Military and Politics in Pakistan: Arif Nizami

The military and politics
The News, January 16, 2010
Arif Nizami

Civilian control over the armed forces is a sacrosanct principle of democracy but has never been practiced in Pakistan. Even When Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over in the aftermath of the military debacle in East Pakistan he could not rein in the army. He first succumbed to its demand that a film showing the surrender of Pakistani forces to India be withdrawn from PTV. Later, keeping the sensitivities of the army in mind, he decided to put the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report in cold storage. Ultimately he was ousted and hanged on trumped up charges by his handpicked army chief, Gen Zia-ul-Haq.

Much later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, heady with a heavy mandate, tried to emasculate all institutions, one after another. He got away with sacking Gen Jehangir Karmat just a few months before his term was to expire as army chief. But when Nawaz tried to sack Gen Karamat's successor, Gen Musharraf, he had to pay the price by being ousted by the army. Had his American and Arab mentors not pleaded with Musharraf to send him into permanent exile, he would have met the same fate as Mr Bhutto.

Under the Constitution Nawaz Sharif was perfectly within his rights as prime minister to sack Gen Musharraf. He made Gen Karmat resign for issuing a statement critical of his "insecurity ridden policies." But this time the army was well prepared against the prospect of another army chief facing this kind of humiliation. It is indeed ironical, coming from Mian Shahbaz Sharif now, that the nation is fortunate to have a pro-democracy army chief in the form of Gen Kayani, after Gen Jehangir Karamat.

In the past few months a perception has developed that the present military setup is bent upon getting rid of President Zardari. Despite protestations to the contrary by the military high command that it has no such intentions, rumours about Mr Zardari's imminent departure refuse to die down. In fact, after the Supreme Court's unanimous verdict declaring the NRO ultra vires of the Constitution, they have gained further currency. Some circles insist that the army and its intelligence apparatus are trying to undermine Mr Zardari and force him to quit the presidency.

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