Is the civilian government competent enough for the task?
Pakistan’s political fabric is tarnished by repeated instances and accusations of corruption. The ideals of transparency and accountability are touted time and time again as the ultimate solution. The army, which has removed several civilian governments because of their status as an unaccountable corrupt bunch of people, has been above suspicion all this time.
Interestingly, it was Zardari’s latest faux pas oriented skirmish with the establishment that has brought up the question of who the military is accountable to. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja’s stint as the Chief Justice of Pakistan also brought to light the same question when he directed DHA to provide the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) relevant documents for audit. DHA being an army institution was claiming immunity much in the same way the army does over everything else. There are questions that need to be posed indeed.
However, that also gives birth to a new issue: if the military is to be held accountable, then does the civilian government have the moral authority to do so in the first place?
Former member of the national assembly (MNA) Sheikh Waqas Akram feels that the civilian government would have no ground to stand on if it looked into holding the army accountable for anything — given the state that it’s in.
“When it comes to accountability no army in the world gives complete access to its inner workings. The British don’t, neither do the Americans. Plus the perception that our own offers no information or has no accountability is wrong,” Akram said.
“I was in the national assembly when they started looking into the budget for the army and a discussion did take place. Before we didn’t even have this, but things have been changing,” he added.
If we take into account the number of years that Pakistan has existed in terms of how often it has had civilian regimes and how often dictatorial regimes have taken over, we will notice a pattern
If we take into account the number of years that Pakistan has existed in terms of how often it has had civilian regimes and how often dictatorial regimes have taken over, we will notice a pattern.
“Civil regimes have only survived with the backing of the army. If the federal government doesn’t have the support of the establishment it cannot survive. Even if they have made it on their own, in order to stay in power they needed the establishment once again,” Akram observed.
This pattern has become a part of Pakistan at the institutional level. Civilian governments can thrash around all they want, at the end of the day the leaders never spend as much time strengthening democratic institutions as they do on swindling the national exchequer.
“These are wrong patterns that were never challenged. A debate over the hold that the army has was never started. Even when a discussion was started it was started by people that had many skeletons in their own closets, they didn’t have the moral integrity required to take it forward and turn it into a logical action,” Akram asserted.
It is an interesting predicament to be in. Politicians that are hinting towards a need for increased accountability on part of the army have done little to wipe the dirt off of their own faces. There is a long list of corruption cases, some of which go back decades and are yet to be resolved. How does one ask the military for a copy of their bank statement in such a situation?
“When they stop searching the butcher’s markets for donkeys and start going after the big fish, only then will change come,” Akram said resolutely.
A security official on the condition of anonymity said that the idea that the army has no audit or checks in place itself is ludicrous.
“Why would the army need the civilian government to step in? There is a reason that the situation is like this. The army has its own internal audit system. Every rupee is accounted for, it isn’t like the army gets money and then no one can tell where it went. There’s a proper system in place,” the source explained.
Some information is too sensitive for it to be given out to the civilian government. Precise details on where the army spends its funds could in fact turn into a security risk more than anything else.
Moreover, there is the question of whether the civilian methods are good enough to be used on the army. “The military has a very strong and merit based system in place and there is a proper hierarchy that keeps everyone in check. For example, the promotion systems are vastly different i.e. in terms of civil servants your promotions are based on the salary you’re getting. However, in the army you have to earn your commission. It’s all merit based,” he said.
“The army has its internal audit that is documented. No civilian system can match that system of accountability,” he added.
Military spokesman Major Gen Asim Bajwa was not available for comment.
Apart from the fact that the government doesn’t have the mechanisms or the integrity to go after the army for an audit, Akram points out that under Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif the military itself is going through a cleansing.
“General Raheel within the army has institutionalised anti-corruption mechanisms. I have heard from many sources that officers have been investigated and dishonourably discharged. There are stories right and left of this happening,” he told DNA.
“I think that after a very long time, already existing anti-corruption mechanisms have been activated within the army. Even in Musharraf’s era, which was quite progressive, there was no story of accountability of this kind. Things are changing and it is a good thing,” he said.
Akram feels that if the civilian government is to be given the task of keeping an eye on the army it is important that it first elevate itself to the level that the armed forces are maintaining. “They need to show a similar level of progress parallel to what the army is doing,” he added.
At the same time Akram admitted that the civilian-military relationship wasn’t at the level where it perhaps should be. “Maybe it isn’t where it is required to but things are moving in the right direction and work is being done. What moral authority does the government have? I’m not just talking about this government but every government that has existed in the last 10-15 years. Who can ask them anything?” he asked again.
Verily, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan shed some light on the incompetence of the civilian leaders when instead of asking that local institutions be strengthened enough to tackle corruption, he asked the Rangers to step in and do the job in Karachi. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was quick to react to the statement and called the idea utterly unconstitutional. At the time of writing this Khan has already made another one of his trademark u-turns on his own statement. However, it still is an alarming situation that the leader of one of the most significant parties has little faith in democratic institutions, but plenty in the establishment. When civilian leaders are ready to handover accountability to the army, who is going to be asking them any questions?
Nevertheless, some feel that the military must be brought under the ambit and writ of the government if democracy is to have a real chance.
Saad Rasool, a lawyer and writer, agrees when he says that bringing the military under the umbrella of the civilian government is just as important as the power and energy crisis. “In all democratic countries the army falls under the civilian government’s umbrella and army policy is dictated by the civilian government,” Rasool asserted.
At the end of the day what is clear is that the government itself needs to do a lot of work before it is in a position of true democracy
The army doesn’t just get to avoid accountability of its own volition. These are rights that have been allotted to its under law in Pakistan. “The Constitution grants fundamental rights from Article 8 onwards to Article 28. The army has its own act made under the Constitution which is the Army Act 1952. Article 8 basically has an exception carved out that the following laws are not to be governed by the fundamental regime regular courts i.e. high courts or supreme courts.
“One of the laws which is exempted is the Army Act itself. So the internal workings of the army are not subject to civilian courts. The second thing that the Constitution has done is that in Article 199, which is effectively the article under which you approach the High Court when you file a writ, that article says that writ does not apply to army officers on matters that concerns their jobs.
“Any order that IG Punjab takes, prime minister takes, president takes, etc, can be challenged, however, any order that the army chief takes does not fall under the civilian courts’ jurisdiction. The Constitution bars such cases to be tried or argued before civilian courts,” he informed.
However, Rasool points out that this clause isn’t an entirely bad thing. In that, the civilian government or structures should not be privy to sensitive information and may not have the wisdom or knowhow to with; the kind of data that comes within the ambit of this scenario can make or break strategy at times.
It is also true that simply expecting accountability from the army has no bearing on how it has been performing. The operations being undertaken by the army have been producing real results, however, that should not mean that an institution can function in a manner where it isn’t possible to see how public money is being spent.
Rasool believes a solution lies in finding a middle ground.
“Such kind of information shouldn’t be debated or made public, however, a special committee could be constructed. Some civilian oversight is needed,” he offered.
At the end of the day what is clear is that the government itself needs to do a lot of work before it is in a position of true democracy. It makes no sense to expect a line of corrupt bureaucrats to vet any institution on accountability.
The question isn’t simply that of holding the army accountable, but also whether it can be held accountable by the civilian government as things stand.