The central element of a democratic system is the principle of civilian supremacy or the rule over the various institutions of the state by the people through their elected representatives to ensure that they function in accordance with the will of the people. If one looks at the system of government in any mature democracy, one finds that the ultimate authority of the state lies with the elected representatives. This practice has been carried to the extreme in the UK where the Parliament possesses the supreme authority to take decisions relating to the business of the state. In the US, where the system of checks and balances has been enshrined in the constitution, the authority of the Congress, consisting of the elected representatives of the people, in making laws and keeping a check on other organs of the state is nevertheless well established. The position of other mature democracies is similar.
The logic behind the principle of civilian supremacy over the unelected institutions of the state is especially relevant to the military. Armed forces constitute the raw power of the state. The decision to use this power for the defense and security of the state must be in the hands of the elected representatives of the people. This is the only way to ensure that the armed forces are employed in the service of the state’s goals and policies as decided by its elected representatives and are not misused for the fulfillment of the vested or personal interests of the generals commanding them. It goes without saying that the misuse of the armed forces can cause grave harm to the security and economic well-being of the country as Pakistan’s history, punctuated by repeated military takeovers, clearly shows.
Much before the advent of democracy in the West, the principle of civilian supremacy constituted the bedrock of the Islamic form of government in its early days. It was primarily to drive home this principle that Hazrat Umar, soon after taking over the reins of the government, summarily dismissed Khalid bin Al Waleed, the Sword of Allah, from the command of the Muslim armies in Syria. Another factor which played a role in this dismissal was the popular belief among the Muslim soldiers that no Muslim army under Khalid’s command could be defeated, thus, showing greater faith in his command rather than in Allah’s blessings and support. Finally, as pointed out by Major General Akram in his famous book, “The Sword of Allah”, Hazrat Umar explained to his audience in Madina that Khalid was dismissed from his command because he was wasteful and squandered his wealth on poets and warriors. Whatever the real reason, the summary dismissal of Khalid, perhaps the greatest general of his time who had to his credit innumerable victories in Iraq and Syria, firmly established the principle of civilian supremacy over the military in an Islamic state.
It is noteworthy that Khalid bin Al Waleed, despite his unhappiness over his dismissal, accepted without any hesitation the decision of the Caliph representing the civilian authority of the state and continued to serve in the Muslim army under his successor, Hazrat Abu Ubeida. By way of contrast, one can look at the conduct of retired General Pervez Musharraf and the coterie of generals around him upon the receipt of legally valid orders of his dismissal issued by Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister in October, 1999. One can, of course, argue that Nawaz Sharif was not Hazrat Umar. But, then, Pervez Musharraf, the architect of the strategically disastrous Kargil operation, was not Khalid bin al Waleed either. The acceptance of Hazrat Umar’s decision by Khalid saved the Islamic state and the Muslim army from possible divisions and a great disaster. On the other hand, defiance of the state authority by Pervez Musharraf and the group of conspirators around him pushed the country into a prolonged period of political instability and uncertainty with damaging effects on the various organs of the state, the evolution of democracy in the country, and the nation’s security and economic well-being.
Pakistan came into existence through the political struggle and the free exercise of the right to vote of its people under the leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam and the Muslim League. It needs to be highlighted that the institutional role of the bureaucracy, the armed forces and the judiciary, which had been established and used by the colonial power to serve its ends, was minimal in the creation of Pakistan. In recognition of the pivotal role of the people of Pakistan in running the affairs of the state, the constitution in its Preamble declares unequivocally that “the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people.” It is a tragedy of monumental proportions that the country, soon after its creation, fell victim to the shenanigans and intrigues of the anti-democratic forces spearheaded by those organs of the state which had made almost zero contribution to the struggle for Pakistan. Out of the 71 years of its existence as an independent country, Pakistan has been directly ruled by adventurist generals for 33 years. It is also an unfortunate historical reality that every time an adventurist general, in violation of his oath of honour, assumed the reins of power, judges of Pakistan’s superior judiciary, who in accordance with their own oath were duty bound to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”, fell short of their responsibilities and validated the military takeover. Thus, the past record of Pakistan’s superior judiciary on this score is hardly praiseworthy.
Unfortunately, even when elected civilian governments were apparently ruling the country, anti-democratic forces including renegade elements from the establishment did not cease to conspire and indulge in intrigues to destabilise them. The formation of IJI was one glaring example of the shenanigans of these anti-democratic forces. The fundamental issue under contention since the country’s birth has been the question whether it would be ruled and its internal and external policies would be controlled by the duly elected governments or by the anti-democratic forces belonging to the establishment. One would have hoped that after the disastrous rule of Pervez Musharraf, currently a fugitive from law who despite his expressions of personal bravado does not have the courage or sense of honour to face the trial against him on the charge of high treason, the country would be rid of intrigues by anti-democratic forces to destabilise the elected governments and subvert the constitution.
Regrettably, as the events of the past few years show, the anti-democratic forces are still not done with their conspiracies to destabilise and derail the democratic system in the country. The dharna of 2014 launched by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri with the active support of renegade elements belonging to the establishment was the first salvo fired by the anti-democratic forces to derail the democratic order after the elections of 2013. It did not bother them that in the process they were damaging the country’s security and economic well-being as reflected by the postponement of the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan for signing the CPEC agreement. When this conspiracy failed, other attempts were made to weaken the democratic system in the country. Even now when the country is poised for the general elections, efforts to delay them and derail the democratic system are continuing so that “a government of technocrats”, a favourite of the anti-democratic forces, can be established in the country. It is high time that the democratic forces realised the dangers threatening democracy in the country and joined hands to save it.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.