The speech by COAS Gen Raheel Sharif at GHQ on the Martyrs Day ceremony last Wednesday showed the country not only that he could make a good speech, but how closely his institution was bound into the various ties that make up the current constitutional dispensation. He demanded that those engaged in terrorism should submit before the Constitution. This highlighted a problem. At one level, the statement was within the demands made of the militants by the government as a whole. It further revealed the refusal of these elements to accept the Constitution on the premise that it was not Islamic.

He spoke of all the institutions of the state working together against terrorism, and may have inadvertently extended the number of pillars of the state from three to five. There are traditionally three: the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The press is commonly called the Fourth Estate, which has led to its being run together as a pillar of the state. Yes, it may be an Estate, but it is not part of the state machinery and should not be. The elevation of the military from a part of the Executive to a separate pillar of the state may have its roots in the history of the country, but it does not fit into the constitutional scheme, which contemplates three components.

One of the reasons why the military might be seen as a separate pillar of the state is that it, like the other three, is headed by the President, who is designated as commander-in-chief by the Constitution. However, the President has nothing to do with the media, and thus it is not really an Estate.

The original three Estates are the nobility, the clergy and the commons. The concept has its origins in the summoning of the States General, the assembly of these three estates, in the final crisis of the French monarchy, just before the French Revolution. The States General had been last summoned a century and three-quarters before. The press has been added because of its influence, and because it appertains to none of the original three.

The concept of a trichotomy of powers involves the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. It must be noted that all three need the President to play a role, more or less ceremonial, to carry out their functions. He is the head of the Executive, though only in name, and the Prime Minister is the real chief executive. But the government is carried out in the name of the President. He also appoints provincial governors, in whose name the provincial governments are carried out. He swears in the Chief Justice of Pakistan, and appoints all the judges. He signs all legislation, which is passed by Parliament, and he addresses an annual joint session. He is an accounted part of Parliament because of this.

Indeed, the office of the President is patterned on that of the Viceroy under the Raj. The Viceroy, as the title implies, was a deputy for the King, or rather, after 1877, of the King-Emperor. Pakistan came into existence in 1947, and was given independence as a dominion. The King-Emperor became King of Pakistan, represented by a Governor-General appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of the new dominion. That Governor-General inherited powers from the Viceroy, powers which have been transmitted to the President through the Constitutions that came after. The President is thus firmly in place of the British monarch, and ‘reigns but does not rule.’

The institution which General Raheel heads has constantly looked to the President, in the last two Martial Laws preferring to continue with the incumbent, even though he was handpicked by the Prime Minister who was ousted. This was because, just like the British monarch, the Pakistani President has a personal relationship with the armed forces, of which both are commander-in-chief. The commissions given to both armies’ officers are signed by the commander-in-chief, and it is that commission which even a full general will still hold. His promotions are notifications from the Military Secretary, as are his various postings.

One of the most interesting things was how General Raheel used his speech for achieving multiple ends. One of them was to stress the role of the media. It came at a time when a famous anchor had been shot, a military intelligence agency had been accused of the attempt, and the military had expressed its resentment at this accusation. General Raheel stressed the role of a truthful media in helping the nation. It was perhaps the need of the military to have good relations with the media that influenced this statement, and the apparent inclination of the government to support the media. However, the addition of this issue to those already afflicting the civil-military relationship was thus obviated.

The address also came after the police had baton-charged a missing persons demonstration. The missing persons issue is also of great importance for the military, as it provides another opportunity to interfere in the lives of the citizenry. In common with the actual perpetrators, the military would thus like the matter kept quiet. One of the related issues is that of talks with the Taliban, which the government is committed to, but which the military is double-minded about. On the one hand is the defence of the Constitution, something which the military has been demonstrably tepid in its bouts of rule, and on the other has been its own reluctance to fight the citizens of the country.

Perhaps the last word on the speech should be allowed to come from India, deep these days, in the throes of voting. General Raheel’s remarks about Kashmir being the jugular vein of Pakistan has sparked all political forces to come down on him like a ton of bricks. Not only has this provided an opportunity to display the cheap patriotism natural to politicians on the campaign trail, but it has allowed a confirmation (in Indian eyes) of the Pakistani military as the bulwark against peace. This ignores the fact that General Sharif merely quoted the Quaid-e-Azam, and that the remark was not meant as a provocation, but a statement of fact. The Indian reaction shows that India’s hegemonism is as responsible for the chill between the two countries as anything on the Pakistani side. For Pakistan therefore, the only reasonable option, is to keep its powder dry.

 The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.