Strained Civil-Military Relations by Ansar M Bhatti

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A recent leak in an English newspaper of a national security meeting held a couple weeks ago, led to speculations and endless controversies that all is not well in terms of civil-military relations. While one may not challenge the intentions of the reporter Cyril Almeida, whom I know for some time, certain parts of the story may appear in conflict with the national security policy that provided the opponents an excuse to grill Pakistan and its security establishment. The immediate release of this story as a breaking news by the Indian media and some segments of Western media, is good enough an indicator of their ill intentions. The proxy war between the two institutions is now being fought on TV talk shows.

Pakistan Army under General Raheel Sharif has committed itself to  eliminate the cause of specter of terrorism and extremism. Differences perhaps cropped up when the security establishment decided to bracket corruption with terrorism and extremism which regretfully is feared in part to sponsor terrorism and harbor terrorists. Then the military also intended to extend the canvass of the fight against terrorism to Punjab because there is sufficient evidence of militants being harbored and patronized in Punjab. The Punjab government, according to media reports, resisted this action for reasons unknown. Then came the issue of arrival of Indian engineers in Pakistan, most of whom were treated as ‘very special guests’.

During a recent literary festival in Karachi a female Indian journalist, who had visa for Karachi only, was invited to Islamabad to meet with a high government functionary. Surely such a luxury is not available to the Pakistani journalists when they visit India. Pakistan and Indian systems work mostly on reciprocity. The security institutions here believe, we are perhaps far too lenient when it comes to exercising the reciprocity principle. That appears to be yet another irritant and difference of opinion between the civil and military institutions.

While civil-military relations currently may be passing through a difficult phase, Imran Khan’s call to shut down Islamabad on November 02 further dented these relations. On October 27 police lathi-charged a PTI indoor meeting and arrested scores of workers. The arrests were made on the pretext that the workers had violated Section 144. These arrests and particularly manhandling of PTI women workers aggravated the already charged up situation. Then on Oct 28 Sheikh Rashid was not allowed to hold a public rally. Analysts believe, the government tried to kill a fly with a gun so to say, on Oct 28 as there was no need to block the city on that day.

The same day an important meeting took place at the residence of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. Federal Ministers Ishaq Dar, Ch. Nisar Ali Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Shebaz Sharif briefed the COAS about the progress in Dawn story case. Media reports suggest, that the security breach issues are not just confined to Dawn story, in fact there are other incidents of security breach that appear to have annoyed the military establishment. On October 29, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid was made to leave his office while further heads are likely to roll once the inquiry is completed.

Situation at external and internal requires immediate détente between the civil and military establishments because this divide will only serve the purposes of the enemy both within and without. The best way of dissolving the prevalent situation is that all sides function within the precincts of their mandate with a view to supplementing one another’s efforts to achieve the goal of a truly democratic and welfare state.

Irrespective of which government or the prime minister is in power, a cordial working relationship between civil and military institutions is an imperative need for the country. Likewise, the national institutions must display harmony and unity in order to send a loud and clear message to our adversaries that we stand united and firm when it comes to safeguarding our national interests.