We are perhaps all wondering what is happening in the country and what is its driver. Although many may consider this as simply a result of the government’s inefficacy, this may not be the entire story. Indubitably, governance is not this government’s strength. It is an issue that the prime minister would have to deal with urgently if he survives the crisis. But much that some anchors may like us to believe the conditions were not at the boiling point where we would view the gathering in front of the Parliament as a replica of Egypt’s Tahrir Square. There were days during the past one week when Imran Khan would address less then a couple of thousand people from amongst his supporters.
The natural question that comes to mind is whether it’s the military behind it. Despite many of Nawaz Sharif’s political shortcomings he seems to have challenged the military’s prime patronage which the army feels ought to be restored. The military public relations arm, ISPR would deny such a suggestion. The agency categorically denied having any links with Imran Khan or Tahirul Qadri. In an official statement Maj-General Bajwa also talked about the army being apolitical. One wonders what to make of the statement when we see the army chief meeting Imran and Qadri and the army not intervening in pushing back the protesters who would certainly show deference to the armed forces and not use the sticks to beat soldiers as they did with the police.

Even Javed Hashmi said that the army was not supporting Imran Khan. While this statement could be true in terms of expressing what he believes in, it may not solve the mystery of how a political army feels and reacts. But why would one be sceptical of Hashmi’s statement? The answer perhaps lies in an evaluation of how the military has evolved as a political institution and the manner in which it views the politics around it. It may not remove a government as yet or may not be putting its entire weight decisively behind one player or the other, but it surly sees itself as playing a role. Notwithstanding the claim, the fact that the army chose to protect the PTV building, which the military is used to storming itself, rather than the Parliament, is taking a political position.
To quote the American-Polish political scientist Adam Przeworski, “removing the military from politics is not the same thing as removing politics from the military”. In such a time of crisis it is most appropriate to read through the military mind which is reflected in the new book, The Army and Democracy, by Aqil Shah. Based on hundreds of interviews of military officers and officials and assessment of military writings, the author lays out an organisational culture which does not accept superiority of the civilian leadership. It is an organisation that has developed its sense of autonomy. So, as Shah quotes the dialogue between the secretary general of the Baloch Republican Party and a military intelligence operative during the former’s illegal detention “even if the President or chief justice tells us to release you, we won’t … it is only the army chief and the intelligence chief that we obey”.
Not respecting and looking down upon the political leadership is something that a post-colonial army like Pakistan’s inherited as part of its institutional legacy. The fact that junior officers were privy to a strategic plan in 1947-48 changed the way sense of authority was structured. In her memoir of her father, Hamida Khuhro writes about how during the 1950s the army under Ayub Khan resisted any civilian effort to control or have greater accountability of arms procurement. Later, General Gul Hassan rejected a civilian request to brief the national cabinet on the army’s combat readiness nor did he assist the government in aid of civil power. This is a reminder of later years when the head of Fauji Foundation refused to present himself in front of Parliament.
According to Aqil Shah, this attitude is built into the psyche of the officer during training in different institutions. For instance, at the National Defence University, very little time is given to explaining to the officer his role and the subservience to civilian authorities as laid down in the Constitution. Reading through pages of the army’s “Green Book” that contains perspective of different ranks of officers, one cannot miss the sense of suspicion that has deepened amongst the officers regarding the civilian leadership. The author narrates conversations in which officers expounded their ideas about how leaders needed to be trained and educated. The army has in fact laid out its plan to train civilians from different walks of life through its national security workshops. However, this is a training that introduces people to a particular perspective only.
Intriguingly, the narrative we get is about every general post-Musharraf being more democratic than the last. The details, which are not shared, however, tell a different story. For example, General Kayani chaired a meeting of top civil bureaucrats to establish control over foreign policy. No matter what statement comes out of ISPR, the fact is that this crisis will reflect not so well on the very institution itself.
This is not to argue that civilian leadership is not to blame. They are certainly responsible for allowing the military to develop political prowess unchecked. It is even in the interest of Imran and a burnt Nawaz to at least cooperate to ensure their future against plans made and implemented secretly. The only security lies in greater transparency of the defence sector and building institutional mechanisms to bring that about.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2014.