Is Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif a boss of army chief General Raheel Sharif as it happens in other democracies? Is Army Chief answerable to the Defence Minister Khawaja Asif? Is Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) General Rashad Mehmood a boss of three service chiefs including the army chief? Are the three service chiefs including the army chief answerable to the Chairman JCSC? Is the Chairman JCSC being a joint head of three services answerable to the defence minister? Is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) being an “inter-services” outfit answerable to chairman JCSC? Is the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), another “inter-services” organization, answerable to the chairman JCSC? Can the Defence Minister Khawaja Asif call for and preside a meeting of JCSC, enter any services headquarters (especially GHQ) and demand a briefing and by-the-way, will he get a guard of honour? Is the defence minister answerable to the prime minister about defence of Pakistan (if not then what is he answerable for)? Is the Pak army chief actually answerable to the prime minister for national defence? Are the Navy and Airforce chiefs separately answerable to the prime minister for defence of air space and territorial waters? Is the secretary defence answerable to the defence minister (or the army chief)? Are the army chief and other services chiefs reporting to the secretary defence?
Of course “you must be joking” to put such direct questions to Pakistani civil or military elite unless you are asking for trouble. Because a politician or a military man sincerely answering these questions will surely get in trouble even as the answer to all of above questions is one big screaming “No!” And this explains why Pakistani media too has stopped asking such questions or talking about it now. They know the answer and that is why it is safer to move on. For the ruling politicians and military elite, those asking these questions need parental guidance, like when a child innocently asks parents as to why he can’t sleep with them every night. And when the children grow up they stop asking such questions like a “senior journalist.”
The most important thing we have learnt from our chequered past as a nation is that we have not learnt anything. The civil and military leadership took turns to rule this hapless nation with the slogans of democracy (civilian control) and anti-corruption (trial of corrupt ousted politicians). None of them kept the promise. Every time the corrupt crept back to power and the dictators kept prompting from behind the scenes. Starting from the so-called first ‘elected’ Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who forgave usurper Yahya and also thought that pampering the army through inaction on Hamood Ur Rehman Commission report could help him rig 1977 elections. Then came Benazir Bhutto in 1988 who was quick to close the file of her father’s judicial murder with a stamp “accused dead in plane crash.” She then cut the cake of power with the army to celebrate her political birth as the first female prime minister of the Muslim world. She even announced “Medal of Democracy” for the man who was to steal the ballot later in 1990. During subsequent period during which we saw sachets of democracy, the army remained a dominant force until the 2/3rd majority government of Nawaz Sharif came to what it thought “the real power”. What happened next is not even a subject matter of the treason trial facing Musharraf today. In fact the people are doubtful about the government’s commitment to rule of law and supremacy of the constitution in view of what many see as a half hearted prosecution of a former army chief. The “blue land” seems to be at it again trying to play every trick in the Psy Ops and intelligence books to rescue their commando who is stranded behind the “fox land.” Our history has come full circle and we refuse to learn anything from our past.
Nawaz Sharif’s current “democratic” government is once again becoming a classic example of how the first rule of “civilian control” can be bartered away to what was always described as the real “shadow government.” But this time the government seems to be seeing the shadows longer than they really are. “Once bitten twice shy” Nawaz Sharif continues to ignore the democratic rules of the game and belittle the concept of civilian control through a weak defence minister and ministry. This only goes to show his fears and apprehensions about a possible repeat of October 12 coup. As prime minister, he has refused to take direct charge of the defence of Pakistan through a full-time defence minister. His approach towards defence of Pakistan is no different from giving out a contract for construction of a motorway project. Instead of the federal government taking charge of the defence forces of Pakistan as per rules of business and the chain of command provided therein, this job seems to have been contracted to one man, the chief of army staff who has practically become the operational boss of the three services. Then why blame army for subcontracting the same to some other “state actors.”
Don’t we remember how our “chain of command” reacted to American invasion/operation in Abbottabad? The then army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani called up the then President Asif Zardari to drag him into the loop of failed responsibility. He even called up the then air chief for immediate reaction to intruding aircraft. So for the ruling politicians from Punjab not much could be changed with the new man on horseback. A nuclear-armed country like Pakistan suddenly needed a part time defence minister to make an appearance before the Supreme Court so that Nawaz Sharif himself could not be bothered with answering judges’ queries about missing persons. And indeed, the missing persons story is another example of how effective Nawaz Sharif’s constitutional chain of command is over the military’s institutional chain of command.
It is amusing to see army chief sitting next to the prime minister and his “constitutional boss”, the defence minister, in rest of the audience. Similarly, pictures of chairman JCSC presiding a meeting of services chiefs does not mean much to those who remember Abbottabad operation by US forces. We cannot even create a facade of a chain of command in the name of the National Command Authority whose chairmanship was abandoned by President Zardari very soon. We know Mr. Zardari wouldn’t just give away something of value. In a nutshell, owing to our peculiar history of civil military imbalance or timidity of political leadership, we seem to have ended up with a twisted chain of command. So twisted is this chain of command, that some paramilitary politicians even introduced the idea of ruling civilian governments following a specific “rules of engagement” while dealing with our very own army. For them these rules could be extra-judicial and supra-constitutional. They argue that the Army chief directly calling the prime minister and finance minister seeking appointment for only himself, and not the other services chiefs, is an excellent example of an “ideal” civil military relationship. Within these hidden rules of engagement is the rule of such paramilitary stooges who only thrive by seeking a “balance of civil military power” rather than a professional chain of command.
In the army, the seniority difference of one single digit of what is known as a “PA No” can send you home or make you army chief. It is this chain of command which crystallizes the distribution of powers and responsibilities and hence an effective decision-making and operational mechanism in the army. Why can’t the politicians establish such a chain of command at the constitutional level especially when they are dealing with disciplined forces? By not doing so, the governments themselves basically destroy the discipline of disciplined forces and then blame them for the coups. A horse likes a trained rider and tends to ditch a novice one. And when it comes to riding a wild horse it’s better to have a good saddle (powerful defence ministry) a confident grip of thighs (defence minister) and piercing heels (secretary defence) unless you want to be overthrown. It will be very painful to ride a bare horse while lunging forward to feed it as well. Similarly, your pet dogs may sometime jump into your bed but not your horse.

The writer is a senior supreme court reporter and anchor for Waqt News.

Email:matiullahjan@gmail.com