Reversal of positions

The rise of the military or the military mindset will soon weaken the civilian leadership in Pakistan, and return the olive-green uniform to the civilian stage.
Reversal of positions
Representational Pic

Over the past few years an astonishing reversal of mode of functioning and positioning is visible in the militaries of the two south-Asian adversarial neighbours. Traditionally, Pakistan was known, in the words of the well-known Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid, as a country in which army has the state, and not the other way round, as in most countries of the world. The military has ruled the country for around half of the history of that country. And even when it was not ruling, its deep shadow did remain on the administration, and the rulers rarely tried to displease those in uniform. In the words of a former Army General: Pakistan was a ship on the high seas of international relations, and whenever the civilians ruled the country, a hole gradually developed in the ship and before the latter drowned, the military jumped on board and plugged the hole to set the ship in the right direction. The justification for the military to come to power was drawn from multiple sources and the military did win favour from the population. In India, the situation traditionally is the opposite, or so it seems on the surface. The uniform has been kept at a safe distance from the affairs of the civilian administration. It was not unusual for the civilian leadership to keep the military leadership in check, and ask them to speak in public only when the former demanded. It was not surprising therefore to hear the current head of Pakistan army to ask his uniformed compatriots to read a book on the evolution of the Indian army. That seems to be no longer the case.

In spite of the so-called recent "judicial coup" in Pakistan which many suspect to be the handiwork of the military, it is clear and quite noticeable that the military men have gone behind the stage. The civilian leadership has wrested control from the Uniform, and are not shying away from asking the military to remain within her constitutional jurisdiction. The life-in-exile of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf exemplifies the withdrawal of the military from the civilian space. Despite efforts of the military, the former General has not managed to enter and live in Pakistan with dignity and honour, a slight which would not have been possible some years ago. Even Raheel Sharif's appointment as head of the Saudi-led coalition did not go without a loud public opposition. To the extent that the high profile appointment was kept at a low profile. Perhaps never before in recent memory has been Pakistan military at such a back foot as it is now, mostly due to a common disdain for the haste with which the Uniform is thrust on the nation. Around this time, Ahmed Rashid's famous characterisation of the Pakistan army appears to be wrong. While that is heart-warming, a different story is unfolding on this side of the border.

The military in India is more and more appearing to be shifting the attention from the civilian leadership to its own self. At some level, the civilian leadership apprehending that the military is outdoing it, is trying to mimic the militaristic mindset, and acting and behaving as if a military man is at work in civilian clothes. Let us take the example of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Even though the civilian leadership at Delhi did show some inclination to amend or remove the draconian act, the military did not budge, and its word has not altered. The former home minister of India reflected his frustration with the military, when the latter refused to let anyone touch the law. Lately, the "surgical strikes" brought the military leadership to the centerstage. Although it was sanctioned by the civilian leadership but it was the military that articulated all the fine details, an aspect which was conventionally the realm of the civilian leadership. No doubt in the case of the Siachen dispute, it is clear that the Indian military did not wish to come down from the treacherous heights, and showed its might in altering decisions of the civilians but of late its supremacy in key decisions is more than apparent. Be it the awarding of the military man who made a Kashmiri a human shield or the release of the Machil Fake encounter accused, or even the statements by the military chief about stone pelters, the story looks grim for the future. The peremptory moustache of General Bakshi across all news channels leaves no doubt about the turnaround in the state of affairs. Behind all this is the aggressive stance of the military, with perhaps a sanction from some sections of the civilian mandarins. At the speed the military is gradually appearing from the shadows, time may not far away when the civilians will go in the shadows and the Uniform will hold the center stage. Or if not the military, at least the military mindset will rule the roost.

The reversal of the military's traditional disposition in India does not augur well for both India and Pakistan. The rise of the military or the military mindset will soon weaken the civilian leadership in Pakistan, and return the olive-green uniform to the civilian stage. For India itself, the display of a militaristic mindset will appear to be good in the short run, with signs of pride being restored to the army, but in the long run this will prove to be disastrous for the civilian leadership. The good course of action is to inform the military not to flaunt her uniform in public, and keep chest thumping bravado within the barracks. Technically, it sounds bizarre that a coup or coup-like atmosphere can ever evolve in India, given the diversity and the geographical expanse of the country but once the ghost of militarism comes out, it would not be easy to return it to the traditional mould. It's haunt will be difficult to take out of the system.

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