Pakistan’s strong military has directly ruled the country for more than three decades since independence in 1947. Due to this the dominance of military over the policymaking, political process and administrative apparatus was firmly established.

Foreign and security policies are considered as its exclusive domains by the Pakistan’s army. Interference of the political leadership in spheres and management of military affairs was never liked by Khakis.

Though, the Constitution of Pakistan clearly mentions that the military will work under the domain of federal government. However, it is exactly the opposite because for decades Pakistan’s federal government has been controlled by the military establishment.

Ideally, the chief executive of the country which is the prime minister has to be in the driving seat starting from the budgets to appointments and operations of the leading military intelligence agencies of the country – military intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are unfortunately controlled by the GHQ since decades.

Whenever an attempt has been made by the civilian governments to engineer a policy shift in Pakistan’s foreign affairs and security calculus, they failed, except during a very brief period from 1973-1977 under the premiership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who controlled and directed the country’s foreign and security affairs.

However, the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Pakistan’s history took place recently in 2013. But still Pakistan's democracy remains under the shadow of the army for several reasons. Here are five of them.

1.       Historical inheritance

The first reason is the historical inheritance. The army became very powerful in the immediate aftermath of the creation of Pakistan. In 1947, Pakistan inherited a comparatively weak military with little in terms of up to date ordnance, very few high ranking local officials, and a shaky command and control system. To shore up the military, the Government of Pakistan even employed British military officers for a few years – some for nearly a decade – to help equip and train the nascent armed forces. However, the political forces were even weaker in comparison, and this factor enabled the army to achieve ascendency rather quickly.

According to acclaimed historian Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash in 1947, both the Prime Minister and the Governor General had been elected from constituencies which were now in India. In addition, a large part of the first cabinet of Pakistan also hailed from areas which were now in India. Hence, what formed Pakistan was not their natural constituency. Furthermore, for nearly a decade the sole platform of the Muslim League was Pakistan, with little else in terms of programme. Once Pakistan was achieved, there was not much which could hold the party together and therefore it began to unravel almost immediately. With the politicians not grounded in Pakistan, and with the reluctance of the political leaders to hold elections and thus prove their legitimacy, the military leaders thought that they were as legitimate – if not more – than the politicians and therefore with their superior education and training they should hold the reins of government in the country.

2.       Technocrats and bureaucracy

Secondly, from its inception the Quaid-e-Azam relied more on technocrats, the bureaucracy and the military than he did on politicians. As shown in Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash’s book A Princely Affair: Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947—55, not only was the defence policy of Pakistan in the hands of the GHQ, Pakistan's relations with the princely states – which formed more than half the land mass of western Pakistan – was primarily in the hands of the bureaucracy and the military. Hence, from 1948 onwards – barely a few months after independence – the military and bureaucracy had usurped the central role of politicians in the Pakistani dispensation. Thereafter with the ascendancy of military men like Major General Iskandar Mirza and General Ayub Khan, power clearly shifted to the GHQ.

3.       De facto sovereignty

Thirdly, politicians have never effectively used parliament to curtail the powers of the military. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy where, at least theoretically, parliament is sovereign. However, throughout history parliament has rarely acted like a sovereign legislature of the country. Most powerful prime ministers have treated parliament as a rubberstamp and rarely deigned to even come to it, thereby undermining its role and power. Parliamentarians too, in turn, have rarely realised the potential of this crucial organ of the state and either blindly followed the dictates of the executive or simply not taken their parliamentary role seriously, with scores seldom in attendance even. The non-discussion of the military budget in parliament is a major hurdle in increasing civilian control of the military, for example.

4.       Political allies

Fourthly, the military, for its part, has always ensured that a part of the political spectrum is beholden to it. The absence of real land reforms, the perpetuation of rural elites, and the ability of the military to satisfy the rent seeking behaviour of a large cross section of the rural and urban elites, means that the military always has a strong party doing its bidding. This factor keeps the military a potent power in the political spectrum and ensures its throttle hold over democracy in the country.

5.       PR campaigning

Fifthly, and this is more so the case since the last decade, the military's superior public relations strategy has kept it above and in control of the democratic forces in the country. Since a long time, politicians have always been portrayed as corrupt and selfish while the military is displayed as upright, conscientious and always working in the interests of the country selflessly. The recent campaign of 'Thank You Raheel Sharif' was also aimed at exhibiting how the Army Chief was Pakistan's only saviour, and that the politicians, including the popularly elected prime minister, were no match to the Army Chief. As long as such an elevated image of the military is sustained and perpetuated it will hold in the minds of a large part of the population the moral high ground, which, as history shows, has periodically also translated easily into an actual takeover.

The power of the military is entrenched in the Pakistani milieu now and only a long sustained and concerted effort to properly energise and promote democracy can begin to overturn this dynamic.