The redundancy of civilian-military tug-of-war


Following the two-day civilian-military meetings, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif expressed his “frustration” over government’s poor progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. He said that the military’s gains during the Operation Zarb-e-Azb were being lost due to an inadequate response from the civilian authorities. A top-level civilian-military meeting was arranged following the Quetta blast, which resulted in more than 75 causalities. Following the Quetta tragedy, the military also launched its first combing operation in Punjab targeting the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has taken responsibility for the attack.
The army chief’s blunt criticism reflects disappointment within the armed forces over government’s response to their reservations over proper implementation of NAP. This is the second time that the army chief has expressed his discontentment over the state of affairs since NAP was initiated after the Army Public School massacre in December 2014; earlier, it was in November last year at a corps commanders’ conference. The reaction of military leadership to statements of certain politicians after the Quetta attack pertaining to the performance of law enforcement agencies was also conveyed to the civilian authorities.
Although government’s response has been sluggish whereas it should have been more proactive to consolidate the gains made under the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, military should not be dictating the government on what it should do. According to some political analysts, the issue has more to do with the uncertain future of the Protection of Pakistan Act under which special courts had been established. Moreover, the issues such as political leadership’s reluctance to allow special powers to Rangers in both Punjab and Sindh, and reservations pertaining to the preventive detention of suspects are some overriding concerns from the civilian side.
In a normal democratic dispensation, military should not have taken up civilian roles, including the establishment of military courts and the policing powers of Rangers. Certain measures such as the establishment of military courts were taken were taken under special circumstances and for a limited time. It must only be the civilian leadership that is eventually in complete charge of these affairs, with cooperation from military quarters as and when required.
Since the initiation of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, both military and civilian leadership have reiterated that action is being taken against all terrorists without any discrimination. But the US State Department as well as the Afghan government has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for its inaction against the Haqqani network, which even led to US Congress blocking a $300 million grant to Pakistan. Moreover, UN-banned organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa continue to freely operate around the country. And the groups that allegedly carry out attacks in India or Afghanistan also remain untouched beyond cosmetic punitive measures.
It should be realised that the war against terrorism is not merely limited to killing or apprehending a few hundred or thousand people. There is a need for a comprehensive long-term strategy to tackle the issue, as it cannot be rooted out by only bombing camps and hideouts of terrorists. Work needs to be done at the societal level, starting with changing the mindset. And the first step in that direction would be to stop glorification of violence, and classification of terrorism in boxes of “good” and “bad.”
Blaming one another will not be anything but an exercise in redundancy. For the stability of Pakistan, both civil and military entities must work together. And it must be remembered that although certain unusual decisions have been taken with parliamentary assent, it is imperative for Pakistan’s internal stability that all civilian and military institutions work in cohesion, in full validation of the other’s powers and limitations. *