Pakistan: Status of Civilian Control after Musharraf

27 Jan, 2016    ·   4973

Mirjan Schulz takes stock of the power-balance between the civilian and military leaderships in Pakistan

Mirjan Schulz
Mirjan Schulz
Research Intern
In 2008, the then President of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharraf, allowed relatively free general elections in the country. Islamabad's first peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another took place in 2013. This commentary analyses the state-of-affairs of civilian control over the military in Pakistan, based loosely on the theory of civil-military relations by Croissant et al. (Theorizing civilian control of the military in emerging democracies; ZfVP 2011 No.5).

Military in Civilian Institutions
Contesting elections, participating in parliamentary proceedings, and/or manipulating polls, by the military, would mean the military guards itself.

In 2010, the 18th Amendment to Pakistan's constitution was implemented, which disallowed military personnel from contesting parliamentary elections. Resultantly, active members of Pakistan's armed forces are not entitled to assume ministerial or other high offices such as that of the President.

Nevertheless, clientelism between the military and civilian actors is still a continuing issue, and the  former remains an important player behind the scenes. Until 2008, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) often manipulated the elections in favour of the military. To prevent this situation in the future, the parliament strengthened the mandate of the election commission. Consequently, manipulation did decrease during the 2013 general election; but did not cease.

Influence in Policy Areas
Although external defence is the primary duty area of any military, surveillance and control over the operations must lie with the civilian government; and likewise for internal security operations. Furthermore, the military has to be separated from other security-related actors. The military can, however, advise the civilian government in terms of agenda setting, policy formulation and adoption, in other policy areas relevant to the former. However, the civilian government should have the final say on decisions, including those on military budgets.

In Pakistan, cleavages between the military and the civilian leadership in matters of external defence are fewer, because they often share the same opinion. For instance, since incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office, the Pakistan Army has relatively practised restraint vis-à-vis impeding efforts towards Indo-Pak rapprochement.

Regardless, many experts assess a continuing strong influence of the armed forces in these matters. Pakistan's National Security Council (NSC) is responsible for issues of national security, and is currently led by the prime minister as well as cabinet ministers. Formed in 1969, the NSC has fluctuated between being active and inactive. The Council was abandoned after Musharraf's tenure too, in 2009, but was revived by Sharif, in 2013. Between 2013-2016, the Council seldom met – and many decisions on external defence were taken between the prime minister and military officers itself.

As regards internal security, although the responsibility of planning operations officially lies with the civilian leadership, the military's influence remains high because civilian authorities are heavily dependent on the latter to execute those plans. This is an outcome of the poor capabilities of the police forces, and the numerous domestic conflicts.

Furthermore, structures of the military and those of other security-related actors, overlap. For instance, military officers comprise half the members of the ISI.

In other policy areas, that the armed forces did not intervene when the parliament amended the constitution in 2010, was a positive signal. However, due to corruption and inefficiency in the civilian institutions, military institutions often deliver better than the former.

According to Christine Fair, previously, "the military had submitted a number, stating the overall funds request which would be approved without scrutiny." However, since 2008, the military budget has been discussed in the parliament. Nevertheless, the military is not entirely dependent on annual domestic budget allocations alone. The Pakistan Army reportedly owns shareholdings and land ownerships estimated at approximately $21 billion, enabling it to establish an initial framework of a parallel state.

Functional Aspects of Military Structures 
Although a military can independently decide on matters of recruitment, training, and operational doctrines, it still must follow guidelines set by the civilian leadership.

Yet, military courts have been set up in Pakistan, the provision for which the military has often abused in order to protect its members from civilian courts.

Furthermore, in the past, members of the Pakistan Army have often been awarded unprecedented extensions to their tenures – highlighting the powerlessness of the civilian government. Since 2008, Pakistan's Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) has been chaired by the prime minister. There exists a 50-50 representation of military personnel and civilian authorities in the NCA membership. During peace time, the prime minister's decision is final in an event of a stalemate on use and movement of nuclear weapons. However, during war time, the military can override him/her.

Overall, the 2008-2016 period witnessed some progress towards limiting the military's formal involvement in civilian institutions, and towards a comparatively empowered election commission. Yet, Pakistan continues to be beleaguered by a severe lack of civilian control; and the civil-military power imbalance, especially in the ISI and the NCA, remains one of the most problematic issues.

These, coupled with the military's unwillingness to relinquish the control and influence it wields on matters of national importance, indicate that chances of a change in status quo are low in the near future.