Islamabad: A recent inflammatory tweet and its retracting after more than a week’s serious civil-military tension indicate a tug-of-war between Pakistan’s civil and military establishment with fears it might continue and evolve in different directions owing to the varied political capitalization on the issue.
On April 29, Prime Minister office issued an order to take action against two officials in the line of recommendations of a special probe committee to identify the elements feeding the controversial story that maligned the military establishment. The military had blamed the civilian leadership for feeding controversial content to a mainstream newspaper on third of last October.
The story, with unnamed attributions, claimed concerns of civilian leadership about “growing diplomatic isolation” of Pakistan before the military establishment in a national security meeting in Prime Minister’s house. The report claimed concerns were about lack of action against some militant groups.
Following the submissions of the probe committee, PM office issued a directive pronouncing action against two officials deemed responsible. A few minutes after the PM office directive, director general Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asif Ghafoor issued a tweet stating, “Notification on Dawn- Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected.” The tweet caused a serious rift between the government and military establishment for many days ultimately ending up in a secretive patch up where government assured army to entertain their concerns regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the probe committee that would lead to withdrawal of the objectionable tweet, almost 10 days after the issue emerged.
“Prime minister is the final authority and his orders [regarding the implementation of the Dawn Leaks inquiry body’s recommendations] should be implemented,” DG ISPR stated in a presser on May 10 further saying, “What happened is regrettable. The two sides were pitted against one another, which should not have been done.” He also assured that army supports the Constitution, democracy and rule of law as much as any Pakistani. In a separate press release, army declared the tweet “withdrawn” and “infructuous.”
The situation, propagating army on back foot for constitutional supremacy, seemed managed through secret apologetic meetings by the government. Earlier, the government took stance that PM office issued an incomplete directive to implement the news-leak probe committee report “without brining into knowledge of prime minister.”
“We have to see this issue cautiously rather judging it as a victory and defeat of the sides,” columnist and political analyst Wajahat Masood told Truth Tracker, adding, “though the government has the right to be jubilant for the time being victory of retracting of tweet undermining military supremacy in a democracy but we should not forget this victory has not changed the civil military imbalance.” He said civil military imbalance has a history in Pakistan and it cannot be solved until civilian rulers have full control over policies and policymaking. Policymaking and it’s control still lies with military establishment in Pakistan and democratic regimes are struggling for it inch by inch.
“Also, we should not ignore more such issues and tensions in coming months,” Masood views fearing the attempts to weaken this democratic regime by next elections amid civil-military power tussle. He observed it would be very difficult for an army chief to defend this defeat before his force full with ego and belief of supremacy. The comings days actions will further clear the situation of this power game amid political and security environment of the country, he asserted.
In the history of civil-military imbalance in Pakistan, political parties in the opposition have always tried to exploit such differences between the two power corridors. Previously, in Pakistan Peoples party’s regime, the Nawaz Sharif who was in opposition at that time used his non-practicing law degree and took the ruling party to the Supreme Court in “Memogate” scandal. The controversy revolved around a 2011 memorandum addressed to Admiral Mike Mullen of United States ostensibly seeking help of the Obama administration in the wake of the Osama bin Laden killing to avert a military takeover of the civilian government in Pakistan. The then opposition party termed it a conspiracy against military establishment, an allegation which the same party is facing now after coming in power. Now, once again, capitalizing on the civil-military rift, there is pressure on the present regime to make the report public and let people decide the matter too.
Aitzaz Ahsan, senate’s parliamentary leader of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, has demanded resignation of the army spokesperson after this embarrassing-termed situation for him.
“The basic question remains the same as it was some months back as to whether the controversial story was true or false,” Asad Umar, a senior leader of a main opposition party – Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf – told Truth Tracker, adding, “the government should take a unequivocal position.” He urged the government to make the report public to avoid further propaganda.