When on December 17, 2019, the military statement expressed “pain and anguish” over the death sentence in absentia on treason charges given to ex-COAS, Pervez Musharraf, many observers were flabbergasted. They asked, can the army display pain and anguish on a judicial verdict? Was the opinion within the army being deliberately politicised?
It is a basic axiom of military sociology that only those militaries which maintain a distance between their rank and file and the social, political and religious tensions in the society can project impressive military power in their regions. Greeks and Romans kept their militaries separate from the society, and indeed projected impressive military prowess. Indians rulers, including Mughals, failed to draw a line between the armies and social and religious tensions in the society, so their armies were nothing more than disorganised jumbles of bands, sects, groups and castes.
Unfortunately in Pakistan, primarily because of the military governments’ use of military organizations and personnel in administrative and political roles, the line between social, religious and political tensions in the society and the military organisation has remained blurry.
Ayub Khan was content with using civil bureaucracy as a junior partner and kept the military personnel away from day-to-day functioning of the state. Zia galvanised his constituency among the army officers and used and appointed them in every corner of the state. Musharraf did the same with more fun fare and pomp, and transformed the army into a powerful constituency.
There is a marked difference between COAS leading his soldiers and a political leader satisfying his constituency. Political constituencies can dislodge a leader. But a military leader cannot be dislodged by his constituents, read soldiers, if they are unsatisfied with him.
There is a marked difference between COAS leading his soldiers and a political leader satisfying his constituency. Political constituencies can dislodge a leader. But a military leader cannot be dislodged by his constituents, read soldiers, if they are unsatisfied with him. Military profession is tough and to command soldiers is even tougher.
Political discourse is messy, and seldom consensus driven, as political debates divide societies and create fissures among social and political groupings. If military organizations are exposed to social, religious and political tensions over a prolonged period of time, divisions are bound to appear in military formations. A history of military displays that military men express “pain” and “anguish” felt through social and political fissures in a violent manner. Take a look at the role the demobilized military men after the Second World War played in Punjab riots during the partition of subcontinent in 1947 or their reaction to the Dogra rule in Kashmir.
The Pakistan political elite is inept and shortsighted. They don’t understand that the hatred they are spitting on each other always has a boomerang effect on the forces. The army’s organization is not located on Mars. Unplanned urbanization has brought military garrisons into the hearts of the cities. Prolonged political, social and religious tensions in the society will affect this organisation at a deeper level.
Suppressing pain and anguish of army men on partisan issues may widen the civil and the military line. Therefore its best the relations remains non-controversial. Unconfirmed reports in the media on the reaction of junior officers and ex-servicemen to the ouster of Imran Khan are rather disturbing. Bureaucracies are supposed to be non-partisan and should remain so. Otherwise the situation may become explosive when dealing with a partisan issue at the national level.