Pakistan: Military Role in Civil Administration

Bidanda M. Chengappa, Senior Fellow, IDSA

 

Pakistan's growing dependence on the armed forces to provide a panacea for the crisis in civil administration appears to be sustaining its image of a "praetorian" or "garrison" state.1 Despite the military leadership professing no desire to rule the country after a decade of democracy, the government has sought military participation in administration, resulting in the creation of an armed bureaucracy since last year. This trend is evident from increasing military involvement in wide-ranging administrative activities, from managing essential services and monitoring state-owned schools to conducting the census and building non-military roads. Today, the military, under democratic governance, has a wider and deeper participation in civil administration than it had during the martial law regimes. As a result, two processes are simultaneously taking shape: the militarisation of civil society and the civiliaisation of the military community.

Praetorianism implies the exercise of independent political power by a military community which can either use or threaten to use the instrument of violence against the citizenry. In a sense, the military evolves into an entity to manage threats to legitimate authority in a country. In reality, this is possible only in underdeveloped countries which are characterised by poverty, illiteracy, weak middle class, absence of strong political parties, nascent stages of administrative evolution, and dichotomy between tradition and modernity.2

This paper attempts to analyse the role of the Pakistan military in civil administration after a decade of democratic governance. It highlights the difference between the military regime which exercised political power under President Zia-ul-Haq and thereafter under an elected government wherein the armed forces possess only administrative power. The analysis draws a distinction between two types of military leadership based on the concept of "arbitrator" and "ruler" type of praetorian military--one which acquires administrative power and the other that holds political power. The paper will also examine the implications of military involvement in civilian administration taking into consideration both the internal and external dimensions.

The extent and parameters of military involvement in the democratic regime can be best explained by a recent statement of the chief of army staff General Parvez Musharaff. While speaking on February 8, 1999, at Sialkot, he outlined broadly that the Pakistan Army, besides defending the national frontiers, has been helping the government to stabilise various institutions and improving the law and order situation within the country. He said that "the armed forces would continue assisting the government in improving the institutional performance besides aiding civilian administration in its efforts to keep law and order intact."3

Today the role of the military in civil administration is quite different from the constitutional crises of the past, simply because in the present context the government requires military participation in running civil administration out of dire necessity to maintain law and order, among various other problems, which is quite in contrast to a military coup d'etat during a constitutional crisis. To that extent, the military involvement in civil administration does not necessarily amount to intervention in the political process like in the past decade. Thus, the expanding involvement of the armed forces in the national mainstream brings into focus the role of the military in a democracy.

In the biggest peace-time mobilisation of the armed forces, a quarter million military personnel were employed to conduct the fifth population census in March 1998. Almost 30,000 personnel have been deputed to manage the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda). The setting up of controversial military courts, which are not as manpower intensive as the involvement with other civilian administrative activities, symbolises the power of the military over the citizens. In April 1998, some 20,000 military personnel were used to investigate "ghost" schools in Punjab which were involved with siphoning education funds into the pockets of politicians and officials.4

Today, while senior military officers have been appointed governors and chief executives of public sector corporations, their retired counterparts have contested elections and become political leaders. Here a problem could arise on account of the strong levels of bonding or espirit de corps that is traditionally associated with the military community and evident from their personal associations persisting much after their life in uniform. Given this military ethos, there is a danger that a nexus could develop between serving military officers and their retired counterparts, both of whom may be holding positions of power. And this could result in a tacit understanding between the military brotherhood to concentrate power in their hands thereby denying the same to the bureaucrat and politician.

Another disturbing trend is to utilise the military for civilian administrative work like conducting the census, managing the service sector, meting out justice and monitoring state-owned schools. The third trend relates to the incorporation of more military officers into the civil bureaucracy, mainly the federal secretariat, the intelligence, and the police.5 The military, therefore, runs the country at three levels—at the apex through political appointments like governors, with administrative appointments to manage various public sector corporation, and in the district administration at the second level and at the lowest level by getting the soldiers and sailors to actually perform work professionally not assigned to them. The military, therefore, exercises control in a province from the top, in the district administration at the middle-level through the majors and colonels, and at the grassroots level through its soldiers and sailors who have a ground level presence owing to the various activities assigned to them.

The ubiquitous presence of military officers in civilian administration dilutes democratic culture which upholds values like freedom of the press and transparency in the process of administration, including institutions like the judiciary. On the other hand, the military which has a different ethos essentially oriented to war, tends to downplay these democratic values. To illustrate the point, let us assume that martial law replaces democracy in a country with a powerful press which plays the traditional role of a watchdog and exposes the misdeeds of the political leadership. Thereafter, in the new military regime, the press would not be able to perform an effective part in governance. This is because military leaders have limited experience and exposure to dealing with the press as news reportage on defence affairs is restricted business in developing countries. More specifically, senior military officers do not encourage or entertain searching questions about the state of the armed forces as a rule and tend to give evasive responses when confronted with awkward issues.

Therefore, military leaders functioning as martial law administrators are likely to allow such inherited attitudes to persist even when dealing with citizens outside the military. The military command structure does not encourage liberty and equality among its members who have a well-defined hierarchy only in order to fulfill its professional objectives. To that extent, martial law regimes and democracies are mutually incompatible by nature. This, therefore, results in the militarisation of society which is an undesirable and unhealthy trend for the development of civil societies.

For instance, during 1992-93, senior Pakistan military officers were holding around 100 coveted civilian appointments. This trend of armed forces "capturing" power outside military organisations led to heartburn among civilian officers/technocrats who had aspired for these positions all through their careers. It is relevant to refer to the case of a senior officer in the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) who filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court against Vice Admiral Mansurul Haq of the Pakistan Navy who was the PNSC chairman in May 1993. The issue emerged following a conflict between the Nawaz Sharif regime and the Pakistan Navy over privatisation of the PNSC. While Nawaz Sharif favoured privatisation, the naval lobby oppossed the move.6 Such a situation clearly underlines how the military lobby's vested interests have a tendency to override national economic interests.

Similarly, excessive involvement of the military in terms of time and manpower in non-military matters is not advisable for the armed forces. The unambiguous role of the armed forces is to wage war against an external enemy. Therefore, involvement in other unrelated spheres of administration only damages the discipline inculcated among the personnel through a particular style of training and functioning. For instance, the extended employment of armed forces for aid to civil power to maintain law and order will bring military personnel into direct contact with citizens and create scope for corruption and misuse of power. It erodes the military culture of discipline. Making the military perform a role it was not trained and oriented for only distorts the armed forces organisationally and leads to civilianisation of the military community.

Civil-Military Relations

The new Afro-Asian nation states which became independent republics in the post-World War II, period inherited weak administrative systems with the withdrawal of colonial powers from their countries but had comparitively better organised militaries. These militaries had participated in the World War II and were compelled to develop into professional fighting organisations. The militaries were the only viable option to elected governments, which were ineffective without an appropriate administrative apparatus, as they possessed stronger organisational structures and the most modernised institutions in those societies.

Among the post-colonial societies, Pakistan was created in 1947 as a territorial expression of Muslim nationhood comprising five distinct ethnic streams: Punjabis, Balochis, Bengalis, Pathans and Mohajirs which together did not contribute to a unifying national character. These diverse communities did not help in national integration and instead sharpened the socio-ethnic cleavages which further weakened the social fabric in the country. In turn, these realities coupled with the fact that the Muslim League, which spearheaded the movement for Pakistan, did not have a strong political base in that country, enabled the bureaucracy to fill in the vacuum created by the withdrawal of colonial power and such a situation did not encourage the evolution of political parties or personalities.

The bureaucracy was the de facto ruler in Pakistan from 1951 after political leadership proved to be ineffective. After a decade of bureaucratic rule with the farce of political leadership, the bureaucracy became a corrupt entity. The levels of corruption led to the intervention of the military in politics, resulting in the first military dictatorship of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Initially, the civil service used the political leadership as an agent to legitimise its rule but with the advent of military rule in 1958, the bureaucracy then switched this role to the armed forces. This resulted in a nexus between the military and the bureaucracy to consolidate power among themselves in order to avoid sharing it with political parties.

The two reasons for the defunct state of civil administrative machinery are corruption and political interference. The administrative bureaucracy primarily comprises the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP), the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). It was characterised by its regulatory rather than facilitatory nature. This encouraged corruption in all forms and at all levels in the bureaucracy. For instance, a district magistrate's power could be used to either support or stymie a politician in the initial stages of contesting the elections. The administrative leadership was also able to mislead and influence the public towards a particular course of action given the level of illiteracy in the country. The Civil Service of Pakistan or the upper crust of the bueaucracy commanded great influence over the business community in terms of granting licences and contracts. Eventually during the early 1950s, corruption had reached gargantuan dimensions and 500 cases were registered but the number of convictions were few. The Pakistan Times stated in an editorial:

However depressing it may be, the fact must be faced that, during recent years, a stage had been reached where honest men in the administration or public life rather than the corrupt were regarded as oddities. No branch of administration could claim to be free of the curse; and from the chaprasis and petty clerks to the highest paid officials--and there are many who did not join the scramble for illegal gains--found it most embarrasing to work in this atmosphere, and they were sometimes even discriminated against for refusing to play the politician's dirty game. A section of the Pakistani civil servants has always imagined that Pakistan was created solely for their personal benefit and, not satisfied with accelerated promotion and inflated salaries, they sought to amass wealth by every fair or foul means.7

The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the central government promulgated the Civil Services (Prevention of Corruption) Rules in 1953. The civil servants were corrupt and grouped into various factions; as a result the CSP did not emerge into a strong institution. The peak period of rampant corruption was between 1962 to 1968 with civil service officer's wives also getting involved, and ministers were unable to act against them as they themselves were compromised or powerless.

President Ayub Khan failed to check corruption and this largely resulted in his downfall. After General Yahya Khan took over, he sacked 303 senior civil servants including 38 CSP officers and 16 PSP officers. Thereafter, Z.A. Bhutto, as prime minister, sacked 1,400 civil service officers and introduced political interference in running the bureaucracy.8 He started the lateral entry scheme for direct recruitment into the bureaucracy with mid-career experience. Critics opine that this scheme was initiated to enable Bhutto to infiltrate the bureaucracy with individuals loyal to him.

President General Zia-ul Haq terminated the lateral entry system into the civil service but replaced this with the institutionalised induction of military officers. Otherwise, he had a cordial relationship with the bureaucracy and all key portfolios like those of secretaries of finance, information, defence, establishment and interior were held by civil servants.

The Pakistan military's credibility stems from the fact that it delivered the goods by way of protecting territorial integrity against India and Afghanistan during the initial phase of nationhood. Field Marshal Ayub Khan, has stated in his biography Friends Not Masters, "Pakistan's survival was vitally linked to the establishment of a well-trained, well-equipped and well-led army." The army was entrusted with wide and varied duties in 1947. Initially, "it had to assist the depleted ranks of the civil administration in maintaining law and order"; secondly, "there were gigantic problems of extrication, protection, movement and administration of millions of refugees from India"; thirdly, "it was entrusted with the task of protecting "the Hindus and Sikhs migrating to India"; lastly, it had to protect the new, ill-defined, lengthy and sensitive borders.9

The bureaucracy in general welcomed the prime ministership of Benazir Bhutto and associated her group with younger age profiles to initiate a change in the style of governance. Owing to the anti-military ethos amongst the bureaucracy, as the military and civil service were rivals in the power structure, the civil servants felt an affinity for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the new prime minister. However, during the 20-month PPP regime there was unprecedented glasnost in governance through the medium of inspired leaks about government affairs to newspapers. These leaks could be attributed to a bureaucracy disgruntled with the government-of-the-day.10

The conflictual relationship between the PPP and the bureaucrats had three major reasons which merit elucidation. The PPP government had been in Opposition for a decade and, therefore, had an inherent distrust of the bureaucracy. The PPP regime attempted to "short-circuit" the system and inducted party loyalists in an arbitrary manner which disturbed the decision making hierarchy. The PPP politicians were corrupt and their ministers were only involved in making money.11

Therefore, the Pakistan military, being the only professional institution remaining in the country, managed to insulate itself from political interference and corruption in relative terms. Hence, the government had no option but to utilise the military, which continues to be the last bastion of excellence, for a host of civilian administrative duties which otherwise in normal circumstances are civil service functions.

While a military takeover of political power in Pakistan amounts to "hard" rule, the armed forces participation in civil administration symbolises "soft" rule.2 The "soft" rule operates at three levels: the large scale employment of non-commissioned officers, on a relatively smaller scale at the middle management and at the apex with senior officers holding two-star/three ranks as chief executive officers/administrative appointments. Pakistan's experiments with military rule persist as the generals are attempting to gain greater control over civilian institutions during the past year.

Despite a decade of democratic governance, administrative agencies have not been adequately strengthened and the military continues to be the only institution the leadership can use as a last resort. Today, the level of military involvement in various spheres of the national mainstream only indicates that martial law has ceased only on paper, not in reality. The only difference is that military leaders earlier grabbed power from politicians when political, economic and social disorder prevailed but they have now accepted a political directive to support the government in running the day-to-day affairs of the nation. While the military has not taken over the reins of the country for over a decade, after the demise of General Zia-ul Haq in August 1988, it is now being compelled to get seriously involved with civilian administrative duties.

Praetorian Army Typification

Pakistan's generals previously took over power from the political leadership only to protect the people from misrule. Contrary to popular belief, the military leaders did not seize power for its own sake but only because somebody had to rescue the country from misgovernance. However, after Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Generals Yahya or Zia had tasted power, Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely became applicable here.

The story begins with General Ayub Khan who seized power from President Iskandar Mirza in 1958 followed by General Yahya Khan ousting Ayub Khan; then followed a five-year break from military rule with Prime Minister Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto being voted to power and Pakistan had a taste of democracy. Again, General Zia-ul Haq replaced Z.A. Bhutto as the ruler of the country and after the general was killed in a mysterious aeroplane crash, the military retired to the barracks. The democratic process resumed in Pakistan and continues with two leaders at the helm of affairs alternatively for two tenures.

During the post-Zia period since 1988, the military leadership has chosen to nurture the democratic process and the country has seen two prime ministers who have each been voted twice into office. Apparently, the Pakistan military has no desire to rule the country but due to misgovernance in the past it has now extended support to the politico-administrative leadership. In the process, the military has over the years emerged as a stronger power centre than the bureaucracy.

According to Amos Perlmutter and Valerie Palve Bennet, there are two types of praetorian militaries--the arbitrator and ruler types.13 The arbitrator version occurs when the elected government seeks military involvement and the ruler version is when the military grabs power from civilian authority. While an arbitrator-type military imposes a time-frame for martial law and is prepared to hand over the government to an "acceptable" civilian regime, it does not relinquish its political influence after returning to the cantonments. In several cases, it continues to act as a guardian of civilian authority and political stability. The danger herein is that an arbitrator type military can turn into a ruler type if the conditions for a return to civilian rule are not established. A distinguishing feature between the two types is that the arbitrator type is committed to a time-frame while the ruler type is not. Perlmutter and Bennet state:

As the ruler and arbitaror varieties are exact opposites, it is adequate to list the features of one type and characteristics of the other variety would be self-explanatory. The features of the arbitrator type are:

(a) acceptance of existing social order

(b) willingness to return to the barracks after civilian disputes are settled

(c) no independent political organisation and no attempt to maximise military rule

(d) time limit for military rule until an alternative and "acceptable" regime is established

(e) concern with professionalism

(f) tendency to operate from behind the scenes as a pressure group

(g) low level of national consciousness

(h) fear of civilian retribution

It would be relevant to analyse each of these features in the context of the involvement of Pakistan's military in affairs of the state during the Zia and post-Zia periods. This will help to highlight the fact that under Zia, the military merits typification as a praetorian "ruler" army but subsequently in the post-Zia period, it became transformed into a praetorian "arbitrator" army.

Military and Politics in the Zia Regime

(a) The Pakistan military under Zia's leadership was not prepared to accept the existing social order which is evident from the fact that the regime had attempted to impose Islamic ruler or Nizam-e-Mustapha on the people.

(b) As is evident, Zia, after taking over as the chief martial law administrator in 1977 and the judicial execution of Z.A. Bhutto, did not step down from office and eventually ruled for 11 long years till he was killed in an aeroplane crash.

(c) The Zia regime supported the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate to evolve from an intelligence agency dedicated to defence affairs into a political arm of the Pakistan military. This is evident from the fact that the agency was directly involved in creating the Islamic Jamoohri Ittehad (IJI), an alliance of the smaller political parties, to take on the PPP.

(d) Zia's interest in governing the country clearly underlines his half-hearted concern with promoting professionalism in the armed forces. The profession-of-arms demands total commitment and preoccupation with governance tends to detract from the pursuit of soldiering. Army corps commanders who were key decision makers in the organisational or command structure, were also involved with non-military matters--this only diffused their attention from planning for war which is a continuous process.

(e) While concern for soldiering as a profession was only partial, the chief martial law administrator was preoccupied with foreign policy formulation and implementation. In the Zia regime, the Pakistan military played a secondary role while the ISI was a major player in the national security machinery owing to Soviet military presence in Afghanistan. In the process, the Pakistani leadership concentrated on professionalising the ISI rather than the armed forces as the Soviet threat had an intelligence dimension and not a direct military one.

(f) During the Zia regime, the military exercised direct control at the politico-administrative level and played a role in policy formulation while the civil service personnel were involved in implementation of these policies.

(g) This theme is not clear during the period under review and, therefore, no attempts at comment.

(h) Evidently President Zia as a military dictator was the numero uno in the country and, therefore, did not feel the need to fear civilian retribution. There were really no alternative power centers in the country because he had eliminated political opposition that could threaten his position. Initially, the bureaucracy proved to be a power centre owing to the weak political base in the country. The Muslim League, which spearheaded the demand for an Islamic state, was strong only when it was in India rather than in Pakistan and, therefore, the bureaucracy filled up the power vacuum in the newly created country.

Military and Politics in the Post-Zia Period

(a) The military has accepted the existing social order except for a brief aberration which refers to the October 1995 coup attempt by a small group of army officers which was successfully thwarted by the authorities.

(b) The military, following the demise of General Zia, had the opportunity to run the country once again but chose not to do so.

(c) The direct involvement of the military in politics was through the ISI and other intelligence agencies and mostly confined to establishing the IJI with the limited political objective of preventing the PPP from coming to power. Now that the PPP is not in power, the military and Prime Minister Sharif have a common political agenda.

(d) The armed forces' disinterest in political rule is evident from the absence of military rule for a decade.

(e) The concern with military professionalism is linked to the perceived threat potential from India and, therefore, an emphasis on arms acquisitions and security alliances with the US and China.

(f) The military which is a power centre in the politico-administrative decision making process has a strong tendency to operate from behind the scenes. A classic example is the military enforcing the condition that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto accept Lt General (retd) Sahibzada Yakub Khan as foreign minister during her first tenure of office.14

(g) The people of Pakistan fear Punjabi domination which has helped to accentuate regional identities and this has led to low level of national consciousness.

(h) The recent resignation of the Pakistan chief of army staff General Jehangir Karamat in 1998 for making a critical statement on the quality of governance was reportedly a response to the threat of dismissal by the prime minister. This only proves that civilian retribution is a reality for the military leadership to fear in future.

Concluding Observations

The rise of a "praetorian" state neither augurs well for the country nor its neighbours. It would, therefore, be relevant to examine the implications of a "praetorian" state taking into account both the internal and external dimensions. The room for growth of "limited" democratic rule in the country would only be hampered with this new trend of "praetorianism" taking shape. The problem with getting the armed forces involved with civil administration has an inherent disadvantage in that the military is likely to lose interest in its primary occupation during peace-time and instead develop new interests in attempting to take over political power. This is because the degree of political involvement in civil administration is high in a democracy and a military role in the administration has scope to increase the level of contact between the armed forces and the political leadership. In view of such a situation arising from military aid to civil administration for an unlimited or undefined period of time, extending the charter of the armed forces beyond their prescribed role should be seen as the first step towards a military takeover and the next one could well be a coup d'etat itself.

Also military regimes have proved to be war-prone for the neighbours given that two Indo-Pakistan conflicts took place in 1965 and 1971 during the dictatorial rule of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan. Among the various causes for war, the practice of internal cohesion through external aggression is perhaps relevant in this context. It should be convenient for a national leadership to initiate war especially when there is military rule which implies that there is no difference between the political and military leadership. In contrast, in a democracy, the political leadership which is supreme cannot afford to start a war so easily owing to the dilemma of accountability and the fact that it has to contend with a probing press and querulous legislature.

On the other hand, it could be argued that while General Zia-ul Haq was in power, there was no Indo-Pak War. While this is true, it should simultaneously be noted that Pakistan had, since the 1970s, altered its military policy towards India and opted to switch from a "hot" war approach, given the conventional superiority being against its favour. This resulted in adopting a "cold" war strategy comprising guerrilla warfare and low intensity conflict operations in Jammu & Kashmir. This change in strategy formulated during the Zia regime was initially implemented in Punjab and subsequently in J&K. The other aspect to the change in strategy was linked to the rise of the ISI Directorate during the Zia regime. So much so that the second phase of the cold war strategy was pursued in the post-Zia period in J&K. In effect, the legacy of Zia's military regime, namely, the ISI, has outlived its creator and continues to plague relations with India.

A more optimistic interpretation of military aid to civil administration is to view the development in terms of downsizing the armed forces in the context of the newly acquired nuclear weapon capability. Perhaps the military leadership in the post-Chagai phase experiences a strong sense of national security linked to nuclear deterrence factor which diminishes the scope for hot war with India.15 Given the emphasis on promoting peace in Indo-Pakistan relations, such a line of thinking cannot be ruled out.

While the military establishment has a track record of directly ruling the country for 24 years out of 50 years of nationhood, the same leadership now prefers to rule by "remote" control through several serving military officers and retired ones who hold positions of power. This would imply that the military brass who actually call the shots possess power but have now chosen to distance themselves from the decision-making process through the facade of a "politico-administrative" class of rulers between them and the people.

The military leadership has attempted a "soft" takeover of Pakistan since March 1998 in contrast to "hard" takeovers earlier. Perhaps the generals have realised that direct forms of governance practised earlier can prove to be problematic as privileges come with responsibilities and this implies accountability. For these military mandrains, therefore, the exercise of power minus the accompanying backlash is possible only by moving out from front room positions like chief martial law administrators and presidents to a backroom style of management.

 

NOTES

1. The image of Pakistan as a "praetorian" state is attributed to three military dictators: Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Generals Yahya Khan and Zia-ul Haq who together have seen the country through almost two and half decades of martial law regimes.

2. Amos Perlmutter and Valerie Plave Bennett, The Political Influence of the Military, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980).

3. The Frontier Post, February 9, 1999, p. 12.

4. Zahid Hussain, "Army To The Rescue," Newsline, May 1998, pp. 18-28; Massoud Ansari 'WAPDA's Khaki Take-over?," Newsline, January 1999, pp. 42-43.

5. Ibid.

6. POT Pakistan Series, vol. XXI, no. 124, May 31, 1993, p. 2116.

7. Quoted in C.P. Bhambri and M. Bhaskaran Nair, "Corruption in Pakistan Civil Service: An Analytical Survey" in Verinder Grover and Ranjana Arora ed., Political System in Pakistan (New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1995) p. 289.

8. Mushahid Hussain and Akmal Hussain, (New Delhi: Konark Publishers, 1993) p. 13.

9. Zarina Salamat, Pakistan: 1947-58, (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1992) p. 163.

10. n. 8, p. 83.

11. Ibid., p. 86.

12. Hasan Askari Rizvi, "Civil Military Relations in Pakistan" Survival, vol. 40, no. 2, Summer, p. 96.

13. n. 3, p. 206-208.

14. Kalim Bahadur, Democracy in Pakistan: Crises and Conflicts (New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications, 1988) p. 44.

15. Khaled Ahmed, "Out of the Barracks: Options of a Nuclear Pakistan," The Indian Express, February 8, 1999, p. 8. The article was also published earlier in The Friday Times (Lahore).