To Deepen Democracy, Pakistan should revive Civilian-Controlled Auxiliary Force
During the three week long Tehreek e Labaik protest that paralysed Islamabad in November 2017, the civilian government in Pakistan again appeared weak and compromising. A series of events during this sit-in protest underlined the incapacity of the elected government to manage an internal crisis along with the military’s capability to manufacture crises using ultra-religious groups.
This incident also underlines a structural fault-line in civil-military relations in Pakistan and opens the case for civilian structures to have a strong auxiliary force under their command. The federally-controlled auxiliary forces under the command of the interior and defence ministries proved ineffective to tackle the crises.
Would a specialized paramilitary force responsible only to elected representatives reduce the civilian government’s dependence on the armed forces which often plays partisan role?
The first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was aware of this fault-line and raised federal forces independent of military’s control, called Federal Security Forces (FSF). After the fall of Bhutto’s regime the FSF also disbanded, but such a federally-controlled auxiliary force is essential for the civilian government to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
Bhutto outlined his reasons for creating the FSF stating, “It is necessary for a civilian government to avoid seeking the assistances of the armed forces in dealing with its responsibilities and problems. The police force in our country is terribly inadequate and badly equipped.”
The coercive use of the FSF to repress civilian leaders undermined the development of participatory institutions needed to prevent military intervention and helped the military to take over Pakistan’s administration. After seizing power through a military coup, General Zia ul Haq disbanded the FSF in July 1977.
The demonization of the FSF helped the military – which was dominant partner in civil-military relations – to prevent the future creation of an equipped and efficient auxiliary force under civilian control. But two recent cases during the Nawaz Sharif regime show why the civilian government needs a federally-controlled auxiliary force to consolidate democratic supremacy.
On Pakistan’s 67th Independence Day, 14 August 2014, leaders of two political parties – Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) headed by Tahir-ul-Qadri – organised separate but simultaneous protests at the federal capital to bring down Sharif’s government. The agitating leaders enthusiastically portrayed the sit-in protest as a mass movement reflecting people’s will and decided to camp out till Sharifs resignation and entered the capital’s Red Zone, a high-security zone. The military stepped in and ‘advised’ the government to resolve the impasse through dialogue.
Sharif, Khan and Qadri all had separate meetings with General Raheel Sharif and accepted the military’s role of arbitrator in resolving a purely a political issue.
The entire episode underlined the civilian political leadership’s weak position in the political system of Pakistan and their incapacity to manage a crisis situation without the help of armed forces. By accepting the military’s superior role, the political class risked the losing legitimacy for democratic institutions.
Sharif’s incapability to take a decision was seen as the reason for army’s revival in politics.
In the first week of November 2017, Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan, an Islamist political party led by cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, organised a sit-in protest named Tehreek e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and besieged Islamabad for three weeks. The siege ended on 27 November after the government agreed to TLY’s demands; the resignation of Zahid Hamid, Minister of Law and Justice and reinsertion of omitted words from the Nomination Form-A which claimed to be diluted under The Election Bill 2017. TLY protestors accused the government of using the Election Bill to dilute the Blasphemy Law by altering the words, “I solemnly swear” to “I believe”.
This protest negation saga was not only reflective of zero-sum game in which the TLY gained on the losses of the government but also underlined a deeper fault-line in civil-military relations. To stop the crisis from spreading, the government imposed internet restrictions and a media blackout and arrested protesters. A crackdown followed, killing six people and injuring scores of demonstrators, who then resorted to violence.
The civilian government sought military assistance to manage the crisis but the armed forces did not respond until the High Court issued an order to clear the area. The Army Chief ‘advised’ the civilian government to handle the protest peacefully. The protest fizzled out when the military arbitrated and the elected government appeared as losers.
The military’s standard argument is that solders are not raised to clear the mess created by the incompetent civilian leadership, but these events indicate partisan roles of the military. Instead of abiding by their constitutional responsibility and helping the civilian authority, the military resorts to chastising civilian authorities.
These fault-lines indicate the need for a civilian government to have a specialized auxiliary force under its control. The military will resist this move because a parallel force like the FSF would challenge their legitimacy. But a new and effective auxiliary force is the need of the hour in Pakistan to deepen democracy by minimizing civilian reliance on the military to manage internal crises.