Lessons in Civil Military relations by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

The struggle to find a balance between civil and military relations is as old as the human society itself. In classical era Caesar laid claim to be the head of Roman republic because he established himself as a capable General who earned the loyalty of the soldiers. When he was assassinated his adopted son could only succeed him after earning loyalty of the soldiers that adored Caesar as a commander. In pre-modern times after the death of the Monarch a struggle for succession would be won by the son or a General that was able to gain the respect, loyalty and command of the army. During the time of Khalifa Omer ibn Al-Khattab (RATA), Khalid bin Waleed was removed from the command of the military at the height of his popularity among his troops. Historians argue that this act was motivated to prevent emergence of a perception that military successes were attributed to the ability of the commander and prevent his growing popularity to become a challenge the civil authority. To his credit Khalid bin Waleed complied without breaking any sweat and fought later wars as a soldier and adviser to the commander.

In modern times, when popular democracy was introduced, authority was vested in institutions. Individuals assumed positions of authority in these democratic institutions based on people’s mandate rather than inherited it from a divinely mandated Monarch. But one thing continued from old to new that the command of the armed forces were in the hands of the office that represented the sovereign. In old times it was the king and in modern times it was head of the State. President, in both parliamentary and presidential systems, is the head of the state and is the supreme commander of the armed forces. Prime Ministers in most cases have to seek approval of the congress to declare wars rather than act on the private advice of military commanders alone.

Democracy is a relatively young institute with a history of a little more than 250 years as compared to over 5000 years of monarchy.  During these 250 years it has not been a smooth sailing for civilians to establish their control of the armed forces. In Germany(formerly Prussia), that pioneered the creation of modern professional military, officers of the General staff exerted its influence in the political sphere for much of its history until World War II with only brief periods when Generals focused exclusively on soldiering. In post revolution republican France, which followed Germany closely in adopting professional armed forces, the ascension of General Napoleon to the throne brought military influence in the sphere of politics. The influence of armed forces remained prevalent until the retirement of General Charles De Gaulle, commander of the French resistance army, as elected President. Since than civilian authority has largely contained military interference in political matters. Britain was the last European power to adopt a professional army but since it was a constitutional monarchy the military has remained under civilian control for much of its history.

In Asia, Japan saw rise of a professional army based on the honor code of a Samurai which enjoyed considerable political influence until World War II. Civilians were not allowed to interfere in military affairs which were controlled by the Monarch himself. Generals controlled foreign and defense policy exclusively ignoring the advice of civilian ministers. Japanese forces invaded Manchuria, in Northern China, during the Second World War despite clear instructions by the Foreign Ministry to remain on the Korean Peninsula and not enter China. Generals conveniently ignored these instructions and invaded Manchuria without even bothering to inform. They were initially able to control it for a brief time but were comprehensively defeated by the united Chinese army of nationalist Marshal Chiang Kai-shek and communist commander Mao Zedong. After the expulsion of Japan, Mao prevailed over Chiang to form the government. In China, even today, all military units have a political officer that ensures that military officers conform to the political values of the Chinese Communist ideology.

In United States of America two parallel phenomena has maintained the balance of power between civil and military. First is that until recently it was a national army where every able bodied citizen had to serve as a reserve for few years before moving on to a permanent civil career. This meant that almost all Congressmen and Presidents were at sometime part of the military. President Bill Clinton was the first President that had no military experience and his opponents tried to play it against him in the elections. The second phenomenon was that until Second World War, USA was an isolationist country without any grand international design. It was after WWII that America established foreign military bases and engaged in foreign war. Consequently the influence of military establishment gained prominence along with the budget allocated to it. Two recent events clearly highlight the balance of power between civilian authority and professional military officers in USA. During the first Iraq war the political objective given to the army was to liberate Kuwait from the forced annexation by Iraq. In operation desert storm, within days, the Iraqi army was annihilated and the field was wide open for American forces to over run Baghdad and overthrow Saddam. American politicians were tempted to extend the war, especially neocons, but General Collin Powell, then Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, prevailed with the view that the forces should stick to the original objective of liberating Kuwait. It showed that military did not allow politicians to over-extend the military objective and President Bush respected their views. The second event happened during the on-going Afghan war when celebrated General Stanley McChrystal, who was widely respected for his professionalism, allowed lose talk in his presence ridiculing the President and his grasp of military matters. Within days General McChrystal was removed from his command firmly establishing the principle that civilian authority has the final word.

In my personal view, in Pakistan the seeds of military interference in politics were sowed when political leadership took nine years to formulate a constitution in 1956. During these critical years after independence there were many dangers circling the nation and internal harmony was integral for the survival of the state. As politicians faltered to assure internal stability through a social contract the armed forces felt that since security was their responsibility they had to act. On the other hand, India saw emergence of a strong political leader in the form of first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. He ruled the country for over 17 years to establish a stable political order. This left no space for military Generals to be expedient in domestic affairs for any reason.

The point I am trying to make is that finding balance in civil military relations is an age old struggle across the world and is not unique to Pakistan. We have to learn from other nations to achieve this institutional balance. Now it seems Pakistan is on path of attaining respectful balance of power between civil and military establishment. The credit for this important development goes not only to politicians that controlled their impulses but also military Generals led by former chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. For this historic achievement General Kayani should be considered for Hilal-i-Quaid-Azam. We have still much work to do to assure that civil and military work within there spheres.

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