The military institution and democratic processes
This sub-section provides empirical evidence for the processes of change and initial transformation in military’s strategic and doctrinal preferences from b to t2. Further results which corroborate the earlier findings presented in this book are the respondents’ perceptions of the military’s acquiescence and to a certain extend quasi support of democratisation processes in several ways: (a) formal acknowledgement of the civilian government, with which the military is engaged in a power-sharing relation, although the balance of power is inclined towards the men in uniform; (b) the military provides a stable environment in which democratic processes can develop, by eliminating security risks (in particular military respondents display this view); and (c) allowing greater freedom of expression, which was unprompt- edly mentioned by most respondents.
First, through the acquiescence of multi-party elections, the military is perceived to show support for civilian institutions and structures in the government despite the lack of a complete transfer of power from the military to civilians. Civil-military relations post-Musharraf can be conceptualised as an asymmetric power-sharing mechanism, in which the civilian institutions have formal political power and the military maintains an informal veto on the issues notably related to security, defence and foreign policy. “There were three successful military coups in Pakistan, but this is the first time when the military is supporting the democratic process”, claimed one respondent (Interview Participant #17, Senior NGO Representative) in relation to several occasions on which the military refrained from staging a coup. “There was one incident in which it was very likely that military would intervene, but major political parties stood together against this scenario” (Interview Participant #17, Senior NGO Representative), said the respondent, outlining the increasing stability of civilian structures. Becoming aware of the shortcomings of its strategy, the military has started to acknowledge its undemocratic history, and began to engage with it, claimed one senior military representative. The military would limit to taking partial, localised control only in the case of a major security crisis, e.g. after a terrorist attack. Assuming control is usually linked to security operations in a region, as for example in former FATA, where the military has most of the agencies under its control. Civil-military consultations got more frequent after 2008. The National Security Council was re-instituted in 2013 and serves since then as a platform for consultations and discussion between the government and the military on matters related to security, counterterrorism, defence and foreign policy. This consultation mechanism was perceived by several respondents as indicating a tangible evolution from a monolithic military entity with authoritarian tendencies to an actor operating within a more democratic structure.
Some respondents predicated that the military closely ‘monitors’ civilian institutions and puts pressure on them to tackle corruption, improve governance and deliver tangible results. This could lead us to infer that the military almost plays a role similar to a powerful opposition. The caveat here is that simultaneously the military continues to seek to maintain the maximum possible degree of influence in politics and foreign relations. How this suigeneris power relationship looks like in reality is explained by one respondent: in the current ‘power-sharing’ model of governance, the military “wants to have the key decision-making” i.e. on security and defence matters and foreign policy, but “they try to have it via the democratic regime” (Interview Participant #17, Senior NGO Representative). Many respondents are of the opinion that the democratic nature of the current ‘power-sharing’/ consultation model of civil-military relations and the military’s apparent democratic attitudes might be only a fayade. The current military strategy is “fear of coup instead of coup itself”, considers one participant in the study (Interview Participant #18, Senior NGO Representative). The removal of two high-level government officials at the request of the army over the leak in the media of the information that the civilian government criticised the military’s support for terrorists during a closed meeting shows that the military can still have the upper hand in governance, if they want. At the same time, the military faces a lot of criticism because of their previous support for terrorism - which happened in conjunction with US interests in the region - and the ramifications of that support for the current security context in Pakistan. The armed forces launched many military operations, for example in North Waziristan, to uproot terrorist strongholds that resulted in many casualties of military personnel. While many of the military operations were lauded by many respondents, the question of power transfer to civilians in those areas also arose. Some respondents regarded the period from 2014 to 2017 as a soft coup, “because was not complete takeover, but there were military courts and death penalty” (Focus Group Discussion with Participants #9a and #9b, Senior NGO Representatives).
Numerous developments revealed that significant civil-military imbalances persisted after 2017. For example, the review petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government challenging a Supreme Court decision ruling the extension of the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS) term on six months (Kaura 2020) raised questions about the liber-arbiter faculty of the civilian government. This invites us to ask whether the PTI government - which is widely perceived as the military’s preferred party and as having enjoyed its covert support in the 2018 elections - allows the military to ‘escape’ civilian control. Censorship of the media continued and took new shapes, even after the election of Imran Khan. “I was told that any suggestion that the 2018 elections were rigged or that the army was part of the running of the government by Imran Khan was unacceptable”, explained one journalist (Ellis-Petersen and Baloch 2019; Mahbubani 2020). Censorship reportedly took new forms such as targeting advertising revenues of the media outlets that were ‘crossing certain redlines’. The 2020 Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules is yet another example of “an attempt to further restrict space of free discourse in Pakistan” (Committee to Protect Journalists 2020). The post-2017 developments indicate that the military is there to stay while continuously adapting the means and tactics.
Military continuity was also reflected during an expert discussion which 1 conducted during the field research: “The military has figured out that they no longer need to be in power, in the government, they need to be in the control of governance” (Focus Group Discussion with Participants #9a and #9b, Senior NGO Representatives). This resembles to a great extent what Hamza Alavi (1990: 53) described as “a military philosophy of power and responsibility” and he very suggestively portrayed the military thinking in Pakistan: “As long as we [the military] have the power, let them [the civilians] carry the responsibility”. This doctrine seems to have been pursued already since the conception of Pakistan, when the Pakistani military had a high stake and motivation to overtake power, while being in the same time preoccupied with finding new and innovative ways to strengthen their legitimacy. While inviting the civilians to govern has proofed to be a way to solve the “crisis of power” (ibid.), for example after the 1971 War with India in which Pakistan lost its eastern part (which became Bangladesh), similar strategies - acquiescence, co-existence and co-evolution with civilian governments - were adopted after the military rule of Pervez Musharraf to solve the crisis of legitimacy. Another transfer of power from a civilian to another civilian government in 2018 was anticipated by most participants in the sample to strengthen civilian political institutions and the government and thus increase the ability of civilians to exert oversight and hold the military accountable. While there are different views towards the military, from those who think the military is building democracy, to those who think they have just found a better way to be in control, the evidence of this book suggests that there is both change and continuity of the military institutions, and the military attempts to normalise its existence and infrastructure while embracing a pragmatic strategy.
Second, the military was perceived to play a role in democratisation by providing internal and external security and guaranteeing the sovereignty of Pakistan, which is a central premise of democratisation as well as of human security. The military conducts numerous nationwide projects in the development sector, such as education, healthcare and assistance for disadvantaged groups (e.g. those with disabilities) (Interviews Participant #44, Senior Military Representative), which can arguably contribute to democratisation processes. Benefitting from a well-established infrastructure and a solid stock market share (Siddiqa 2007), the military has the capacity to complement government efforts in areas in which the government is lacking resources or capacity. At this point, it needs to be specified that while corruption and poor administration amplified in the last years, one reason for which there is so little government capacity on education and health is because the military monopolises a lot of government resources and significant commercial resources, inter alia via Army Welfare Trust, Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation and Frontier Works Organisation (Siddiqa 2007).
Collaboration with civilians is yet another indicator of a more open military. Results of the survey analysis revealed that the armed forces’ top-three thematic priority areas of collaboration are: development, good governance and empowerment of minority (or otherwise disadvantaged) groups, suggesting again that the military might foster democratisation processes by enabling determinants of democracy such as development and government capacity. “In the last five years, the military has kept a good balance between security and power”, claimed one respondent (Interview Participant #12, Senior NGO Representative) and has increasingly acted as a political opposition vis-a-vis the government (Interview Participant #14, Senior NGO Representative). Despite relatively low levels of rule of law and governance effectiveness, frictions between military and non-military actors “emerge when major constitutional provisions start to be ignored or undermined” (Interview Participant #5, Senior NGO Representative), putting pressure on the military to conform to a certain position. While civilian oversight has not been fully established and it will take many years, probably decades, until this will be the case, the balance of power - in terms of decision-making - seems to incrementally shift towards the civilian authority. This is despite the existence of situations demonstrating that the military can be de facto more powerful than the civilian government. The data provided by this book suggest that civilian political institutions became more active. For example, recently, the Senate has become very active and “works on multiple fronts”, claimed one respondent (Interview Participant #5, Senior NGO Representative). Inter alia, the Senate played a significant role in the adoption of several pieces of legislation criminalising violence against women (The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices, Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 and Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Bill) and proved legal vigilance in the case of an expired bill (Protection of Pakistan Act) (Khan 2012; Mukhtar 2016). In terms of parliamentary oversight, in a rare example of civilian oversight and military accountability, the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lieutenant General Pasha was heard in front of the Parliament in 2011 in relation to the CIA operation in Abbottabad.
Third, the military was found to enable the development of a democratic environment by ‘allowing’ greater freedom of expression. At the time when the interviews were conducted, most respondents considered that there was a substantial improvement post-2008. As one respondent related: “Media is vibrant now, NGOs can highlight issues through media (...), there was a time when you could not directly blame somebody” (Interview Participant #4, Senior NGO Representative). The military “has considered space for democracy in Pakistan” (Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative). For example, “the army allows greater freedom of expression, there are op-eds, news articles, in Dawn, even critical expressions”, affirmed one participant (Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative). Space for civil society enlarged and NGO-military interaction seems to have become easier after 2008, even though developments have been non-linear and imbalances continued. “[C]ivil society in this form did not exist before 2008, it was bad (...). Now, people have improved” (Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative). “[N]ow is becoming more meaningful. I am not saying that civil society is complete, but they are now contributing factors adding to the security doctrine of Pakistan” (Interview Participant #35, Senior NGO Representative). According to statistical data, Pakistan’s level of freedom, measured based on civil liberties and political rights, improved from 5.5 in 2008 (the last year of the Musharraf regime) to 4.5 in 2015 (1 is most free and 7 is least free) (Freedom House 2015). Similarly, the media freedom improved from 65.67 (rank 159 of 175) in 2009 to 45.52 (rank 145 of 180) in 2020 (Reporters without Borders 2020). Here, a disclaimer needs to be made that despite these tangible improvements, Pakistan remains overall at low levels of media freedom or freedom of expression in global comparison. Two topics are found to be under greater restrictions when it comes to freedom of expression: Balochistan and the military’s position vis-a-vis terrorism-related groups. “If you talk about the right of self-determination in Balochistan, people [will] go missing next day and their bodies [are] found third day” (Interview Participant #17, Senior NGO Representative). This was highlighted by the kidnapping and taking into custody of several establishment-critical bloggers, for a short period of time in 2017. On the other side, their liberation after actions of protest by the public against these measures emphasised the growing potential and leverage of the civil society and a possible change in both political and military culture and balance of power in civil-military relations. One significant impediment associated with the shrinking space for NGOs is related to the existence of boundaries or ‘redlines’ for their operations.
They very clearly say that this is the redline, you cannot talk about Pakistani army’s role in promoting terrorism. You cannot talk about Balochistan, this is the redline. If you do, we will cancel the NOC. I had to cancel events. A conference in Islamabad on Balochistan inviting people from different schools of thought. I had to cancel it, because they asked me to.
(Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative)
While pushing beyond a certain limit is anticipated to have negative repercussions on that specific organisation (Interview Participant #30, Senior
NGO Representative), the parameters of that limit as well as the type of repercussions can vary substantially, from the warnings issued by the intelligence agency until closure. The ‘limit’ or ‘redline’ is not formally designed; instead, it is found to be an estimation of the impact that NGO operations are believed to have on the military’s national security strategy:
As long as they [NGOs] are not perceived as challenging the state narrative when it comes to the security paradigm, and foreign policy and domestic security policy objectives, is fine. As long as they think you challenge those narratives (...) they start to intimidate, hit back.
(Interview Participant #38, Senior NGO Representative)
The military showed propensity towards allowing greater freedom of expression to non- and moderately critical media reports; however, it simultaneously continues to implement intimidation procedures to deter debates that might jeopardise its position or popular support. According to recent evidence (Naurath and Ray 2011; The Express Tribune 2015), the Pakistan military has been the most trusted institution in Pakistan, mainly due to its clear record on corruption and demonstrated ability to efficiently deliver tangible outcomes, and this is a position which the military might envisage to maintain.
The military not only allowed greater freedom of expression, but public relations and media engagement became a major attribute for the military institutions itself during t2 (Baciu 2019). The military’s own media and public relations wing, the ISPR, was intensively used as a channel of disseminating information related to ongoing military operations and strategic issues. Daily press releases, documenting the activities of the military, of the army (land forces), air force or the navy, have been made available from 2008 onwards. ISPR was perceived as an important tool of the military, as it can offer an element of transparency for the military’s position and preferences. One respondent mentioned:
[W]e have ISPR, it is very much active, is in touch with media, with the others, it collects the information and disseminates it. If you see that every day, ISPR is giving these press releases, this reflects that they are relying on civil society and are becoming increasingly transparent.
(Interview Participant #37, Senior Academia Representative)
The ISPR constitutes a contact point for non-military institutions and organisations, including NGOs, and one of the few formal possibilities to initiate joint projects with the military. In addition, a more intensive ISPR engagement with civilian media outlets and broadcasters was found. On many occasions, representatives of NGOs and the think tank community, journalists and other experts are invited to ISPR briefings, meetings or seminars on topics related to security and counterterrorism (Interview Participant #40, Senior Media Representative). On the other side, ISPR is seen by many as an instrument of military propaganda, through which the military attempts to indoctrinate the society with a certain mindset. Recent film productions, in which an NGO female staff apparently was represented as an Indian agent (Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative), have added to this belief. Overall, ISPR offers insights into the military institutions, its preference, strategy and doctrine, which constitutes a big shift. In addition to ISPR, public engagement of the military in civilian media outlets has intensified in recent years. Particularly retired personnel are invited to talk-shows to explain security developments or military decisions. Some high-ranking retired staff are regularly contributing columns and op-eds, predominantly to English-speaking newspapers, in Pakistan.
In conclusion, the processes of institutional change and transformation of the military organisation could be argued to have been influenced by three major variables (among others): domestic military leadership, interaction with civilian actors and the influence of the international actors. First, changes in the military strategy and doctrine as well as in civil-military relations were found to be influenced by the military leadership, i.e. the COAS, in power. Many participants in the study claimed that civilian military relations in general started changing during General Kayani, who had a good understanding “of the political” and said “look, keep us out” (Focus Group Discussion with Senior NGO Representatives; Participants #9a and #9b). In particular informal civil society-military interaction was more intensive during the leadership of General Kayani (2007-2013): “General Kayani held regular informal consultations with leaders of civil society and intellectuals, I was invited” (Focus Group Discussion with Participants #9a and #9b, Senior NGO Representatives). It was perceived that General Kayani was a “skilled diplomat who certainly pulled the army back from overt intervention, and General Sharif did not seek an extension of his time in post” (Personal Communication 2020). However, the same is not true of the present incumbent COAS, General Bajwa, “who has recently been given an extension of three years by a pliant civilian government” (Personal Communication 2020), demonstrating that the trajectory of military change is rather non-linear. Second, interaction with civilian organisations, including NGOs, but also with citizens - particularly in the areas under military control or with a strong military presence - could have contributed to changes in the military strategy and doctrine through the processes of norms diffusion and institutional isomorphism. Third, international-level variables, such as compliance with international law regimes (e.g. UN resolutions, EU GSP+ arrangements), and interaction with foreign actors during training with militaries abroad or with international staff working in Pakistan were also found to constitute the sources of change in the military doctrine, though to a less substantive extent. This is demonstrated by the failure of GSP+ arrangements between the EU and Pakistan to generate a genuine self-sustaining structure of rule of law and security. Under GSP+ arrangements, Pakistan was advised to ratify and ‘effectively implement’ 27
international instruments promoting good governance, human and labour rights and environmental protection. Seven conventions were on human rights and compliance with them required the establishment of a Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR), which was consequently founded in 2008. However, from the perspective of several interview participants, the new ministry is weak and lacks efficiency, as the evidence presented in Chapter 7 shows.
Despite the military’s tangible shift from a closed institution, focused on hard power during the Musharraf regime towards a more open and democratic institution in the transition period thereafter, the military continues to have the upper hand in politics. The Pakistan military maintains informal vetoes over strategic policy areas. Many participants in the study considered that the military interference in politics is a ‘compulsive intervention’ to stimulate good governance. This phenomenon and the underpinning dynamics are discussed in the next sub-section.