leadership in general. Military intervention is part of the problem. There needs to be an understanding of each other’s perspective and a continuous dialogue. This has been PILDAT’s modest effort for the last four years and the conference is the enlargement of this dialogue in a serious and dispassionate manner. Violations of the Constitution, whether by military or civilians, should be treated under a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.