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Monday, July 15, 2024

The Minefield of Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, when he became the President and Chief Martial Law administrator in truncated Pakistan, soon sent Lieutenant General Gul Hasan and Air Marshall Rahim Khan, the army and air chief respectively, packing on charges of Bonapartism. He then appointed General Tikka Khan as the Army Chief to keep the latter pliant.

It is in the air that Nawaz Sharif, pulling the strings from London, wants the next general elections in Pakistan to be held not before November 2022. The reason –Nawaz wants the next army chief appointed by PM Shehbaz- Nawaz Sharif’s public face, after General Bajwa’s retirement. What difference will it make if the Sharifs manipulate the appointment of the next army chief? And why do the politicians always want to control the army?

According to Principles of Management, a course taught in the management sciences, the reasons, why leaders do not delegate authority to their subordinates, are?

  1. Tendency to meddle in the domain of their subordinates.
  2. Fear of being exposed.
  3. Indispensable person theory.
  4. Desire to dominate.
  5. Unwillingness to accept risks.

Read more: A false narrative building attempt by Modi’s India

Understanding the matter better

Why do the politicians, when in positions of authority, want to be in the driver’s seat when dealing with the military commanders? This tendency is not Pakistan-specific. We know how Hitler and Stalin meddled, not only in the administrative aspects of their respective armed forces but also had their fingers in the planning and execution of military campaigns. Hitler, when Wehrmacht – the German Army, was knocking at the gates of Moscow, in a sudden U-turn ordered his generals to turn south, towards Ukraine. “I want the wheat fields of Ukraine to feed Germany and the Wehrmacht”, Hitler told his generals. The way the German Army got a bloody nose after Hitler’s U-turn is history.

Stalin, Hitler’s nemesis, was another tyrant known for interfering in the military’s domain. In his famous purge of the Red Army’s top leadership, based on false intelligence reports, Stalin had the cream of the Red Army executed even before the war with Nazi Germany started. Deprived of capable military leadership, the Red Army stumbled into WWII with disastrous results. It was only much later when commanders like Marshall Zhukov turned the tables on Wehrmacht during the Stalingrad campaign. Stalin, with no military background, would also involve himself in the planning and execution of the Red Army campaigns.

In the Subcontinent, even an avowed democrat like Nehru was not averse to having frictions with his generals. His critics claim that Nehru favored the air force and navy at the expense of the Indian Army. This, they cite as one of the reasons the Indian Army was defeated in the 1962 Sino-India War.

Read more: How the Arab-Israeli Wars shaped Pakistan’s security paradigm?

Iskander Mirza, Pakistan’s first civilian president, had opted out of the British Indian Army to join the Indian Civil Service. As an ICS officer, he served as Deputy Commissioner at Peshawar and was the defense secretary in Pakistan’s first cabinet under the Governor-General. Iskander Mirza gave himself the local rank of major general. According to his biographers, he liked to be addressed as “general sahib”

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, when he became the President and Chief Martial Law administrator in truncated Pakistan, soon sent Lieutenant General Gul Hasan and Air Marshall Rahim Khan, the army and air chief respectively, packing on charges of Bonapartism. He then appointed General Tikka Khan as the Army Chief to keep the latter pliant. Tikka Khan was wanted by Mujib and Indira, who threatened to try him on charges of committing war crimes against the Bengalis. At the fag end of his tumultuous rule, Bhutto was reportedly reading books on how Hitler kept his generals under the leash.

Zia had seized power in July 1977 by toppling the Bhutto regime

On 4th April 1979, he executed Bhutto on charges of masterminding the murder of a political opponent. The intended victim of the murder had survived, though, and his father was killed instead. Zia remained pliant and loyal to Bhutto till things started getting out of Bhutto’s hands and he was forced to impose local martial law in three cities – Karachi, Lahore, and Hyderabad.

Read more: The De-focusing of ISI

Zia was killed, along with many of his generals and the American ambassador when the C-130 carrying his entourage exploded in mid-air shortly after taking off from Bahawalpur airport, in southern Punjab. He had gone there to witness a demonstration of the American M-1 Abrams tank. Zia was killed because he had outlived his utility for some people, groups, or countries.

General Aslam Beg, Vice Chief of Army Staff who became Chief of Army Staff after Zia’s death, in a recorded video speech which was played before the officers in all the garrisons, stated that, on returning to Rawalpindi after Zia’s plane crash, Beg held a meeting with the other two service chiefs and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Thereafter they called Ghulam Ishaque Khan, Chairman Senate, to GHQ and asked him to become the president. According to General Beg, Ishaque Khan, addressing the general, said: “General Sahib, you impose martial law and also become the president”. Beg continued that, on his insistence, Ishaq Khan reluctantly became the president.

Benazir and Nawaz were catapulted to power after Zia’s death

General Aslam Beg, who served under both of them, often complained during his addresses to the officers about how both these politicians tried to meddle in the army’s administrative affairs. (Luckily, Benazir and Nawaz, unlike Hitler and Stalin, did not have the streak to plan and execute Pakistan’s overt and covert wars with India). Benazir limited herself to trying to get her favorites promoted. One such person, in deference to Benazir’s wish, was promoted to the rank of major general but was not given any sensitive appointment.

Nawaz was more problematic. He had tiffs with almost every one of his appointed / non-appointed army chiefs. Nawaz was even accused of poisoning General Asif Janjua to death.  General Janjua’s body was exhumed and autopsied .Traces of arsenic were found in the body. However, the matter was hushed up.

Read more: The politics of audio-visual leaks

General Jahangir Karamat, Pervez Musharraf’s predecessor, was summoned by Nawaz to Murree and asked to resign. His crime – General Karamat, when answering a question at the Naval War College, had talked about the need of having a national security council. While General Karamat was submitting his resignation at Murree, General Pervez Musharraf, Corps Commander Mangla, and Nawaz Sharif’s next appointee were on his way from Mangla to Murree.

Why did General Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif’s appointed Army Chief, fall afoul of his PM? What made Nawaz Sharif take the disastrous step of hijacking Musharraf’s plane? It was not the Kargil War, as alleged by Nawaz. Before the Kargil War, Nawaz had attended all the briefings on the planning and execution of the Kargil War. He was fully on board.

The moral of the story: Nawaz Sharif has been programmed to shoot himself in the foot.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.