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Khaki Games

By Saad Hafiz:

It is evident from recent events that the Pakistan military has never accepted the concept of civilian control. Historically, the generals have maintained a consistent attitude that civilian leaders are, at best, temporary office holders to be outmanueuvred or outlasted. Civilian governments have been focused on the possibility of coups and the challenges of keeping the military in the barracks.

The country’s founders, preoccupied with nation survival, could not foresee the threat to civilian control of the military. Large military forces were not viewed as a danger to liberty; surprising, as that was a legacy of the British colonial period and the army’s occupation. Military forces were not seen as a risk to a nascent democracy. This allowed the establishment of an aristocratic and autocratic military class, which prevailed over the concept of a civilian-soldiery. The political leadership also did not foresee that large military forces would threaten economic prosperity.  There was little realization that maintaining large standing armies represented an enormous burden on the fledgling economy of a new nation. Finally, the civilian leadership did not comprehend that large military forces endangered peace and arms races led to war.  Thus, the lack of civilian control of the military that arose from a set of historical circumstances became embedded over time in Pakistan’s political thought through tradition, custom, and belief.

The US experience can provide valuable lessons to countries struggling with the challenges of an emerging democracy. After the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln decided to appoint the politically ambitious General ‘Fighting’ Joe Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac — the leading army of the Union. Desperate for victory, Lincoln wrote Hooker one of the most amazing letters in American civilian-military relations.

Lincoln said in part, “I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals, who gain successes, can set up dictatorships. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.” Hooker led the Army of the Potomac to defeat in the Battle of Chancellorsville, and he ‘resigned’ the position just before the Battle of Gettysburg. In contrast, Pakistani generals have never ‘resigned’ or shied away from setting up dictatorships despite repeated military failures from Khem Karan to Kargil. In fact, military defeats have not diminished the power and authority of the professional military versus civilian authority.

Other than preventing military coups, another key principle requires that the military serve in an administrative, not a policy-making role. Generals should not be involved in the political decision-making process. Their role must be limited to proffering advice regarding the use of the military in achieving policy-makers’ goals, and as to the probable success of the military outcome. It should be left to the political leaders to decide if the military option should be pursued. The civil/military balance can be disturbed by the ability of the military to succeed in imposing its preferred policy outcomes against the wishes of civilian leaders to the contrary.

This was the heart of General MacArthur’s challenge to President Harry Truman’s leadership, widely considered the most serious civilian-military conflict in the US, at least since the Civil War. MacArthur posed no threat of a military takeover of the formal mechanisms of the US government. Rather, MacArthur publicly questioned the civilian decision, after Communist China’s intervention in the winter of 1950, to pursue a limited strategy in the Korean War instead of outright victory.

MacArthur claimed that he was not required to take orders from the president as commander-in-chief, and that he owed a greater obligation to a higher constitutional authority. After he had been relieved from his command by President Truman, General MacArthur returned to the United States to cheering crowds and addressed a joint session of Congress. In a speech to the Massachusetts legislature, MacArthur said, “I find in existence a new and heretofore unknown and dangerous concept that the members of our Armed Forces owe primary allegiance or loyalty to those who temporarily exercise the authority of the Executive Branch of Government rather than to the country and its Constitution which they are sworn to defend.”

MacArthur’ firing established a precedent that generals and admirals could be fired for any public or private disagreement with government policy. Few Pakistani political leaders like Mr Bhutto, Mr Junejo and Mr Sharif have had the gumption to replace the military leadership over policy disagreements but their respective fates are well known.

In a December 3, 1973 article in Time magazine, the plainspoken and blunt Mr Truman was quoted as saying in the early 1960s:

“I fired him (MacArthur) because he would not respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a b****, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.” Ex-generals Beg and Durrani may soon end up belonging in this category!

The primary obstacle to civilian control of the military is often a culture that has glorified the military. Changing that culture is a difficult, but necessary task if the military is to be brought under civilian control. This will take time and education. Old military leaders who distrust civilian leaders must be replaced by new ones willing to work with, and for the civilian leadership. Obviously, if the civilian leadership is popularly elected, its legitimacy in the eyes of the people helps it control the military. This task is a difficult one but no more difficult than the task of building a sound, democratic government. It must be made clear that a military that sees itself as but one element of a democratic society will be stronger, not weaker, as a result, as its actions are more likely to reflect the sovereign will of the people it serves.

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