The ever present Civil-Military acrimony in Pakistan
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Issue Courtesy: South Asia Monitor | Date : 19 May , 2016

It certainly looks clear that all is not going well in Pakistan between its civilian government and an all-time powerful army. With the recent Panama Paper leaks having landed the sons and daughters of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s in the dock, the continuing war between the two centres of power as regards the claim to supremacy within the ruling circles of Pakistan has once again intensified. And, it is precisely the deepening chasm between the two that worries the entire world over the fear of a coup dislodging another civilian government from power in a country that has had a chequered political past. 

With the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif having removed 12 of his senior military officers, including a lieutenant general and also a major general and five brigadiers on grounds of their proven involvement in corruption, his anti-corruption pitch has not only become louder, but it is also striking a right chord with the masses of Pakistan who have long suffered from corruption pervading into every aspect of their lives. It has also increased the pressure on Nawaz Sharif to come out clean on the charges that have been levelled against the members of his family, with the spectre of resignation already looming large.

Added in the endeavour of the General are Imran Khan’s Pakistan’s Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) and Mustafa Kamal’s Sarzameen Party (PSP) which are said to be the Pakistani General Head Quarter’s (GHQ) political creations. Ever since the General took office, he has been going all heavy and strong against corruption that has become a crippling reality for Pakistan. The embattled Prime Minister has been left with no option except questioning the General’s moral and legal authority to question him.

Since the army in Pakistan has always been instrumental in deciding not only political leadership but has also helped in producing forthcoming leaders for the country, and that too almost from the beginning of this state’s independent journey, it continues to live with its self-assumed role of nation-building even to date.

With Pakistan becoming an Islamic, Sharia-run state during the regime of Gen. Zia-ul Haq in the early eighties of the past century, the role of mullahs and religious fundamentalists in the governance of the country increased considerably in the country, with the result being that even today, their influence continues without much decline in either its intensity or spread.

The duo- the military and hardliner mullahs- have become the two very powerful pillars of the Pakistani governance, always off-balancing the popular civilian government. Obviously, despite having popular support and sound legitimacy, the civilian government remains at the mercy of the duo, which considerably influence the policies and decision making process in Pakistan.

For reasons that are rooted in its history, Pakistan’s democracy has not managed to get institutionalised the way in which it could manage to take roots in the country across the Radcliffe Line- India. Consequently, even the slightest jerk to popular governance- whatever be the reasons- has always propelled the army to assume the civilian power as it always remains ‘willing and ready’ to take charge of the ‘deteriorating’ situation in Pakistan. This time, though, the corruption charges against the PM Nawaz Sharif’s family may be categorised as formidable a reason enough for the army to step in, although it is equally crucial to note that the real reason is to maintain its supremacy in Pakistan as an oligarch particularly when the rising tide of democracy- the Arab Spring- has already over swept the Middle East. Obviously, the army is more organised as compared to the civil government, and as it wields the guns too, it continues to remain influential and decisive vis.-a-vis. the civil government.

Another reason for predominance of the army may be assigned to the persisting tense relations between India and Pakistan. In fact, neither the army and the hardliners mullahs nor even most of the reactionary political leaders in Pakistan really want peaceful and friendly relations with India because sustained hostility with its neighbour on the east provides them with continuous flow of material and monetary benefits from many state and non-state patrons alike. As a result, the ‘fear of India’ will continue to be appropriated and used by them to divert the popular attention from the domestic inefficiency and misrule.

The Pakistani army’s repeated failure to win wars with India has resulted in it waging a covert war against it, and which often takes the form of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’ sponsored cross-border terrorism. Unfortunately, this strategy against India could not succeed as per their expectations, and Pakistan has itself got mired into the bitter fratricidal and ethnic civil wars that might make it difficult for this country to sustain itself as a unitary, consolidated unit.

The cumulative effects of all these machinations have gone in favour of the country’s army to maintain its ascendance in Pakistan’s governance and day-to-day administration. But despite the ascendance, the army remains cautious of PM Sharif’s well-practiced clever moves to divide the top echelons of power so as to keep them weak and ineffective. In this scenario, as General Raheel Sharif gradually becomes more and more persistent with his ongoing purges for establishing a corruption-free society and polity, the PM has become apprehensive of the General’s move and has begun reshaping his regional policy priorities with a view to showing the door to the General.

Having witnessed its first civilian government to civilian government transfer of power, Pakistan is once again witnessing a showdown between the two branches of authority in the country, both of which claim legitimacy in the country in their own right. The discord that has persisted, but which has flared up between the civilian and military arms of Pakistan, will not be in the interest of either; at least, certainly not in the favour of the former. While General Raheel Sharif’s possible capturing of civil power in the country may not bode well for the future of this fledgling democracy, PM Sharif’s continuing intrigues and conspiracies to protect individual power at the cost of his country’s democratic fabric is for every reason harmful for its present. Pakistan, in today’s time and circumstances, looks like a classic case of out of the frying pan into the fire.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi

is an Associate Professor of Political Science at M. D. P. G. College, Uttar Pradesh. He can be reached at:

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