Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, ISPR SPOKESMAN, has said what any person in his place will be expected to say. After all, the Constitution specifically specifies the army’s duties, namely to “defend Pakistan against external aggression or the threat of war and, when called upon to do so, act in support of civil power, subject to law.”
This country’s constitutional law also holds that “the federal government shall have armed forces control and command.” It was therefore hardly shocking that the senior military official robustly countered the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance’s argument that it is interfering in politics in a press release on Monday.
These terms are similarly believed by both the weight of experience and dominant currents. Even a cursory familiarity with the past of Pakistan is adequate to express the magnitude of the role of the military in running the country, often explicitly by coups that have swept away elected governments. In all moments, the ‘civ-mil imbalance’ is a truism, not a figment of the imagination, sufficiently to call the shots from behind poor civilian dispensations.
When the first ever power transition from one elected government to the next took place in 2013, it appeared like democracy was slowly being consolidated. The land was not, though, going to be quickly ceded and administrative borders began to be broken. The denouement of the Faizabad dharna, held in November 2017 during the last tenure of the PML-N by a militant mob of religious activists near Islamabad, provided the most obvious indication of this.
The rioters scattered only after an army-brokered deal after triggering mayhem that gave the appearance of a government no longer in power. The DG Punjab Rangers allocated cash to them for ‘travel costs’ in a video clip.
In a repudiation of the PDM’s claim that the establishment had orchestrated the 2018 election, Maj Gen Iftikhar also stated the assistance of the army in the national exercise on Monday. Again, predictably, he described its position as being in the nature of the security assistance required.
International election observers, however, identified major problems with the whole procedure, which in particular queered the pitch to the detriment of the incumbent PML-N administration. Since then, the chorus alleging military interference into politics, including everyday government, has grown to a crescendo. The perception of a ‘hybrid administration’ has further sharpened the fact that most large civilian agencies and organisations are led by uniformed staff.
Repeated stock phrases are not enough anymore. The defence establishment must take tangible action to disengage itself from it if it wants to rise above the fray and stay untainted by the hurly-burly of politics. Stay on the same page as the nation, but in a column of your own.