Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pakistan is beginning to turn a corner in civil-military relations

Pakistan is beginning to turn a corner in civil-military relations, American scholar and author Dr Daniel N. Nelson said on Wednesday while speaking about ‘understanding civil-military relations.’ The event was organised by the US Consulate.

Dr Nelson added that more needed to be done to ensure civilian democratic control over the military. The military and intelligence agencies must reveal their budget, and be available for parliamentary inquiry and testimony. Prolonged militancy could endanger civil-military relations by engaging the army in combating terrorism and diverting scarce resources towards it instead of addressing societal and economic needs, he said. Eliminating militancy and terrorism was therefore imperative so that civilians could turn their attention towards the basic needs of the people and promote democratic control over military and intelligence agencies.

Dr Nelson was of the opinion that five factors ñ laws, change of culture, structure and process, transparency and budgetary control ñ were vital for establishing control of civilian elected government over ‘all national security structures.’ While dictators have termed laws and the Constitution as pieces of paper and burnt them, it was essential for the president or the prime minister to be the commander of the armed forces. He added that it was also vital that generals not be nominated from one particular ethnic group.

Norms or values can be changed only by determining whether the army should be in-charge or subservient; whether it should control the defence ministry or listen to a civilian minister. There have been times even in the USA where army generals considered themselves important and were even elected as presidents.

The US passed the ‘National Security Act’ in 1947, the year when Pakistan became independent, to put the CIA under the control of civilians, Dr Nelson said, adding that there were times, especially during the Korean war, when relations between the president and the army chief became strained, prompting President Truman to fire the army chief. This, Dr Nelson said, was a fight to ensure democratic control over the army.

When the intelligence agencies gave misleading information about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President George Bush appointed a commission to ‘restructure’ the intelligence agency, resulting in the creation of the post of ‘director of national intelligence’ to ensure ‘external surveillance’ over intelligence agencies. Transparency and openness, Dr Nelson said, were vital ingredients for establishing civilian control over the military. This could be achieved through the promulgation of the Freedom of Information Act, and hearing and testimony by the legislature where high level officials of the intelligence agencies should appear to testify. He said that budgetary control of intelligence agencies was also essential, even though it has been observed that the intelligence apparatus terms its budget as secret. Dr Nelson, who now heads a think tank’ Global Concept and Communications’ in Virginia, said that all this required civilians to also undergo the same scrutiny.

A number of developing countries, including Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Turkey, have gone to the ‘next level’ where now there were strong chances of a stable democracy. African countries, such as Ghana, which suffered seven successive coups have also graduated to the next level.

Referring his recent talks with two Pakistani army generals, Dr Nelson said that the generals also did not want to be in-charge of civilians as it required ‘too much time and too much money.’ He admitted that the USA supported military regimes during the Cold War out of fear of communism.

About the army’s corporate interests, Dr Nelson recalled that even US President Eisenhower once warned against the implications of the ‘power of the military industrial complex.’