The challenge to bring the military under civilian supremacy is not exclusively Pakistani. It is faced by governments the world over, democratic and non-democratic alike. However, our presumed or real existential threats have made this the foremost institutionalisation challenge for our people. This challenge has primarily emanated from three concerns of the deep state; our inherent difference with our eastern neighbour, the stakes of the military-industrial complex in country’s engagement with the global powers particularly vis-à-vis regional conflicts, and the nuclear deterrent.
The imperative of these concerns in the context of civilian supremacy can be argued. The fact cannot be denied that these are legitimate concerns deeply ingrained in the military consciousness. The attempt to rudely deny them has led our history to where we currently are. However, the argument that the fault lies in the political authority alone is not entirely factual.
We often mistake corruption only as financial corruption. Too often corruption is used one-sidedly against the attempts to bring the military under civilian supremacy. The truth is which should go without saying, that corruption has several dimensions. It encompasses constructs as abstract as morality as well as the violation of oaths, coercion, and abuse of authority. It is irrelevant whoever commits it wears a uniform or not. What matters is the fact that in its essence it is criminality.
When we evaluate historicity of certain past events in hindsight, we often take a very simplistic view of facts. History is not as plain a fact as “General Ayub Khan overthrew a civilian government and enforced martial law”. The imposition of martial law is an irrefutable fact, but there is more to the fact than meets the eye. History is a grey chain of events; a complex function of cause and effect. One can argue at length that the gravity of the damage done by military regimes dwarfs that by civilians. However, the gist of the debate will persist that the problems plaguing our society are courtesy of both civilian and military leaders. A dialogue for civilian supremacy is certainly the need of the hour, and it needs to be constructive and not a means to malign any side of the argument.
Any military is essentially a non-democratic organisation. It is, both philosophically and functionally, an authoritarian, hierarchical, organisation that believes in absolute order, discipline and subordination, and it thrives in collectivism. Democracy, on the other hand, is participatory and egalitarian in nature whose philosophical roots lay in individualistic traditions of freedom and civil liberty. The two are innately in contrast with each other but they need not necessarily be in conflict. The states that have successfully developed respectable rules and norms of engagement for civilian and military authority are now stable and progressive states. Those like us, where the two remain perpetually at odds with each other, are awfully stuck in a loop of self-harm.
It is not absolutely necessary to import an idea of democracy, conceived in an alien society, wholly as it is. It is of utmost importance that our social contract becomes the top agenda item in any dialogue taking place for civilian supremacy. Our current social contract has utterly failed in effectively securing our rights as well as projecting our national will. Democracy, as charming as it is, has no standard shape or interpretation. We need to evolve as per our own aspirations and exclusive context.
One can differ with calls of Mian Nawaz Sharif for such a dialogue for a variety of reasons. But, one cannot deny that after 70 years of round robin game of intrigue and squander, this needs to be sorted. However, there are certain pre-requisites for such a dialogue to successfully take place. Firstly, all important stakeholders on the civilian side of the argument need to get out of their containers. Secondly, an atmosphere of mutual respect needs to be built to induce a constructive debate. Thirdly, public allegations of treason for civilian leaders should be criminalised. And last but not the least, public engagement with people holding different opinions should be premised on reason and rationality, and not on libel and slander.
Feature Photo Credit: President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in the Oval Office, January 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza), Picture retrieved from obamawhitehouse.archives.gov