Sunday, February 24, 2008

Emergence of Civilian Masters


“War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men” is a famous quotation now getting popularity in Pakistan as Aitzaz Ahsan is using it frequently in his TV interviews while emphasizing the doctrine of Civilian Control of the Military. One more illustrative example are the words of Chairman Mao Zedong, who stated that "Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party", reflecting the primacy of the Communist party as a decision-maker in Marxist-Leninist and Maoist theories of democratic centralism. One can find the same philosophy in the Jinnah’s advice to Colonel (later General) Akbar Khan. “Never forget that you are the servants of the state. You do not make policy. It is we, the people’s representative, who decide how the country is to be run. Your job is to only obey the decisions of your civilian masters.”
All of the above quotations lead to the doctrine of civilian control of the military that places ultimate responsibility for a country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers. One author, paraphrasing Samuel P. Huntington’s writings in The Soldier and the State, has summarized the civilian control ideal as "the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority”. Civilian control is often seen as a prerequisite feature of a stable, liberal democracy; use of the term in scholarly analyses tends to take place in the context of a state governed by democratically elected officials.
What is civilian control? Is it a fact? Is it a process? According to Professor Richard H. Kohn, "civilian control is not a fact but a process”. Affirmations of respect for the values of civilian control notwithstanding, the actual level of control sought or achieved by the civilian leadership may vary greatly in practice, from a statement of broad policy goals that military commanders are expected to translate into operational plans, to the direct selection of specific targets for attack on the part of governing politicians. Leaders with limited experience in military matters often have little choice but to rely on the advice of professional military commanders trained in the art and science of warfare to inform the limits of policy; in such cases, the military establishment may enter the bureaucratic arena to advocate for or contest against a particular course of action, shaping the policy-making process and blurring any clear-cut lines of civilian control.
For many young democracies, the institutionalization of civilian control over the military is a crucial task for democratic consolidation. This is especially true for Pakistan. After Pakistan gained independence in 1947 and lost its founder and first prime minister very early, the military history of Pakistan can be viewed as the history of modern-day Pakistan, as the military of Pakistan has played and continues to play a vital role in the establishment and shaping of the country. Although Pakistan was founded as a democracy after the partition of the Indian sub-continent, the military has remained one of the country’s most powerful institutions and has on occasion overthrown democratically elected governments on the basis of mismanagement and corruption. Successive governments have made sure that the military was consulted before they took key decisions. Political leaders know that the military has stepped into the political arena before at times of crisis, and could do so again up till now.
Pakistan’s ruling party has been routed in the country’s February’s general election , paving the way for a new government made up of former opposition parties that may try to impeach the President, Pervez Musharraf.
No party took an outright majority in the new parliament but anti-Musharraf parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and possibly others, are in discussion about forming the next government.
Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif while addressing a joint press conference on Thursday evening at the Zardari House after holding two-hour-long talks declared “We have decided to work together and move together for the future of the democracy in the country and to strengthen parliament.” In the same press conference Mr. Zardari said “system should be changed and there should be a new social contract with the establishment”. This is very bold and well thought of statement from Mr. Zardari but unfortunately got less attention from political and democratic analysts. If this statement read along with the quotation of Georges Clemenceau quoted by Atizaz Ahsan many times, gives some kind of insight of internal thinking taking place at PPP and shows that they are marching towards the doctrine of civilian control of the military in future.
Kohn succinctly summarizes this view when he writes that the point of civilian control is to make security subordinate to the larger purposes of a nation, rather than the other way around. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it. As civilian leaders cannot usually hope to challenge their militaries by means of force, and thus must guard against any potential usurpation of powers through a combination of policies, laws, and the inculcation of the values of civilian control in their armed services.
Historically, direct control over military forces was hampered by the technological limits of command, control, and communications; national leaders, whether democratically elected or not, had to rely on local commanders to execute the details of a military campaign, or risk centrally-directed orders’ obsolescence by the time they reached the front lines. The remoteness of government from the action allowed professional soldiers to claim military affairs as their own particular sphere of expertise and influence; upon entering a state of war, it was often expected that the generals and field marshals would dictate strategy and tactics, and the civilian leadership would defer to their informed judgments.
Improvements in information technology and its application to wartime command and control (a process sometimes labeled the "Revolution in Military Affairs") has allowed civilian leaders removed from the theater of conflict to assert greater control over the actions of distant military forces. Precision-guided munitions and real-time videoconferencing with field commanders now allow the civilian leadership to intervene even at the tactical decision-making level, designating particular targets for destruction or preservation based on political calculations or the counsel of non-uniformed advisors.
While civilian control forms the normative standard in almost every society outside of military dictatorships, its practice has often been the subject of pointed criticism from both uniformed and non-uniformed observers, who object to what they view as the undue "politicization" of military affairs, especially when elected officials or political appointees micromanage the military, rather than giving the military general goals and objectives, and have the military decide how best to carry those orders out. By placing responsibility for military decision-making in the hands of non-professional civilians, critics argue, the dictates of military strategy are subsumed to the political, with the effect of unduly restricting the fighting capabilities of the nation’s armed forces for what should be immaterial or otherwise lower priority concerns. Politicians who personally lack military training and experience but who seek to engage the nation in military action may risk resistance and being labeled "chickenhawks" by those who disagree with their political goals.
In contesting these priorities, members of the professional military leadership and their non-uniformed supporters may participate in the bureaucratic bargaining process of the nation’s policy-making apparatus, engaging in what might be termed a form of regulatory capture as they attempt to restrict the policy options of elected officials when it comes to military matters.
Keeping these in minds it is hoped that results of this election, the power and the trust entrusted to political parties and their leaders, there will be an emergence of civilian masters in Pakistan.
The writer is Research Associate at The Iqbal International Leadership Institute and can be reached at

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