By Rana Saadullah khan, Musharfa Shah and Sohaib Zafar
In tandem with a project initiated by DRUMS member Aimun Faisal in 2015, the Debates society at LUMS started off this year’s quarterly debate with one on possibly Pakistan’s most pressing issue — and unarguably one that has stood the test of time — civil-military relations. The debate’s motion was as such: “The PML-N’s politics are harmful to the civil-military relationship”. The framing of the debate was successful in attracting a large audience, with the Saeed Saigol Auditorium being completely packed, even as last-minute changes to speakers were made.
The debate was opened by Faizan Haider, an active debating member of DRUMS, and a participant in international Model United Nations conferences on behalf of LUMUN.
As the first speaker for the proposition, he opened the debate by attempting to define its parameters, saying that public perception about the civil-military relations is crucial in analysing the politics of PML-N regarding the Panama case verdict. He remarked that the defence team of the Muslim league was flawed in that it alluded to conspiracies, instead of claiming its own innocence against a series of allegations. He referred to an interview of PMLN Senator Mushahidullah to BBC where the senator accused ISI chief’s meddling in the civil political arena. Haider argued that such confessions create a public perception that tensions exist in civil-military ties. He furthered his argument by quoting Khawaja Saad Rafique’s statement in which the PMLN leader had called Imran Khan a “mohra”- a pawn. He questioned the wisdom behind the statement and referred to his initial stance that such statements create an environment of collision between state institutions. Haider said that PML-N’s politics gave an impression of some sort of need for retaliation against the military and judiciary after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif from the office. He again referred to a statement by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal where he had questioned the DG ISPR’s right to comment on economy. Faizan maintained that as a citizen of the country everyone has right to express their opinion and DG ISPR’s statement should be viewed in this context. He said the PMLN followed “a dual policy” of retaliation in the public sphere but a policy of collusion with the military in the political grounds. Some students found Haider’s assertions that there was something wrong in the PML-N’s suspicions of military involvement in the trials succeeding the Panama leaks naive and a reflective of a poor grasp of Pakistani history, but by and large, the speech was successful in setting the debate on a certain trajectory. As a DRUMS member acting as a substitute for a speaker that backed out, Haider was convincingly able to deliver as a fully invested member within the debate, and garnered applause when he insisted that the DG ISPR had every right to criticize the economy.
The opposition to the proposed motion was opened by Malik Ahmad Khan, an elected representative of the Muslim League. In reply to the arguments made by Faizan earlier, Khan at the outset admitted friction between civil and military leadership. He said that within the party, there are two groups, calling them “ideologues” and “pragmatists”. He said that ideologues were inclined towards challenging the military establishment, which is believed to be playing against the civil supremacy. He said that “hawkish elements question the formation of JIT and view it in the wider context of events, including Dawn Leaks”. He questioned the use of corruption as a pretext for the ouster of elected governments, and referred to it as a buzzword in the political discourse of the country, which had lead to nothing more than instability and the strangling of elected governments. Mr Khan, while commenting on the Panama case verdict said that in the wake of Panama case, the democratic mandate of the Muslim League government was the first victim . He further pointed to the uneasiness with which the security apparatus of the country approaches normalizing ties with India, alluding to perception within his party that this might have been one of the reasons why the military played against Nawaz Sharif. At the closing of his submissions, Malik Ahmad Khan said that failures or loopholes in governance by civilians does not entail that military should step in the space, stressing that the principle of civil supremacy is not eroded by the inefficiency of civil governments. Responding to Haider’s comments on the DG ISPR “fiasco”, Khan said that this is a question of “official capacity” and not of personal opinion. In his opinion, within their official capacity, army officers have no right to comment on the matters of civilian governance.
Khan’s speech was first received as a surrender to the proposition, but in its conclusion, had the effect of taking it for granted that there was something wrong in the civil-military relationship, but opened the question of who was responsible for the strain between the two institutions.
Waleed Iqbal was the second speaker from the proposition side. A politician from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, and introduced as once a student of Philosophy and Law from the prestigious universities of Harvard and Cambridge, Iqbal took an overtly aggressive stance on the issue. Beginning by saying that PMLN has always followed anti-military policies, he claimed that they had only become more pronounced after Nawaz Sharif’s recent disqualification. Calling Sharif “a lone wolf” and “a skeleton in the closet” , Waleed criticised the style of his governance. He said Sharif only focused on amassing power and consolidating his own hold during his four years term and never gathered a team to take-on the challenges facing the country. He criticised PMLN’s performance regarding National Action Plan (NAP) and National Counter Terrorism Authority(NACTA). He said there is confusion in the government benches about the functional aspects of NAP which hindered any positive steps taken for madressah reforms and counter-terrorism results are dismal . Alluding to the statement of PMLN MNA Capt. (R) Safdar against Ahmadis, he said that PMLN had acted against the minorities of the country, and referred to a similar anti-minority move by Zulfiqar Bhutto’s government, after which the military apparently had to “step in” to protect the country religious minorities . He said it was a shame that military had to issue a statement regarding the right of Ahmadis to join Pakistan Armed Forces.
Iqbal by far attracted a polarizing reception in the auditorium, with many students guffawing in particular his claims that the military had to step in when the civilian government defined Ahmedis as non-Muslims in the 1970s. The claim that the military historically practiced no discrimination against any community, within its ranks and otherwise was scorned — an Anthropology student remarked, “What Waleed Iqbal is saying means that Zia took over to maintain inter-religious harmony,” adding sarcastically, “Ahmedis should thank God for Zia.” Iqbal’s jokes about the Prime Minister’s body weight were also taken to be in poor taste, and plain offensive by some, even as his anecdotes of needing to clarify the nature of metaphors when debating with Muslim League Nawaz representatives sparked a round of applause.
Ejaz Haider, the second speaker for the Opposition, was introduced as a primetime talk show host on channel Capital News. Haider started his speech with a jibe on politicians, justifying his refusal to invite politicians by alluding to the lack of substance in Waleed Iqbal’s speech. Haider talked about how madrassas in Pakistan ,despite being known as breeding grounds for terrorists, remained not only operational but work indispensably within our education system because of institutional incapability, incriminating both the civil government and the military in this. He also objected to the word ‘’politics’’ as it was written in the debate topic, stating that politics with an ‘’s’’ signifies politics as a matter of value judgement of what should ideally be done in a government and this turns the debate to another direction. Referring to history, he alluded to the decade of 1990 and the persistent switching between dictatorship and weakly held civilian governments. He called it an era of Quasi-military decade of governments, where the military decided the fate of civilian power just as Henry VIII decided the fate of his wife when he said ‘’ I won’t keep you long’’. While disinclined to be reductive, he went on to state that civil military relationship, in light of present democracy and our history of dictatorships, is not just about PMLN or just about Nawaz Shareef, and strongly criticized the framing of the debate by the DRUMS opener, Faizan Haider, and his insistence on limiting the debate to the present time and absolving it from the historical context in which it is undeniably situated. Giving only the JIT committee the status of being qualified enough to decide on the matter, he diverted the attention to focus on what he called ‘’confronting the elephant in the room’’: the power struggle between civilians and military. According to him, civil society isn’t cohesive or unified enough to put up a strong fight against military and hence, there will always be some degree of manipulation. Essentially critical of the military’s saintly portrayal within the confines of the debate up to this point, Haider effectively brought back the role of historical precedent within the debate and situated the debate within a wider sociological problem in Pakistan. Receiving thunderous applause at several witty junctures in his speech, many felt that Haider’s charisma and sensitivity to an audience of many social sciences and humanities students had decided the debate for them.
Zahid Hussain, a regular columnist for Dawn and a veteran analyst of Pakistani affairs with particular attention to the state’s relationship with militancy and the military itself, was the third speaker for the side proposition. He started his talk by mentioning 15th amendment which led to Nawaz Sharif being called Ameer ul Mumineen and how this policy was against civil supremacy, reminding the audience of Nawaz Sharif’s rise to power through the military government of Zia Ul Haq. In fact, Hussain was notably powerful in painting the Sharif family in a very different light up to this point within the debate — on one end, Haider’s speech had made the Sharif family sound as if it were struggling to maintain democracy in the face of an overbearing military, while Waleed Iqbal had painted the Muslim League as nothing more than a party of bumbling half-wits. Hussain insistence reminded the audience of Nawaz Sharif’s own troubling personal history, with his rise to power and leadership of an Islamist party alliance, all with the military’s approval. Referring to Ejaz Haider’s viewpoint about dictatorships he stated that it was actually the imbalance caused between civilian authority and military that resulted in martial laws. This imbalance is something that Nawaz Sharif can’t manage, he said, a person who rarely attends parliamentary meetings. He went on to mention the appointment of Saeed Ahmed as NBP chief as a result of personal favours by the ex-Prime Minister. Also mentioned was the delay in appointment of a foreign minister so as to entitle his daughter with the position instead. As for the National security measures that are largely undertaken by army, he informed about the long due security meetings that were supposed to be held by members of cabinet but weren’t due to excessive reliance on the army. He linked this to the history in Pakistan of bringing down Prime Ministers due to, mostly, undemocratic reasons and majoritarily by army. Another aspect he highlighted was that Nawaz Sharif had applauded the dismissal of ex PM Yousaf Raza Gillani on the case of contempt of court but now was rejecting the proceedings of investigative committee ( JIT), calling this act ‘’mockery’’. Nawaz Shareef has been popularly quoted as aiming to improve Pakistan-India relations but Zahid Hussain pointed out the lack of policy direction that can be observed for the said aim. Hussain’s speech, while not receiving the responses that both Iqbal and Haider received, was able to deconstruct the person of Nawaz Sharif as created by the opposition, was a sobering reminder of how deeply problematic all of the country’s politics and its alternatives have been.
Umair Rasheed ended the debate as the third speaker of the opposition. A journalist and part-time academic, Mr. Rasheed is also a faculty member of the Political Science department on campus. Rasheed emphasised the enormity of power required to harm the military, and doubted any political party could exclusively be a source of harming civil-military relations or capable of affecting the military’s operations. A political party does not have the clout or network that the military does, and cannot have the final say in most matters, said Rasheed. The rest of his speech was mostly a reaffirmation of the central point that the opposition relied on: that a political party could not possibly be the cause of “harming” civil-military relationships.
- Special cases - January 3, 2018
- God of Small Things: A Review - January 1, 2018
- The First Quarterly Debate of 2017-2018: Civil-Military Relations - January 1, 2018