M Ali Siddiqi talks about need of the day
Civil-Military Coexistence – Once again the political elements of Pakistan have been reminded of the heavy hand of the real power axis in the country and its ability to change the political course in the land. The situation has come to a pass where Pakistani political forces are yet again considered to be facing prospects of renewed dominance of military establishment. The fallacy-prone political route taken by populist political adventurers has apparently met a roadblock that may be difficult to overcome. By the look of it the civil democratic establishment is portrayed toeing the military line and according deference to it apparently under duress though this may be done quite willingly. Although such accommodation is against the success of democracy achieved by Chile, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and more recently Turkey where discrediting the military dominance brought about democratic change but in the context of Pakistan it is more of an opportunity than a challenge. It is by default that the need for mutual cooperation the civil and military establishments has not only become apparent but has assumed a vital position. They are required to provide space to each other and refrain from trying to get one up on each other.
The impression that military establishment is reasserting dominance because it was threatened by gradual sustainability of democratic governance after the end of Musharraf dictatorship is true to an extent but military proved quite adept at countering democratic ascendancy by demonstrating its ability to marginalize democratic forces as was amply demonstrated by the extraordinary rise of Imran Khan as an alternative civil opposition to established political groups. The encirclement of MQM, once the staunch ally of military, also attests to the manipulative power military can unleash at will. Realistically speaking the military would not completely abandon its decisive role in national affairs but may reluctantly coexist with civilian establishment. This impression is inferred by the placement of the previous foes of the military in power that not only agreed to get themselves rehabilitated but also acceded to the military’s demand of scuttling their proxy who it thought had gone out of control and was bent upon harming it.
Amongst many reasons causing perceptible change in military’s perception, the most important is the rankling of civil society that caused jitters in military compelling it to inundate visual and social media with patriotic fervor and nationalistic posture of military particularly the pristine image of COAS. It perceptibly inculcated the notion that, as the only functional institution, it is fully capable to act as the last resort and bring in political and social stability. To highlight its status as panacea to all problems it gave a public welfare twist to its operation against terrorism cleverly extricating itself from its ownership and is trying to reset its position to bring back its dominance as the dominant part of the status quo.
The other factor is the powerful presence of media that contributed in diluting the assiduously cultivated all-pervasive image of military. Though the assertion of media was fought tooth and nail by the military establishment including devising and implementing tough countermeasures yet the influence of media was blunted a bit but not to the extent that it became totally ineffective indicating the range of influence media possesses. The military’s assertion that it gave vent to free expression is debunked by media that asserts that military was trying to counter Indian media rather than facilitating it. On the other hand, military never acknowledges that media owes its freedom to evolutionary trends of historical progression. However the reality is that the explosive media presence forced the military to go with the flow wooing it tremendously and ensuring its presence there. It started increasing its level of influence within the ranks of media and partially succeeded in its efforts though it cannot be said that its efforts proved to be very decisive in nature.
These efforts witnessed the ISPR machine working overtime to ensure that COAS remains in limelight even on weekends and closed holidays. The avalanche of ISPR tweets though has receded considerably but it reportedly keeps on feeding its opinion through the sections of media sympathetic to it.
Curiously though not unusually the military has shown marked sensitivity to social media and did try and still tries hard to curry its favour. It is very alert to the fast changing opinions of social media ranging from instant approval to equally vociferous disapproval. The military ignores the whimsicality of social media behaviour and opinion. Any negative feedback is carefully watched and debunked by taking advantage of the anonymity inbuilt in social media portals. It plants favourable stories attracting quite a large following and eliciting mostly positive comments. Yet another factor contributing to military’s discomfiture is the inveterate fury of its ditched religious proxies that it utilized to pursue dubious foreign policy targets. The proxies have gone completely haywire destabilizing the national polity through endemic violence. They have forsaken their erstwhile loyalty to their progenitors and do not refrain to harm them. They appear to be well organized and fanatically motivated by their respective agenda with well spread out support base. Their campaign appears to be long term and they are nimble enough to operate below the radar of intelligence network.
The rational elements in military realise that the pervert policies followed by their predecessors have turned Pakistan into a quagmire of non-governance. They have belatedly realized that their ability to singlehandedly control everything in Pakistan has been seriously eroded. The military tried passing the buck to civilians but found the weakened civilian structure ill-equipped to wriggle Pakistan out of this mess. There are growing signs that the current chaotic state of affairs in Pakistan is gradually unnerving the military although it keeps up the bravado. They increasingly find themselves incapable of coming to grips with myriad problems of Pakistan. They feel besieged by local and international factors limiting their maneuverability and countering their moves.
The military is trying to wriggle out of this mess by resorting to a tactical withdrawal motivated by probably a genuine desire to do so. Abandoning Imran Khan and his allies is symptomatic of this altered strategy although they were taken aback by the biting reaction of the Parliament that forced them to hem in Imran Khan and provide space to political dispensation. In order to offset effects of a failed adventure they took on their renegade proxies partially retrieving their lost opportunity. But the substantial inroad created by their proxies has enabled these wayward groups to mount a challenge anywhere, anytime compelling military strategists to accept a thaw with Afghanistan. This prospect compels it to stay on the right side of civilian establishment, and while trying to retain its dominant position intact, cooperate with the later to keep matters afloat,
Civilian establishment is acknowledging the changed situation by providing adequate space to military establishment. It is exhibiting tremendous patience by being low-key and cautiously pursuing its goals but simultaneously avoiding creating irritants in governance. It is grappling hard to take the country out of the economic mess it is in and does not appear to be succeeding in doing that. This is the ultimate fault line that has added an additionally vital angle for establishing a strong partnership between democratic elements and the military establishment. The Weekender