The volatile nature of civil-military relations in Pakistan is such that a single statement from the COAS, General Raheel Sharif, presents itself as a veiled warning for other key institutions. The part of the statement which has caused controversy is that the military “will resolutely preserve its own dignity and institutional pride.” Reportedly, the COAS was only speaking in response to a question during his visit to the Special Services Group, Ghazi Base, Tarbela. The fact that the Army Chief said these words while addressing the SSG – the same group Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf belonged to – may hold some symbolic value. That the rank and file feels apprehensive about the preservation of its institutional dignity, as suggested by the question to which their chief replied, is also cause for concern. There are some who believe that this question was planted in order to pave the way for the COAS to issue the statement. True or not, it is largely irrelevant. If the military leadership feels inclined towards manufacturing the impression of a discontent institution, and hopes to rely on it to influence decisions, that alone should provide sufficient reason for caution.

The rising tension, as many observe, is not without reason. After two successive elected governments which completed their terms, Pakistan is still very much in a transitional state. As the judiciary and the Parliament attempt to exercise powers and acquire space as guaranteed by the country’s constitution, the traditionally powerful military finds itself on the back foot. It concedes where possible, and resists when it deems necessary. The ongoing Musharraf treason trial has not helped. No matter how much Sharif stresses the opposite, there are many who still believe that the armed forces are on trial here. Nowhere is this view held more strongly than amongst the armed forces. Recent statements by PML-N ministers, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Muhammad Asif, have also negatively contributed towards an already tense environment. Throughout the course of the trial, most discussions have been based on assumption. The biggest one is that the military’s silence on the matter is a sign of consensus. It could easily be the opposite. Allegedly, the government and military also hold different views on the right strategy to deal with terrorism. Whereas the government is insistent on pursuing dialogue with the TTP, the military favours action. The people have only witnessed a glimpse of the state of affairs in the power circles, but the coming months will reveal the whole picture. It is hoped that all three major institutions can avoid conflict, and adhere to democratic principles that enable the smooth-functioning of states around the world.