The ongoing discussion on civil-military relations in the media is way off the mark. For starters, it is stuck in the grimy grooves of a broken LP from previous decades and refuses to register today’s ground realities. Rather than paving the way towards effective democratic governance, the bulk of this discussion is aimed at demonizing the armed forces of Pakistan and undermining their successful initiative to reclaim Pakistan from an assortment of terrorists. What do we hope to achieve by trashing our military in the middle of a crucial war? Would we be better off if the civilian leadership had unfettered control over our destiny?

Officially, the government and the military leadership say they are on one page, as they should always be, but the free-floating champions of democracy are unwilling to accept that on its face value. Fair enough. The government was obviously more interested in being elsewhere and had to be dragged to the same page as the security establishment. The prime minister and his cabinet still seem less than enthusiastic about implementing the National Action Plan and, given half the chance, they would not think twice before dispatching our troops to die for GCC kings. But one thing is clear. The political government, in its wisdom, has decided to work with the security establishment at this point rather than confronting it. Is it allowed to do that?

The champions of democracy do not seem ready to give a democratic government that option. Within the fantastic bubble of democratic theory, the parliament is supreme and the military is there only to obey orders. They’d like the government to live up to their democratic expectations and seem least concerned about what a confrontation between the political government and the security establishment at this stage would mean for Pakistan. Besides, they don’t want to talk about the true worth of our democracy and what the supremacy of our oh-so-democratic parliament would translate into.

Democracy, after all, is not just theory. It is given form through constitutional structures. There are hundreds of legislators, scores of ministers and the prime minister on the top who provide substance to what it means in practice. They are the ones who translate democracy for us every day. Given this very real context, can we go on talking about democracy in the air, as if it were the sum of some high-sounding abstract principles that do not have to correspond to the reality on the ground? In our discussion on civil-military relations, will it not be more productive to apply the same critical standards of political correctness to both sides?

The champions of democracy would have none of that. They’d like to pamper the brat of democracy even if he blows the whole house down. They would like to target the security establishment for all the woes of democracy instead of identifying the chinks in its armor so that they could be repaired. Wouldn’t a performing democracy that has credibility among the citizens be in a better position to defend its constitutional turf? To begin with, a functioning representative system would not produce dangerous vacuums of governance that other institutions of the state must step in to fill.

The champions of democracy would like to give it time and have a blind faith in its ability to reform itself, though all evidence points to the contrary. Democracy is seriously handicapped within a capitalist system as it favors those with means and militates against the inclusion of the less-privileged in elected bodies, reducing the government to a peddler of private moneyed interests. Even developed western democracies have failed to stop that from happening. In our case, the problems go much deeper. A whole book could be written about why our democratic dispensation is non-representative and lacks the capacity of articulating the national interest.

The point is not to suggest that the system should be wrapped up and martial law imposed. To my mind, the best way to restore the authority of the elected government lies in improving the representative credentials of our democratic institutions and increasing pressure on them to perform in larger public interest, the whole purpose of democracy. Enumerating the sins of military dictators and regurgitating the record of past crimes to paint the Pak armed forces black will not help anything. The decades-old grimy grooves have lost their relevance.

It is unfair to burden the Pak armed forces under General Raheel Sharif with everything that’s been wrong with the institution of the military all these years. Do we treat other institutions the same way? Despite the crimes of our previous democratic governments, don’t we give every incoming government a clean slate? Even when it is the same leaders, don’t we absolve them of their past sins and the crimes of their governments, hoping that they would turn a new leaf? Despite the subservient legacy of our judiciary, did we not trust Chaudhry Iftikhar to start a new chapter?

The knee-jerk military-bashers and lovers of democratic theory making a fuss about the expanding role of the security establishment amidst a governance breakdown, don’t wish to see the new orientation of the Pak armed forces under General Raheel Sharif and how it serves the national interest better than the Nawaz and Zardari government put together. Given the failure of democracy, is it really such a bad thing that the security establishment is calling the shots when it comes to crucial affairs of the state?

Where would we be if General Sharif had taken the democratic theory too seriously? We would be dialoguing with the TTP barbarians even as they killed Pakistani citizens and security forces. We would be fighting the war against the people of Yemen. Our relations with Iran would have taken a nosedive. There would be no strategic cooperation partnership with China. We would have accepted Indian hegemony as per the imperial script. And amidst the US engineered chaos and violence all across our country, we would have still heard the two-faced world policemen bark orders at us to do more.