In physics, ‘Center of Gravity’ is defined as a point in a body of matter where the total weight of that body is concentrated. But this article is not going to be about physics. It will dwell upon on the notion of center of gravity as defined by Carl Von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist and celebrated writer of the military strategy, in his book ‘On War’ and on the idea of national power in the context of Pakistan. National power has, of course, two important elements to it: defense and foreign policy. Together these two, combined with the economy, make up much of what we associate with National Power. Pakistan army has very aggressively and systematically disseminated the idea that it is the very center of gravity of the state—a notion that I consider wrong and which I will contest here. The army has held that it is the guardian of Pakistan’s actual and imagined ideological frontiers—the center of gravity of the state. Let us put this contestation to test.

During his recent visit to the United States, Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif met Secretary of State John Kerry, in the press talk following the meeting, Kerry referred to the army as the ‘binding force of Pakistan’. For decades, Pakistani generals have sold this idea to successive American administrations. Americans have preferred to do business directly with the army. Such charity towards the army is of course not without a reason. Americans would require Pakistan’s cooperation in stabilizing the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. In other words, to use its influence with the Afghan Taliban and get them to agree to some kind of arrangement that the United States and the flagellant newly elected government of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan can agree on.

The idea that the army is the center of gravity in Pakistan, which has been propagated by the vast propaganda network sponsored by the Defense Establishment, is incorrect and obscene. This sponsored network is huge and all-encompassing. It consists of mullahs, madrasahs (religious seminaries), think tanks, academia, print and electronic media, jihadi proxies, literature, intelligentsia and even public sector institutions like the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which was recently made to issue a warning to all universities of Pakistan to respect the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ after students in an Islamabad based university had set up an Israeli stall at a Model UN conference. The army has also nurtured a narrative steeped in religious idiom. Pakistan army was successful in propagating this idea in the early years of Pakistan. Unfortunately Pakistan inherited a weak civilian administrative setup from the British Empire but a disproportionately strong army, explains Hussain Haqqani in his excellent work ‘Pakistan between Mosque and Military.’ He writes, ‘Pakistan’s state institutions, especially its national security institutions such as the military and the intelligence services, have played a leading role in building Pakistani national identity on the basis of religion since Pakistan’s emergence as an independent country in August 1947.’ Furthermore, ‘soon after assuming power, Yahya Khan extended the military’s role as the guardian of Pakistan’s “ideological frontiers,” a notion that has prevailed ever since. Similar views have been expressed by Stephen P. Cohen (in his brilliant work ‘The Pakistan Army’), Shuja Nawaz (in his book Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its army and Wars Within) and Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa in ‘Military Inc.’ She explains in Military Inc that ‘the civilian elite of the country also had a role to play in propelling the military to significance. The organization was primarily seen as a political force multiplier for the civil bureaucracy, who did not realize that the military would gain wings of its own.’

Few decades ago, robust ethno-nationalist movements in smaller provinces prompted the army to increasingly rely on religion as a tool to define national identity and weaken these secular movements. This process was furthered after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971. Religion became the tool to silent all political dissent. Army took on the mantle of the guardian of the ‘ideological frontier’ of the state. The military establishment benefitted from the space conceded by civilian regimes since the very beginning of the state in 1947 and declared itself and Islam the guardian of ideological identity. However neither the army nor religion could prevent the breakup of Pakistan in 1971. Nor was the army able to ensure the territorial integrity of Pakistan which was violated with ease by the Indian forces. In recent years territorial integrity has been violated by Taliban terrorists, sectarian militant outfits and incursion by the United States to kill Osama bin Laden and hundreds of drone flights. Attacks on the General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi, Mehran Naval Base, Karachi Naval dockyard, Kamrah Air Base and the Abbottabad operation are only a few examples where this mythical integrity has been compromised, despite the bravado by the military.

Sadly though, this idea of the army being the center of gravity has also been bolstered by the United States, which as explained earlier, has preferred to do business with the army directly bypassing the civilians even when they are in power. The recent visit of General Raheel Sharif to the United States validates this impression. In his recent book ‘Magnificent Delusions’, Hussain Haqqani has observed that historically larger chunk of American aids for different purpose had always flowed to martial law governments. America tends to turn its back on Pakistan when the civilians are in power.

As for religion, it has not been able to maintain the so called ideological state as defined and nurtured by the army. Instead of being a binding force for Pakistan, the unfortunate policy of using religion as a tool for national integration and foreign policy objectives has violently backfired on the state. Some of the Jihadi outfits created earlier for foreign incursions have now turned rogue. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an offshoot of the Afghan Mujahideen, is a prime example. Using religion to foment national integration, keep the ethno-nationalist movements at bay and stir a national fervor for wars against India has clearly not worked as evident from the results of the three and a half wars Pakistan has fought with India so far.

It is only the constitution of Pakistan that can and should serve as the real center of gravity for Pakistan, its real binding force. If implemented in letter and spirit, it ensures fundamental human rights to the citizens, guarantees the unity of all federating units, provides a fair deal for distribution of resources among them and ensures separation of power among the organs of the states. Only the Constitution is CoG that has been proved a real ‘binding force’ for Pakistan. This document guarantees the unity of all constituents of federation as rights of each unit has been protected by its clauses. Furthermore, it delineates responsibilities of all principal organs of state. It also provides elaborate guidelines on how to run official business of the state. The assertion that the army or religion is the center of gravity is a violation of the fundamental principles enshrined in the constitution. Granted, most Pakistanis are devout practicing Muslims, but they are not fundamentalists. They have same aspirations for themselves and their families as the rest of the world: good food, health, education, social services and security of life.

In the light of arguments presented above, few recommendations are in order. The only way to resist the army and prevent it from seizing political power and space is for the civilian administration to up its ante. Good governance is the key to civilian supremacy. There is no way round it. Secondly, the onus is on the civilians to ensure that the political process, however fragile and turbulent, continues. Historically, opportunistic politicians have relied on short cuts to gain political power by bandwagoning themselves with the army. This must stop. Politicians have to realize that they are all in the same boat. Thirdly, the parliament should take the initiative and play a more active role in legislating policies and carving out constitutional solutions to political problems. Failure on their part, on this count, will only de-legitimize democracy and help pave the path for a military takeover in the future.  Fourthly, the media have to stop being accessories to non-democratic forces. It needs to act responsibly. Fifthly, it is the responsibility of the common man, the voter in Pakistan, to elect representative who are competent, democratic, and visionary. Lastly, it is the armed forces themselves that needs to review their policy of intervention in official business of the state. It needs to dismantle its massive commercial enterprise which actually undermines the regular economy of the country. It also needs to purge its ranks of sympathizers of sectarian and Islamist terror outfits. Recent attack on Army Public School in Peshawar and on other army installations have reportedly been made possible by inside help from army personnel which goes on to show deep the fundamentalist rut has gone among the rank and file of the army. In the end what Pakistan needs to become is a progressive, democratic, secular liberal entity—not the rigid ideological garrison state that it has traditionally been. This would happen only when the centre of gravity in terms of political power and policy initiation have shifted from Rawalpindi to Islamabad.