Pakistan Reader# 267, 6 January 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
At the start of 2021, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry claimed that for the first time in Pakistan’s history civil-military relations had improved during the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. Similarly, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad also said, “Everything is okay. I’m not in a position to give an official statement. Only Fawad Chaudhry and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak can speak in this regard. However, I want to say that the civil-military relations are steady and there is no problem in this regard. Whenever transfers are made, they take place as usual.”
During the tenure of his party’s rule, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also claimed the same stating that his government and the military have the “most harmonious relationship” while noting that in the past, civilian and military leaderships have had a “chequered relationship.” He said, “the military stands" with the incumbent government and that they have "an excellent relationship,” adding, “I honestly think it's the most harmonious relationship, we have complete coordination, we work together, the military completely stands with all the government's democratic policies.”
Similarly, the military leadership had stated, “The army is supporting a democratically elected government as per the Constitution and there will be no let-up in this as that’s must for progress and prosperity of Pakistan.”
Are they on the same page?
Although the two sides claim to be on the ‘same page’ the relation witnessed a strain in 2021 particularly with the appointment for the DG ISI. Revisiting what took place in October, the Inter-Services Public Relations Pakistan (ISPR) announced that Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum had been appointed as the new chief of the InterServices Intelligence, replacing Lt Gen Faiz Hameed. The developments which followed showed that the civil and military leadership were not on the ‘same page.’ Following the announcement, there was a delay from the Prime Minister's Office in issuing a notification for the appointment of the incoming ISI chief. The government maintained silence on the issue until Fawad Chaudhry stated that the authority to appoint the ISI chief was with the prime minister and that the “legal procedure” would be followed for the purpose. This drew in widespread criticism from the opposition and citizens, following which ministers began their speeches with the claim that civil-military relations were better than they had ever been. The impasse was finally resolved after three weeks when PM Khan notified the appointment of Lt Gen Anjum.
Same Page or different books?
Given the development that took place in 2021, the civil-military relation is far from being on the same page, rather they seem to be on different books. While PM Khan sought to assert civilian supremacy, the military had other ideas. So, what was each side trying to accomplish?
First, Imran Khan was trying to assert civilian supremacy. During the incident of the appointment on the DG ISI, PM Khan was seen trying to assert civilian supremacy. Although this may not be realistic given the way things work in Pakistan, Imran Khan tried to stretch his authority. Additionally, his reasons for wanting Lt Gen Faiz Hamid to stay on as DG ISI was evidently because of the situation in Afghanistan.
Second, the military’s soft hand towards Imran Khan. The Pakistan Army’s transfer and postings schedule were a routine move that has been strategically made given the several changes that were to come with several retirements and other internal changes. When it comes to engaging with the PTI government, even though there were several disagreements, the government relied on the military to bring together parliamentary votes, help maintain its coalition as well as build consensus and accommodate other issues, with the military turning a blind eye to many of his mistakes.
Will 2022 be a ‘same page’ story?
Although the relationship between the two may not have reached a breaking point, the lack of trust and miscommunication persist in civil-military ties. The conflict between the civil and military leadership on domestic and foreign policy is likely to continue, thus hindering them from being on the ‘same page.’ What is clear is the PTI government needs the support of the military during this crucial year, however, what is unclear is whether the military will continue to extend a long rope or leave the PTI to fight its own battles.
“‘All matters have been resolved’: Fawad on civil, military relations,” Pakistan Today, 18 October 2021
“Civil, military leadership on same page, says ISPR chief,” Dawn, 19 November 2019
Rana Banerji, “Imran Khan’s fate hangs in balance amid persisting unease in civil military relations in Pakistan,” Firstpost, 24 November 2021
“Audio leaks, TTP and the Sialkot tragedy: Here's what went down in Pakistan in 2021,” Dawn, 29 December 2021
Maleeha Lodhi “Year of living on the edge,” Dawn, 20 December 2021
Maleeha Lodhi “A troubled world in 2022,” Dawn, 3 January 2022
Zahid Hussain, “The challenges ahead,” Dawn, 29 December 2021
Sushant Sareen, “Civil-Military relations at a breaking point in Pakistan,” ORF, 23 October 2021
“Civil-military ties on an even keel: Sh Rashid,” The News International, 12 October 2021
“PM Imran says civilian, military leadership on same page in latest interview,” The News International, 3 September 2020