Needed: civil-military dialogues / Civil - military ties Dawn

10th January 2019
by Javed Jabbar

The people of Pakistan have a strongly democratic temperament . Throughout the year throughout the country elections are robustly contested in bar associations, chambers of business, professional associations , unions, civil society forums, private clubs , community fraternities. Traditional jirgas and panchayats partly, though not wholly reflect a similar keen interest in participative processes in rural areas . Despite only an average of about fifty percent turn-out in eleven general elections in 71 years , citizens express deep interest in electing representatives.

The same democratic people hold the Armed Forces of Pakistan in high regard for ensuring external and internal security. Selfless sacrifice of lives, by soldiers and officers . Life-long disabilities caused by injuries borne with quiet dignity . People admire prompt , effective actions in emergencies and natural disasters , and construction of quality physical infrastructure in formidable terrain . The purely merit- based structure of the Armed Forces is especially respected . This dimension has particular distinction in a society whose politics and social milieu are often dominated by nepotism , family ties , clans ,ethnicity.

Four military interventions into the political domain occurred for about 33 out of 71 years . Of these , two ---1969-1971 , 1977-1988 --- had gravely damaging results . Due to continuing overt and covert military influence on aspects of foreign policy, nuclear weapons issues , and internal security , there is abiding unease in parts of civil and political society about the imbalanced role of the Armed Forces . Positive policies introduced during military rule --- substantially enhanced reserved seats for women and minorities in expanded legislatures , transformation of the electronic media landscape , lowering of voting age to 18 years, etc --- are often ignored due only to the fact they were military-led . Notwithstanding its internal corrective system , the military is perceived to be immune from accountability while also enjoying exceptional privileges . Intelligence agencies are held responsible for covert manipulation of the electoral process , before and immediately after close of voting in July 2018 . They are also assumed to be responsible for the disappearance of many persons . Though untenable in view of India's historic, unchanging hegemonistic posture , the Defence sector's share of expenditure --- about 20.4 percent --- is seen by some in the civil sector as too high . Some extremist elements are said to enjoy secret support . New pressures on the media are alleged to be military - related. on beaches, on landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender ..”.

Thus, alongside positive perceptions within the civil sphere about the professionalism of the Armed Forces, there are perceptions about a negative role . Leaders of two opposition political parties seem convinced the military directs NAB’s actions against them and even influences judicial decisions . In turn , the military denies allegations and has its own reservations about the political sphere . In spite of both spheres being intrinsic parts of the same single country , there is a disturbing distance between them . Mutual incomprehension persists.

Existing mechanisms for regular --- or irregular --- interaction such as the Cabinet’s National Security Committee or Parliamentary Committees on Defence are important , yet inadequate . Beyond formal discussion on official agenda items , several aspects require frank , comprehensive exposition . Through other participative processes inclusive of non-official segments , each side needs to exercise patience --- and stamina ! --- in simply listening deeply to the other, with mutual respect --- after discarding old preconceptions.

The Chief of Army Staff has , more than once, publicly endorsed continuity and supremacy of civil, political, elected institutions . He visited the Senate for an unprecedented in-camera session in December 2017. A no-holds-barred dialogue was reportedly held. A Parliamentary Committee on Defence also visited GHQ in October 2017 . Such high-level inter-actions should be frequent and systematized.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee , Chiefs of three Services , Directors-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and ISPR should meet at regular intervals with editors, legislators, political leaders of all hues, media owners, social media activists, senior journalists, segments of civil society , heads of public service NGOs , academia , professional bodies , etc . Periodically active dialogue forums comprise retired military officers . Proposed new inter-actions should include serving officers communicating within defined discipline and policy , such as at NDU programmes.

Through sustained , in-depth, candid dialogues , both through closed-door sessions, and open sessions , a consensus should be shaped on progressive measures that build trust and confidence , that reduce the gulf between perceptions --- to foster constructive harmony and stability . Uncertainties and volatility of regional and global geo-politics make it imperative for leaderships of both political and military spheres to address this need with urgency.

(The writer is a former Senator & Federal Minister and a member of the PILDAT Civil - Military Dialogue Group established 2004