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Published Date: Dec 12, 2012


Speakers at a discussion here on Tuesday attempted to contextualise the dominant role of the military not just in internal politics, but also within South Asia.

The discussion “Civil-military relations and policy implications” was part of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)’s two-day conference titled ‘Sustainable development in South Asia: shaping the future’, which started here on Tuesday.

Dr Bishnu Upreti, a political analyst, said: “In post-conflict societies, military control by civilians is often not possible.” He was discussing the fragile balance of power in Nepal.

In India, a close relationship between economic growth and military spending, and a policy of ‘strategic restraint’, had limited extra-constitutional power and control of the defence institution, said scholar Sunil Dasgupta. This has certainly not been the case in Pakistan.

Regional geo-politics, such as the oft-quoted threat to the East, Afghans wars, and subsequent Nato/Isaf invasion have been considered the imperative reasons for military engagement in affairs of the state.

The military has expanded its role from the fighting arm of the state, to shaping foreign and financial policies, and has even attempted to control the parameters of religious and cultural debate (such as during Ziaul Haq’s marital law years).

In an attempt to define the Pakistani military, former director general ISPR Athar Abbas stated that “highly disciplined, egalitarian and merit-based selection” was a reason for the institution’s success over its national counterparts. “The military has no objection in asserting civilian control, he added, but “weakness will invite aggression.” Employed beyond its limits, the military does not want the system to derail.

“There are no neat divisions between civilian and military affairs,” Ejaz Haider, senior adviser at SDPI, acknowledged but through an intricate negotiation process “it is important to create a consensus on what the rule of the game, or state institutions, should be.”

The constant flux in these rules have weakened state structures, but recent judicial activism and parliamentary debate on national security meant that the civilian-military balance could tilt in favor of democratic control.

“While the military is important to maintain order of the state, it has acted as an imperial institution that considers itself above society,” argued Ilhan Niaz, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University.

However, for Niaz, “sub-rational decision making” based on caste and biraderi lines had exacerbated cleavages in the state, “challenging meritocracy and inducting criminals” into the political process.

The role of the security apparatus in Pakistan is closely linked to the flow of foreign aid, in particular, US assistance, said Ali Cheema, a political-economist at Lums. The political elite or national wealth holders were not bearing the cost of military expenditures, Cheema said.

According to his analysis, the fiscal compact of state institutions had never been constructed, and political parties were highly regionalised, creating further fragmentation in the political base.