The very concept of the supremacy of the civilian government, undoubtedly, forms the underlying basis for the civil-military relations in a democratic political order. However, the tortuous and troubled civil-military relations has given rise to a unique political culture in Pakistan. In order to establish their respective institutional superiority, there has been a constant tug of war between the politicians and the khakis. The rise of the de facto power structure in the country has significantly eroded the political authority of the civilian government to exclusively run the affairs of the state.

Over a period of time, both the democratic political institutions and the civilian supremacy have observably deteriorated in Pakistan. On the other hand, the status and role of the khakis have also experienced a metamorphosis resulting in establishing their institutional superiority in the polity. Presently, since Pakistan is in a ‘state of war’, therefore the current upsurge in the strength of the military in the country is quite natural. Ruling out any disharmony between the government and the military, it has often been forcefully maintained in the country that ‘both stakeholders’ are on the ‘same page’. Ironically, this statement, itself, reflects the very state of civilian supremacy in Pakistan. Constitutionally and legally, the khakis are supposed to obey their civilian masters instead of being the equal participator in the crucial decision-making process in the country.

Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb last year, the Khakis have readily assumed the responsibility for the formulation of the national security policy in Pakistan. Now they, alone, are calling the shots vis-à-vis ongoing war on terror in Pakistan. An unannounced military operation is underway in Baluchistan. In Sindh, comprising the representatives of the security and para-military forces, the apex committee is making crucial decision regarding the ongoing operation against the criminal elements in Karachi.

Following the PTI-PAT long march and sit-in in Islamabad last year, there has been a significant tilt in the power balance in favour of the khakis in Pakistan. This political development has also been referred to as the soft coup. During this 126-day long sit-in, the so-called ‘third empire’ has been the ultimate arbiter to decide the political future of the country. This long protest against the elected government has been instrumental in undermining the supremacy of civilian government in the country. This aggressive posture of the PTI has somehow caused the PML-N government to suffer a sort of legitimacy crisis.

Presently, there is a well-founded perception in the country that the Khakis are exercising considerable influence in shaping the foreign policy in general, and Afghan as well as Indian policy in particular. Similarly, induced by the khakis, there has also been witnessed a paradigm shift with regard to the strategic alignment of the country. Now Pakistan looks towards the regional powers like China and Russia instead of the US to ensure its security in this region.

Ignoring altogether the basic dynamics of civil-military relationship in Pakistan, the PML-N government tried to make the khakis subservient to the political ruling class at once after getting into power following the 2013 general elections. This attitude of the government has been instrumental in deteriorating the already-troubled civil-military relations in the country. The ill-timed, narrow-scoped and poorly worked out criminal trial of Pervez Musharraf for high treason under Article 6 of the constitution is generally considered to be the major spoiler of the civil-military relationship. The over-optimism exhibited by PM Nawaz Sharif to instantly improve the Pak-India ties further irked the khakis. And lastly, in the event of the deadly attack on senior journalist Hamid Mir, the ISI-Geo stand-off is regarded as the last straw that broke the back of this ailing camel.

As a matter of fact, the civilian government is equally to be blamed for eroding its own political supremacy in the country. Despite the fact the terrorism has been posing a serious existential threat to the state for a long time, the civilian government has miserably failed to evolve any comprehensive counter-terror policy. Instead, it wasted a lot of time in pursuing its ill-conceived and fruitless dialogue process. During this period, it did nothing beyond holding APC’s on this issue. It half-heartedly passed the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 to curb the menace of terrorism.

However, owing to lack of political will and required degree of resolution, this act could never be enforced in latter and spirit in the country. It never seriously tried to establish special courts under this act.

After launching a decisive onslaught on the militants last year, the Khakis have also undertaken the very task of the court trail of the militants by establishing the military courts, which was necessarily the responsibility of the civilian government. Similarly, the government has also failed to effectively enforce the 20 points National action Plan after the unfortunate APS Peshawar attack last year. It has also neglected its duty regarding the relief and rehabilitation of the IDP’s of North Waziristan after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Consequently, the Khakis have readily filled the administrative vacuum created by the indecisiveness and inaction of the civilian government.

In fact, the rule of law forms the very basis for the doctrine of the supremacy of the civilian government in the civilized countries. It is only the law that compels the khakis to obey their civilian masters. When the ruling elite becomes habitual of running the affairs of the state in arbitrary fashion, the legal and moral basis of its ‘right to rule’ starts eroding. The current situation in Karachi necessarily substantiates this fact. If, today, Sindh government feels itself politically and administratively powerless in Karachi, then it shouldn’t forget that it has already failed to curb the criminal elements in the city owing to its certain political expediencies. It is the rule of law that establishes the supremacy of the civvies over the khakis. Otherwise, might is right, is the basic principle of law of the jungle. Therefore, in the absence of rule of law, the all-powerful khakis will naturally dominate the civilian government in the country.

In any democratic dispensation, a civilian government acts as the representative of the popular sovereignty. Therefore, it can, by no means, afford to neglect the will and welfare of the people. If it does so, then it significantly loses the popular support. In Pakistan, the successive civilian governments have been promoting their selfish and narrow political interests at the cost of the general interests of the body politic. In these political settings, the erosion of the civilian supremacy is quite inevitable as the very pedestal upon which the whole edifice of its political authority rests, has already crumbled.