Civil-military relations have had a troubled history in Pakistan. Having zigzagged throughout the last 60 years, inter-institutional relations took a turn for the worse last week in the wake of a new controversy over the Dawn Leak. It is a sordid story of mistrust between state institutions descending into a crisis of national proportions. It began with the publication of a high profile news story titled “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military” in Karachi’s daily Dawn in October 2016, whose gist was that Pakistan’s civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had told the country’s military establishment in a closed door session over the latter’s tolerance and support for non-state actors against India and Afghanistan. The article immediately kicked up a furor in the country. After first denying the contents of the story, the government later ordered an inquiry to ascertain the truth behind the news. As a first step Information Minister Pervez Rashid was sidelined to douse the fires of speculation about who initiated or leaked the story. While the committee set up to probe the leak was carrying on with its investigations, a major event took place. Pakistani military’s leadership passed from General Raheel Sharif to General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Given the history of civil-military relations in Pak-istan, such transitions are discussed widely regarding their impact on the country’s political landscape.
After eight months of closed-door fact finding, the inquiry committee produced a report and a set of recommendations that were presented to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The situation remained tranquil till April 29, when the PM’s office issued a notification on the government’s investigation into the Dawn leak. The notification, among other actions, said that the “allocation of portfolio of foreign affairs to Syed Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to the prime minister, shall be withdrawn.” The same day, Major General Asif Ghafoor, the head of Pakistan’s Inter- Services Public Relations, in a tweet rejected the statement from the prime minister’s office, saying that the “notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board.” This was a public rebuke to the government from the military as an institution, signalling that Fatemi’s sacking was an inadequate reaction from the government and more action was needed to do justice in the case. The story took a new twist when immediately afterwards Interior Minister Ch. Nisar held a press conference and announced that his ministry was administratively superior to instructions from the prime minister’s office. This, instead of clarifying matters, further confounded the situation. The military openly taking a stand against the government came as a surprise to analysts since it was believed that after a period of see-sawing during General Raheel Sharif’s time, civil-military ties would improve, given Nawaz Sharif’s unreserved endorsement of General Bajwa for the post of COAS.
This reading of the situation was bolstered by the reputation of General Bajwa as a professional pro-democracy soldier. It is relevant to point out here that since General Musharraf’s departure in 2008, civil-military relations have been mostly on an even keel, with most of the differences reportedly ironed out smoothly behind the scenes. But the latest spat has destroyed that perception of stability and tranquility in civil-military relations. The military under Bajwa reasserting its primacy in such an aggressive manner has been decribed as unprecedented, upsetting the conclusion in many quarters that Nawaz Sharif had finally succeeded in ensuring civilian supremacy in national affairs. As things stand, an atmosphere of uneasy calm prevails with both sides apparently pondering their next move. Everybody is wondering what would happen next. A complicating factor is India’s looming shadow in the background. As the differences between the military establishment and the civilian government on the Dawn leak issue erupted in the open following General Ghafoor’s tweet, India alleged that two of its soldiers had been killed and mutilated by Pakistan Army soldiers, adding to bilateral tensions between the two neighbours. It may be added here that friction has been running high since the September 2016 Uri attack, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants. India retaliated to that attack by claiming to have carried out a cross-border “surgical strike” on militant strongholds across the Line of Control (LoC), something Pakistan denied ever happened. The Kulbhushan Jadhav episode and the confession of a former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesperson alleging Indian hands in terrorist activities in Pakistan are other elements in the present impasse.
Since, there is an almost complete breakdown of trust between the two branches of State, things will only worsen with Nawaz Sharif coming under increasing pressure because of the proceedings of the Joint Investigation Team formed by the Supreme Court to probe the Panama case. It remains to be seen how the two vital organs of the State manage to find a common ground to wriggle out of the imbroglio. The next few weeks will be crucial in determining the direction of events In the second week of May, the government and the army came to an amicable settlement. The development rendered the above article somewhat overtaken by events. However, it was run to indicate the high level of concern about Pakistan’s security being used for political ends. The Dawn Leaks inquiry can be stacked with the Memogate and Abotttabad reports that, too, were swept under the carpet. All of the cases reek of corruption and dishonesty. Got help Pakistan! [Editor]