Civil-military relations post-Dawn Leaks

The military carries and inculcates in its men, as well as the society, the notion that it is responsible for the territorial and ideological borders of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan  

Civil-military relations post-Dawn Leaks


On May 10, the Dawn Leaks controversy came to an end when the DG-ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor, while briefing the media, said, "our press release wasn't against any specific individual or institution. The tweet was posted against incomplete recommendations. It, unfortunately, pitted the army and civilian government against each other which should have been avoided. Recommendations as contained in Para 18 of the Inquiry Committee Report, duly approved by the prime minister, have been implemented, which has settled the Dawn leaks issue."The preceding has raised certain questions. Why did the army decide to put an end to the otherwise much-hyped leak on our national security? Why didn't the DG-ISPR send a tweet in this respect? Did the army and the civil leadership make any "deal" as Imran Khan hinted at? Why did the PPP and especially the PTI try to turn the tables on the civil and military leadership by taking the matter to the parliament as the latter, in their view, is the right forum constitutionally? And, as a result of the army's position on this issue, can one argue the Sharif government has achieved another milestone by getting clear out of another trap laid out by the opposition?

To begin with, Dawn Leaks, regardless of the nature of the contentmade public by Cyril Almeida, reflected structural and institutional issues that have become chronic in Pakistan's civil-military relations where the latter has been a powerful actor for decades. Since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his third term as PM, was attempting to control the military by employing medieval means, including, visiting India to attend the inaugural ceremony of PM Modi or later hosting him in Raiwind along with secretly meeting Modi's confidant, Sajjan Jindal in Murree only recently. Such developments would have naturally ringed alarm bells in the corridor of the GHQ. Hence, General Raheel Sharif, the former COAS, found an opportunity not only to contain the irritating prime minister, who after all is the product of the military regime of General Ziaul Haq but also to put his organisation above all other state institutions with respect to security of the country. The military, as the green books suggest, carries and inculcates in its men as well as the society, the notion that it is responsible for the territorial and ideological borders of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. From this logic, since the prime minister was violating and compromising national security, it was but natural on the part of the security establishment to take due notice of the wrong doings. Hence, Mr Sharif was put on trial both publically, courtesy our unbridled (social) media, and legally.

To ward off public concerns, the Sharif government took little time to fire its information minister, Senator Pervez Rashid. Legally, however, the matter lingered on before the Inquiry Commission and, on April 28, the office of the prime minister, having received the final report from the commission, issued a notification that summarised major recommendations of the report which initially and ultimately fell short of damaging the Sharif government as well as PML-N. Nevertheless, the prime ministerial notification stood "rejected" by the army that demanded full compliance with the agreed upon the report. Interestingly, the opposition political parties sided with the army than the civil government. This clearly marked a return to the politics of the 1990s. In the prevailing security context, where Pakistan has worst relations with three of its immediate neighbours, the army walked rationally and stopped short of staging the sixth coup. The crisis, however, only got resolved when the civilian government decided not to test the nerves of the powerful force of the country. Hence, the civ-mil leadership probably met in camera and reached a middle ground where the Sharif government fired two of his top advisors and the Army apparently took the tweet back. Taking the tweet back does not mean tactical retreat or defeat of the military. It indeed marks its victory and superiority over the civil side of the equation. Moreover, the strategic posture of the DG-ISPR, from the institutional perspective, was required to stay clear socially and politically. Nonetheless, the healthy sign, at least in this context, is that Pakistan is not put in the past through another coup though PPP, PTI along with a coterie of ex-servicemen, wished it. The PPP and PTI acted hypocritically and opportunistically by dubbing the end of Dawn Leaks a "deal" and took it to the parliament. One wonders how many times the PTI showed respect and preference for the parliament during the 2014 and 2015 sit-ins. The PPP, only recently, cut a deal with the powers that be, to be able to survive politically.

Taking the tweet back does not mean a tactical retreat or defeat for the military — rather it establishes its superiority  over the civil side of the equation

Lastly, though the Sharif government has survived the Dawn Leaks, it still is amid the crisis. It lacks the vision to correct the imbalance in the civil-military relations. Its strategy of normalising with India (or relying on the Saudis, Turks or the Chinese) may backfire any time for, to talk about India, there got to be a talk within Pakistan between the civil and military institutions. Perhaps this is time to seriously and sincerely discuss the future direction of the country mired in multiple crises caused essentially by imbalance and instability in the civil-military relations.


The writer is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow. He tweets @ejazbhatty