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HVK Archives: Military & governance in Pakistan

Military & governance in Pakistan - The Economic Times

K Subrahmaniam ()
October 15, 1998

Title: Military & governance in Pakistan
Author: K Subrahmaniam
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: October 15, 1998

The resignation of an incumbent Pakistani Army chief is an
unusual event in that country's history. The resignation was
admittedly a consequence of the stringent criticism by the Army
chief of the performance of the Nawaz Sharif government and his
proposal to set up a national security council in which the
armed forces will have a significant role in decision making,
not only on issues of national security but across the entire
spectrum of governance.

Questions have been raised within Pakistan and outside whether
this was a victory for Nawaz Sharif over the Army and whether it
was a triumph for democracy. Nawaz Sharif has taken a highly
principled position that Parliament is supreme and
accountability to it should be sustained. He would be more
credible in that stand if he had not made provisions in the
Shariah bill that the government would have absolute powers to
issue directives to enforce Shariah and the Constitution could
be amended by a simple majority. He was compelled to withdraw
these two provisions while reintroducing the Shariah bill.
Therefore Sharif does not command much credibility while talking
of supremacy of Parliament.

Nawaz Sharif triumphed over President Leghari and Chief Justice
Shah. The present development gives an impression that he has
also been able to put the Army in its place. People are bound to
draw comparisons between Nawaz Sharif without any challenge and
the late Zuffikar Ali Bhutto in his hey days - 1972-1976.
Bhutto's arrogance, authoritarianism and his unique capacity to
alienate his lieutenants and followers brought about his
downfall. Bhutto too sacked General Gul Hasan and appointed
first the pliant General Tikka Khan and then his own nemesis -
the apparently pliant Zia ul Haq as Army chiefs. He passed over
six generals to select the colourless General Zia ul Haq, just
as Nawaz Sharif has superseded two seniors to pick up General
Pervez Musharaff. It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif is
concentrating all power in his hands and is becoming
increasingly authoritarian. The only power that can challenge
him continues to be the Pakistan Army.

General Karamat had the reputation of being a professional
soldier who behaved scrupulously by the book. His exemplary
behaviour during the crises when Nawaz Sharif confronted
President Leghari and Chief Justice Shah showed that his
standards of apolitical soldierly conduct were very high. Many
in Pakistan and outside are of the view that General Karamat was
the exception rather than the rule among the senior officers of
Pakistan and his successors are likely to be those conditioned
by Islamic teaching which started from General Zia's seizure of
power in 1977. While no doubt US and the West no longer
encourage military seizure of power in the developing world, as
they did at the time of Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia
ul Haq, they may not mind governments in Pakistan with a
civilian facade with military carrying out effective governance.

General Karamat's idea of the national security council was not
new. The Army sponsored such a proposal in November 1996 and the
Farooq Leghari-Miraj Khalid administration accepted it and set
up the council. It was slowly pushed into the background after
Nawaz Sharif became prime minister with a landslide victory in a
low voter turn out poll.

The criticism of the government's performance by General Karamat
is recognised as quite valid. No doubt in a mature democracy
the Army chief would not consider his business to launch such
criticism. But Pakistan is not a mature democracy since it was
under military rule for 24 years out of its 51 years of
independent existence. Secondly, Nawaz Sharif invoked the tacit
support of the Army chief during his confrontation with the
President and the Chief Justice. If the Army chief at that time
had chosen to cast his lot with the President, Nawaz Sharif
would have been dismissed by President Leghari. Thirdly,
Pakistan Army is viewed by the population as a supra-political
mediating body in Pakistan. Lastly, the Army itself has a self
image of its being the guardian of Pakistan's Islamic ideology.
Therefore General Karamat's proposal was not out of turn with
the norms of Pakistani politics as it would have been in other

In Pakistan over a period of last two decades Pakistani Army has
made a concerted effort to equip its officers adequately in
areas of general governance. Many Pakistanis feel because of the
decline in the educational standards of in their universities
and in the quality of their civil services and lack of calibre
among their politicians the Army officers have an advantage over
the civil servants and politicians in effective governance. In a
sense the Army Officer Crops is regarded as a super-political
elite class. The Army General Headquarters in Pakistan sends up
policy papers to the government on various issues not limited to
external and internal security and foreign policy. The Army is
believed to have several in-house think tanks which specialise
on different areas of governance.

General Karamat identified in his speech a number of crisis
areas - the economic crunch, ethnic and sectarian violence,
religious and sectarian extremism, the demands for greater
autonomy by the provinces, etc. Therefore the suggestion for a
national security council as an apex body for decision making in
Pakistan was to be viewed in this context. There is no doubt
that Pakistan is in a crisis. Its economy is in a shambles. The
provinces are mobilising themselves to demand greater autonomy.
Pakistan is in confrontation with India, Iran and Central Asian
Republics. With the victory of Taleban the extremist sentiment
in Pakistan will grow and the sectarian rivalry will be
exacerbated. In the last 18 months in office Nawaz Sharif was
not displayed even the dynamism of Z A Bhutto in the first 18
months of his rule and he faces a far more precarious situation.

The new Army chief, General Musharaff is a muhajir and is
therefore believed to have no political base. He has declared
that he had no differences with General Karamat and General
Karamat's speech was delivered after a meeting of the corps
commanders among whom General Musharaff was also present. Though
General Karamat has said that the views he expressed were his
own, the history of the proposal to have a national security
council goes back to General Zia ul Haq and all indications
point to its being the result of an overwhelming consensus among
the Generals in Pakistan.

General Karamat's exit will not solve the problems he has
focused on. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has chosen to
reintroduce the Shariah bill with some marginal compromises. One
cannot escape the conclusion that he is attempting to woo the
Islamic sentiment in the country and the Army. In this he may be
following the example of General Zia ul Haq.

While the international milieu is not conducive to army coups
today, in Pakistan there is no other countervailing power to
Nawaz Sharif's authoritarianism and deliberate attempt at
fanning religious extremism. The economic crunch in which
Pakistan finds itself will bring the business interests and the
Armed forces closer together in attempting to salvage the

Given this situation it is very unrealistic to expect that
Pakistan will adopt a rational position on the Kashmir issue in
the forthcoming secretary level talks. Nawaz Sharif playing to
the Islamic gallery is bound to adopt a hard line on Kashmir and
blame India for breakdown in the talks. The developments in

Pakistan are only a beginning of a new unprecedented crisis that
country is likely to face. India should get ready to deal with
this situation not only in the official talks but in the
international media and diplomacy.

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