Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Defending the Constitution

Book recommendations:
1. Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford Pakistan Paperbacks)
2. Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Pakistan’s armed forces are a wing of the Federal Government of Pakistan, which controls defence (through Chapter 2 of Part XII of the Constitution of 1973 and the federal legislative list) as a purely federal subject. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the army, air and navy chiefs are appointed public servants carrying out responsibilities that fall in the purview of defence.

According to Articles 243-245 of the constitution, the president of Pakistan is the supreme commander of the armed forces. He maintains and commissions them, and, on binding advice from the prime minister, appoints the forces chiefs and the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Before the 1973 constitution, there existed the office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which was discontinued in the aftermath of the 1971 debacle, to bring the army under strict civilian control. The members of the armed forces are also required to take an oath under the constitution which they are required to serve and protect.

Contrast this to the contention raised by a writ petition before Lahore High Court by an advocate – quite appropriately named Ghazi Ilmuddin – that the supreme command of the forces be vested with the chief of army staff. A petition that offends constitutional provisions should not have been entertained, and dismissed with extreme prejudice. It is perhaps an indication of the influence that the armed forces exercise on civilian authorities that the presiding judge sent notices to the federal government to respond.

Every member of the armed forces is under a constitutional obligation to defend the constitution against all adventurism, including adventurism of commanding officers. Unfortunately, this oath has been flouted time and again. 1977, 1999 and 2007 are three glaring examples of this failure. A strict application of Pakistan’s main military legislation, the Army Act, 1952, would mean court martial for all personnel who aided General Zia and General Musharraf in their adventurism. Section 31 of the aforesaid act reads:

“Mutiny and insubordination: Any person subject to this Act who commits any of the following offences, that is to say, –

(a) begins, incites, causes, or conspires with any other person to cause, or joins in, any mutiny in the military, naval or air forces of Pakistan or any forces co-operating therewith; or

(b) being present at any such mutiny, does not use his utmost endeavours to suppress the same; or

(c) knowing or having reason to believe in the existence of any such mutiny or any intentino to commit such mutiny, or of any such conspiracy, does not without reasonable delay give information thereof to his commanding or other superior officer; or

(d) attempts to seduce any person in the military, naval or air forces of Pakistan from his duty or his allegiance to the Government of Pakistan;

shall, on conviction by court-martial, be punished with death or with such less punishment as in this Act mentioned.”

But the problem with Pakistan’s civil-military relations is purely political, not constitutional or legal. It is the armed forces in general, and the Pakistan Army in particular, that control important matters such as foreign policy. The way the War on Terror has been conducted over the last 10 years indicates how the armed forces have demarcated a central role – considerably more expansive than the one permitted to them by the constitution – in public policy.

It is the position of this author that the armed forces have strategic, tactical and corporate interests that seldom coincide with the interests of Pakistan and its people. Therefore we hear of such fanciful ideas as strategic depth and strategic assets when the priority for the people of Pakistan should be fulfilment of those basic principles of policy that occur right after fundamental rights.

Constitutionally, Pakistan is a social welfare state based on pluralism, democratic principles, religious freedom and Islamic egalitarianism. Yet all this is subject to the availability of funds, which basically means that since Pakistan has been kept – on one pretext or another – in a state of perpetual national security emergency since 1958, social welfare, democracy and egalitarianism can wait.

Much has been written about the duplicity of Pakistan’s armed forces in the War on Terror. It is not as much duplicity as it is complexity. At present, there are two ideological groups within the armed forces of Pakistan. One may loosely be defined as “imperialists” and the other “Islamic nationalists”. Both need each other. Imperialists need the Islamic nationalists to remain useful to the superpower. Islamic nationalists need the imperialists to ensure that the supply of arms and ammunition from the West is not cut off. When it comes to confronting the civilian government they are allies.

Consider for example the statement by the air chief that drones can be shot down if the civilian government wants. He added quickly that this would also open Pakistan to repercussions of such actions as direct US invasion. In other words, while they can dictate Pakistan’s foreign policy, when it comes to taking responsibility for their actions, the blame is laid entirely at the door of the civilians.

Therefore to bring about a balance in civilian-military relations, Pakistan needs an immediate correction of its national narrative on military affairs. Following are a few key corrections:

1. Pakistan is a national and not an ideological state.

2. Pakistan’s armed forces are not the forces of Islam. They are part of a nation state’s security apparatus.

3. Pakistan’s armed forces have not performed well – whether in battle or when they have usurped civilian authority.

4. Pakistan’s armed forces are required by the constitution to defend Pakistan’s civil government against all threats, even if such threats emanate from within the armed forces.

5. A member of the armed forces of Pakistan is a Pakistani first, and then a member of the armed forces.

6. Having been founded through the ballot and not the bullet, democracy is the lifeblood of Pakistan. There is no escape from constitutional civilian rule no matter how slow, incompetent or frustrating it is deemed to be.

7. Like all institutions in Pakistan, the armed forces – paid employees of the people of Pakistan – ought to be accountable before the people’s elected representatives in the parliament.

This is a tall order, but one that is necessary for Pakistan to be a civilised democratic state that is respected, not loathed, in the comity of nations.

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