Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Army's Influence In Politics


Army's Influence In Politics
While the army's stints at the helm of political power have been the subject of vigorous debate in Pakistan, the army still remains the most widely respected institution in the country. The army in turn views itself as the guarantor of Pakistan's internal and external stability.

Pakistan's political institutions have never had the same vigour, and have been further weakened by this pattern of alternation between military and constitutional rule. In other civil institutions - the civil service and a large network of public and private organizations - were once looked on as pillars of strength, but they too have weakened in the past three decades or so due to mixture of neglect and abuse by both military and civilian governments.

Civil society, whatever it means in Pakistan, has similarly been whittled down by decades of misrule by both the army and civilian governments. Pakistanis, however are politically aware people, and the period of elected rule they have experienced, have given them a desire for accountable and participatory government. 

While Pakistan's present democratic, as all previous civilian set ups, governance is deeply flawed due to the indifference, monopoly and corruption of the ruling elite. 

The army has been Pakistan's strongest institution along navy and air force since the creation of the nation in 1947, and the events since September 11 have tested and reinforced its domestic and international position. Three factors stunted the growth of other institutions while encouraging the strengthening of the army and people's confidence in this indispensable institution. 
First, Pakistan was born with a chronic sense of insecurity, the product of the violent legacy of Partition and the resulting dislocation and law and order problems. Second, the India-Pakistan war over Kashmir encouraged the state to concentrate resources at the centre and, again, in the army. Finally, the death in 1948 of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, left behind a political and ideological vacuum. 

When the British partitioned and left the Indian sub-continent in 1947, Pakistan faced the formidable task of building a centre and a defining national identity from scratch, while trying to deal with these challenges. The administrative and ideological challenge was further exacerbated by the fact that the two wings of Pakistan, East and West, were separated by some 1000 miles of Indian Territory as well as by differences of language and political tradition. After the assassination of Jinnah's successor Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan's civil institutions, still very new, struggled to provide continuity of government and ultimately were bypassed and distorted, with the military coming in to clean the mess. This scenario has been replayed with some differences on several occasions. 
Intervention of Army 
The roots of army's intervention date back to the early years of independence when a host of external and internal factors combined to tilt the civil-military institutional equation in favor of the military. 

The reason is that the migrant political leadership of Pakistan which lacked domestic political constituency persistently used extra-constitutional tactics to remain in power. At the same time, the fledging state prioritized national defence over critical development needs because of hostile neighbourhood. Moreover, weak civilian administration routinely fell back on the well organized military to undertake even day-to-day civilian tasks. This reliance on the military gradually eroded the respect for civilian authority among the men in uniform, spurring them to 'save' Pakistan at the slightest sign of political instability. Therefore, the military eventually emerged as a domineering vested interest in state and society. 

However, the critics' point of view also deserves a mention here. The superimposition of the army on vital aspects of civil and political life over the decades has stripped civilian authority of even its basic functions. Be it federal or provincial administrations, universities, examination boards, public utility corporations, state research institutions, the military has gradually but compulsively taken over in the name of accountability and reducing corruption. Militarization is just not limited to the public sector. It intervened in all the vital sectors of the economy (logistics, public works, banking, fertilizer, cement, and sugar production) by running it tax free. This inevitable army intervention clearly undermined the chances of their competition, besides crowding out scarce investment resources (due to high defence expenditure) required for private sector development. 

The military's unquestioned dominance of state affairs coupled with its holy cow public image allows it to act the untainted angel while holding its civilian counterparts accountable for their actions. For instance, under the last military regime's much touted accountability process, civil officials and anti-military politicians are hauled up in the name of fair accountability. Whereas, military officers are excluded under the pretext of existing strength internal accountability mechanisms.

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