Democracy and the uniform

President Pervez Musharraf’s remarks made in a speech to a public meeting in Dera Ismail Khan on Saturday that his army uniform has nothing to do with democracy and in fact may have strengthened democracy need to be taken with a pinch of salt. The fact is that democracy and its advocates, whether they happen to be in Pakistan or overseas, do not think that it can mix with military rule, or a president who also happens to be the professional head of a country’s army. Take the case of America where according to that country’s constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military. However, the distinction between that and our example is obvious — the US constitution does not envisage a military soldier as commander-in-chief although some American presidents, especially in the nineteenth century, made a name as military generals before they decided to stand for public office. However, they first retired or left the military and competed as a civilian.

And why is it that in theory democracy is not seen mixing well with the military? For the simple reason that both work very differently. The military has to have a strict chain of command with all rank and file necessarily complying with the order of their commanding officer. If this discipline and singularity of authority were not the case then it would make for a very dangerous situation because any country’s military needs to have a unified and centralised command structure for it to function smoothly and cohesively. That is also why all armies of the world — and this is true of ancient armies as well — have always had very strict punishments for those mutineers and/or deserters for such individuals by their rebellious and non-conforming actions can undermine their state’s security. Hence, because of the nature of their profession and the function that they serve within their organisation, and because of the importance of the army in guarding a country’s territorial integrity, generals need to be dictatorial to some extent.

But that is also precisely why a democracy — at least one in the true sense of the word — cannot have a serving army general or chief at its head. And this holds true regardless of the fact whether the military ruler is himself a progressive and a liberal who may, at least in his own estimation, mean well for the country. Democracies do not look kindly on one-man rule. And while there is a National Assembly and a Senate in Pakistan as well as the provincial assemblies, it is fair to say that the presidency holds disproportionate power and that is because its incumbent happens to be army chief as well. This lopsided relationship, where one institution has much more authority and power compared to the others is also not good and helps explain why politics in this country has always been so stunted. The military, by its various interventions, has never allowed the elected National Assembly and Senate, and the provincial assemblies, to mature and grow into the true institutions of democracy that they are meant to be. In many cases, these houses of parliament, at least partially, have been selected rather than elected and in that too the establishment has played a major role. In a true democracy, elected parliament and not the military is supreme because it is the true representative of the electorate. In a sense the president is right when he says that the uniform has “nothing to do with democracy”. It doesn’t — but because in a true democracy the country’s armed forces are well and truly under elected civilian control.

Courtesy: The News

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