Pakistan faces a perennial dilemma of the best balance between the civil-military relations. A state begotten out of the womb of a heavily militarised colonial state retained a strong influence of military in the state’s governance apparatus that grew implacably in the face of effete civilian leadership soon after the departure of the titans of the Pakistan Movement. The political pygmies failed to lead and govern, ceding space slowly to the non- representative state institutions like bureaucracy and the military. The head of the military i.e Commander in Chief who enjoyed an exalted status during the colonial British Indian government being a member of the Viceroys Council and the cabinet continued to enjoy the same status in his reincarnation as the Commander in Chief of an independent state. While Nehru’s towering presence for a prolonged duration helped Indian civil-military relations attain equilibrium in favour of civilians, Pakistan was not so lucky.

With Quaid and Liaquat’s departure from the scene as early as 1951 the newly born state lost that charismatic and stabilising umbrella under which the civilian polity and institutions could be nurtured effectively. Instead a jostle for power amongst avaricious politicians and ambitious bureaucrats stifled the growth of people friendly institutions of liberal democracy. The resulting anarchy and mal-governance led towards economic insolvency, social inequality, and politics of exclusion that fuelled ethnic particularism and social stratification, negatively affecting national integration. A bellicose and myopic neighbour i.e India contributed to Pakistan’s insecurity paranoia giving rise to a Garrison State mentality that privileged national security over human security. External threat of Indian aggression due to unresolved Kashmir Conflict in Shakespeare’s words “bestrode like a colossus” over all other issues compelling Pakistan to seek military alliances with the dominant world powers. US military aid in fifties wedded Pakistan to a string of security alliances in deference to its new found ally.

The militarisation of our foreign policy was accompanied by a militarisation of the politics wherein the Samuel Finer’s “Man on the Horseback” came to represent the nation’s hopes and aspirations. The first military dictator i.e Ayub Khan was hailed as the new Messiah and the “Beau Sabreur” who would steer the nation out of the choppy waters of political and economic uncertainty. After an appreciable autocratic interregnum under Ayub where the state saw unprecedented economic growth the inherent contradictions of a totalitarian polity rent apart the political fabric exposing ethno-linguistic fissures, political grievances, and economic inequalities. The leaven of political egalitarianism and Islamic brotherhood that was supposed to bind the federation in a single unit came apart due to denial of political rights to Bengalis and the country split up under active Indian aggression. The soldiers and their civilian bosses had apparently failed to find an ideal equilibrium in civil-military relations.

As per Samuel Huntington, the leading American civil-military theorist, “the nations that develop a properly balanced pattern of civil-military relations have a great advantage in the search for security.” He also believed that “the nations which fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military relations squander their resources and run uncalculated risks”. As per the learned scholar the military institutions of any society are shaped by two forces i.e functional and societal imperatives. The functional imperatives emerge to counter the threats to the national security and the societal imperatives emerge in response to the society’s values and ideologies. A country is lucky which attains a balance between the two imperatives. Pakistan for example gave in to the functional imperatives by focusing disproportionately on the military threats while ignoring the demands of societal values and political aspirations. Since the formal birth of the military profession on 6 August 1808, when the Prussian government issued its decree on the appointment of officers in these words; “the only title to an officer’s commission shall be in time of peace, education and professional knowledge, in time of war, distinguished valor and perception” the military officers have grappled with the challenge of their vocational responsibilities.

According to Huntington there are three main responsibilities of a military man to the state. The first one is the representative, where the military man represents the claim of the military security within the state machinery. The second one is the advisory responsibility where the military officer advises the government about the most effective and efficient way of countering the external threats to state’s security. The third responsibility is the executive wherein the military leadership implements state’s decisions with respect to military security. The civilian leadership is supposed to set the goals and allocate resources to the military whereas it is up to the military leadership to adopt the best means to use those resources to attain the stated objectives. There however is an area where the strategy that is the bailiwick of the military and the policy which is the purview of the civilians overlap. The top military leaders of the state are likely to operate in the mixed up world of strategy and policy. For ideal civil-military relations the military leaders must always be cognizant of the political implications of their strategic decisions and take care to ensure that the decisions of the civilian statesmen are respected at the end.

So what happens when the there is a clash between the military obedience and the political wisdom? The military mind must understand that the criteria of military efficiency are limited, concrete and objective whereas the criteria of political wisdom are limitless, ambiguous, and subjective. The appreciation of this complex duality should allow the military mind to subordinate its professional wisdom to the political wisdom of its civilian bosses. Two examples here of above conflict are apposite. Some of the German officers of the late 30s were unhappy at the political decisions of the Hitler and unlike their other colleagues tried to further their own political views. Similarly MacArthur openly defied the civilian leadership’s views on the Korean War. As per Huntington both the German officers who joined the resistance to Hitler and General MacArthur “forgot that it was not the function of military officers to decide questions of war and peace”. In Pakistan also due to our long history of praetorian interventions there is a propensity to interfere in policy domain which as per the civilian supremacy purists is the sole preserve of the civilian statesmen.

Pakistani civilian and military leadership needs to find the right equilibrium between the civil-military relations through an institution based national security policy formulation wherein the civilian tiers of the national security decision making provide effective policy direction. The military will never respect the civilian policy direction unless the civilians develop genuine expertise and knowledge about the military matters. For effective policy direction the civilian institutions like the parliamentary committees, National Security Council, Committee of the Cabinet on National Security, and the Ministry of Defence would need to be strengthened and activated on policy front. The knowledge and expertise would also need to be augmented by high moral strength, character, and integrity. The civilian leadership needs to cultivate these traits sans which the chasm between the soldier and the state would keep increasing to the detriment of ideal civil-military relations.


n             The writer is a PhD scholar in NUST.