Reforming khakis - By Babar Sattar

Legal eye: Reforming khakis
The News, January 09, 2010
Babar Sattar
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The end of Musharraf's rule, return of leaders of our mainstream political parties, restoration of the representative electoral process, restitution of independent-minded judiciary, recent rulings in the PCO judges case and the NRO, together with the role of our diligent media and civil society all mark the advent of an age of constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy. This journey might be slow and perilous, but rule of law and constitutionalism are the only mechanisms available to resurrect a peaceful, strong and stable Pakistan wherein equality and justice thrive along with hope and economic well-being.

We are rightly becoming more cognizant of the need to hold the feet of our corrupt and inept politicos to fire, in order to transform dilapidated structures of representative politics into an effective, sustainable and beneficial democracy. However, the province of khakis, with all its frills, prerogatives and privileges, remains largely outside the scope of rule of law, out of sync with the imperatives of constitutionalism and democracy, and is probably the most ignored area in need of urgent reform.

Any sensible definition of an effective and functional democracy requires effective civilian control of the military. But the military in Pakistan has traditionally been more powerful than all civilian institutions put together. This civil-military imbalance remains a fundamental fault line that imperils both democracy and rule of law.

The omnipotence of the military in Pakistan -- the cause and the consequence of recurring martial rule -- has resulted in the evolution of political and social ethos, promulgation of statutory instruments, and partial judicial pronouncements (coupled with judicial inaction) that have the effect of placing the interests, acts and omissions of the military beyond the scope of political, judicial and social scrutiny. The history of khaki rule together with effective manifestation of its overarching power and influence, every time its institutional interests come under threat, has led to the creation of a khaki mindset that equally afflicts the military and the civilians.

The khaki mindset has multiple facets. The first is an undaunted sense of righteousness. This indoctrinates the military with the belief that its vision and definition of national security and national interest is the perennial manifestation of wisdom and truth. Any involvement of civilians with matters deemed to fall within the domain of national security is seen as unwarranted interference with exclusively military matters and an affront to its interests. This protective sense encourages the military to guard its proclaimed territory as a fief.

The second facet of the khaki mindset is the military's saviour instinct. Despite being a non-representative institution, the military has assigned to itself the role of deciphering aspirations of Pakistanis and protecting them when they are perceived to be threatened by a corrupt civilian government or an activist judiciary. This provides a justification to intervene in the domain of civilian institutions that are seen by the military as malfunctioning. And the most insidious facet of this mindset is the unstated sense of being above the law that binds ordinary citizens.

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