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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Pakistan’s multiple crises: Who will lead the affairs – Executive or Military?

When Pakistan witnessed first coup in its history. The court validated it by the "Doctrine of Necessity." This set the path for the future intervention of military in the executive branch of the country. Ikram Sehgal opines that Pakistan sees multiple crisis ahead and executive specially bureaucracy will have to take the charge seriously otherwise things can go terribly wrong.

Rather than keeping the national interest and wellbeing in mind, those likely to be held accountable (whether in the Opposition or in govt), are using the pandemic crisis to target Imran Khan avoid accountability. To serve their narrow political aims the danger is that they will succeed in undermining national security.

To get back their hold over the population lost because of the successful anti-terrorism campaign of the last two decades, religious leaders on their part are busy disseminating propaganda undercutting the medical relief measures. This is an opportunity to get back their nuisance value by provoking religious feelings and disturbing the law and order situation. With coronavirus fatigue setting in, Ramadan in the coming weeks spells danger.

The situation now existing in Pakistan warrants some options. This is going to be further aggravated by precarious weather conditions, first the heatwave followed by an imminent flood crisis. The President of Pakistan should declare a State of Emergency under Article 232 of the Constitution. Moreover Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan allows the “Pakistan Armed Forces” to act in “aid of civil power” for the purpose of security, maintenance of law and order and restoration of peace.

Read more: Through Ebbs & Flows: The Political Journey of PTI & Its Current Challenges

Because armies are not equipped for governance their role only goes wrong when those that apply it forget that their role is limited to support technocrat governance for a short period and not become part of it. Beyond a certain period. Because of the ambitions of a few they overstay their welcome and become an occupation force by default. All soldiers take an oath to defend the constitution “even to the peril of their lives”.

Even if Article 6 is bandied in their face, if the cause is just and their motivation pure, why should they fear their fate if they are forced by circumstances to violate the wording of the oath and not the spirit behind it which tasks those who take the oath with defending the life and liberty of the citizen under the Constitution? Unless they used their acquired powers to enrich themselves, their friends, associates and relations, soldiers can always face up to the consequences of their actions.

To quote my article of Dec 28, 2006 “Bangladesh, Democracy in Crisis”, just 10 days before the Army took over, “The Bangladesh Army has been under extreme pressure to step in. In an exclusive dinner a few days ago with the present Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Moeen Ahmad, one got a unique chance to understand his situation.

To quote my article of July 17, 2008, ‘A refined Pakistani model’, “The Bangladesh model in early 2007 did not make the mistake of sending uniformed officers and men into civilian jobs

With his permission to quote him (almost) verbatim, “even though I have had sleepless nights with both serving and retired persons as well as many in the political and business community, etc urging the Army to fill the “void”, I am determined that the Army will not violate its oath. This young democracy only 16 years old and we do not want to go back to square one.

We will continue to give mature advice to all in the electoral process to fulfill the responsibilities of a democracy. The Army will stay in a subservient role to civilian authority as is mandated to us constitutionally. The Army has no business running the government, we will support any civilian authority on the basis of a fair, equitable vote”, unquote.

The Bangladesh Army’s action in early January 2006 (with the concurrence of the Bangladesh Supreme Court), was greeted with universal acclaim. To quote my article of July 17, 2008, ‘A refined Pakistani model’, “The Bangladesh model in early 2007 did not make the mistake of sending uniformed officers and men into civilian jobs.

Read more: Bangladesh’s India Challenge (Part: 1)

Unfortunately, almost every military chief who takes over civilian power discovers his own immortality in governance as ‘the saviour of the nation’ and his intentions become suspect. Lt-Gen Moeen (the then Bangladesh COAS) was no exception, disappointing for me personally. With loss of credibility, the Bangladesh model failed in its primary aim: to cleanse the body politic of the corrupt.

Because accountability did not succeed, Bangladesh came back to square one in 2014 with a vengeance. However no court in the world could convict Moeen and his close aides for violating their oath under the ‘clear and present danger’ that Bangladesh at that time (2006-2007) faced”, unquote.

In the present circumstances one can almost guarantee that the Pakistan Army will face such a crisis of “clear and present danger” in the future. While the Honourable Supreme Court has asked the govt to convene for a meeting of Parliament, we all know this will be a fish market where the only agenda will be to crucify Imran Khan and his govt, who in turn will reciprocate the blame game.

Let’s escalate this into a situation of an insurgency, what happens when the unit/sub-unit comes under armed fire from snipers or from armed men ready to even fight pitched battles (as in Karachi)?

Madame de Stael said of Napoleon’s coup de etat: “As soon as the moral power of the national representation was destroyed, a legislative body, whatever it might be, meant no more to the military than a crowd of five hundred men, less vigorous and disciplined than a battalion of the same number.”

I am opposed to martial law. As far back as March 16, 2008, I was visiting Dhaka where the military was in power, those in the media, aware of my 2006 conversation with Gen Moeen wanted my opinion about military rule, pointedly asked me, to quote bdnews24.com, “Pakistani security expert Ikram Sehgal on Sunday said in Dhaka that the army in Bangladesh should not be involved in the state affairs for long.”I believe the army has very short, very limited and specific duties.

Several months are OK, “he told journalists while exchanging views on Pakistan’s pre- and post-election situations at the auditorium of the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity in the city. “I think that the Bangladesh model should not be for two years,” he said. “They (army) should not get involved in day-to-day affairs. You (army) cannot be involved in the economy,” Sehgal said.

Read more: Bangladesh’s Indian Challenge (Part-II)

“I am sorry to say that army officers have no role in business.” On reforms in the political parties, he said the government should not manipulate the natural system of creating leaders. “When there is a vacuum, the patriotic leaders in the parties come up as part of a natural process, he said,” unquote.

The concept of a “clear and present danger” annunciated by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes involved the “freedom of speech” and licence thereof. He maintained that when any individual misuses any freedom (in this case of speech) and endangers others the concept of application of justice. A man starts yelling “fire, fire” in a movie theatre, the stampede towards the exits results in injuries (even deaths) among the cinemagoers.

Restraining or punishing the man would technically violate his freedom of speech, allowing such “freedom” would result in injuries and deaths to innocent bystanders, what should be the logical course of justice? We must recognise the situation as a “clear and present danger” and restrain the individual, relying more on logic and the spirit of the law rather than the pure letter of the law.

The crucial question being asked today is whether the Constitutional parameters about the use of the military is/was being followed to the letter of the law? An act of violence by any assembly of persons makes that assembly unlawful. If the police force is insufficient for dispersing unlawful assemblies and suppressing rioting and disturbances, civil authorities have the right to call for military assistance.

According to the law in force any military officer called out to act “in aid of civil power has taken instructions from a magistrate, than in using “as little force as possible” (direct quote from MPML) the magistrate. Even if the magistrate is absent, he must be particularly careful in using no more force than is absolutely necessary. The policy of limiting force requires any firing must be strictly controlled to obviate greater bloodshed i.e. every bullet must count.

To make sure that crowds are clear that bluff is not being used, firing of blanks is forbidden as it may encourage the crowd to test the bluff and thus cause greater bloodshed. Chapter 9 of the MPML puts emphasis on the conscience of the officer in using his judgement to avoid a bloodbath as well as keeping his nose clean.

Read more: Freedom of speech and blasphemous caricatures 

Let’s escalate this into a situation of an insurgency, what happens when the unit/sub-unit comes under armed fire from snipers or from armed men ready to even fight pitched battles (as in Karachi)? Do we then turn automatically to Chapter 9 clause 7 of the MPML (where it says, quote “where the disturbances are recurrent, widespread, concerted and directed against constitutional authorities it becomes the duty of the executive, in exercising the common law right of repelling force by force, to assume such exceptional powers and to take such exceptional measures as may be necessary for the purpose of restoring order.

Using this analogy on the country scale, the ultimate option staring us thus in the face is “the route of last resort” in the taking of exceptional powers and pre-empting a slide into possible anarchy.

A swift return to democratic rule must include fair accountability to include the judiciary and the military. “The Doctrine of Necessity” must not be used as in the past to promote personal ambitions (and greed)

One must take both positive and negative “lessons learnt” from the 1999 Pakistan and 2007 Bangladesh military interventions. The “Bangladesh Model” was partially a refined “Pakistan model”.

The bottom line is that you do not run the govt, you run the people who run the govt – and hold them accountable! Uniformed personnel must stay out of government, supporting the bureaucrats who are inherently trained and capable in running the affairs, giving them cover to be effective in governance for the good of the people and the country.

Uniformed persona must also shun their own ambitions, looking for a second life in politics and/or government. Moeen got undone by going off the script. Gen Waheed Kakar flatly not only refused an extension but any other future political role in the future, the “Waheed Kakar” model remains an outstanding example of a soldier true to his uniform and calling.

Read more: 73 years on: Why US still follows the Truman Doctrine?

A swift return to democratic rule must include fair accountability to include the judiciary and the military. “The Doctrine of Necessity” must not be used as in the past to promote personal ambitions (and greed). Unfortunately unless we act constitutionally now, there will be no option but to revert to the “Doctrine of Dire Necessity”, and possibly even see a return to personal ambitions?

Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is a Pakistani defense analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. The article first published in Daily Times and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.