Addressing Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan

Joseph Snyder, Walter Anderson, Shuja Nawaz, and Lisa Curtis. (Khoi Nguyen/ Asia Society)

WASHINGTON DC, October 22, 2008 – At a panel discussion co-hosted by the Asia Society and the Atlantic Council on civil-military relations in Pakistan, experts Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, Dr. Walter Anderson of SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, and Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation, agreed that a consensus between the civilian government and the military is critical for democracy in Pakistan.

While the military has long been a powerful political player, the people of Pakistan have recently witnessed dramatic changes in the relationship between the military and the civilian government. General Pervez Musharraf resigned as president and was succeeded by Asif Zardari, whose civilian presidency is facing mounting challenges, including an increasingly virulent insurgency, economic troubles, and US pressure on cross-border activities to counter terrorism.

Nawaz explained the context of the military’s involvement in Pakistani politics, which began with the Indian-Pakistani dispute on sovereignty over Kashmir. According to Nawaz, the prolonged civil-military contention is an ongoing conflict in which the military’s institutional power is pitted against the coalition government’s legal and constitutional power.

Anderson stressed that forging a consensus in civil-military relationship is one of the most important matters facing Pakistan today. He argued that even though Pakistan has restored a civilian government, the country’s military establishment will retain considerable influence.

Curtis’ remarks underscored the importance of a US-Pakistan relationship. She urged for a clarification of the US’s view of the Pakistani military’s role in the war against terrorism, while stressing the importance of the consensus between military and civilian government to prosecute the war.

The three experts agreed that despite the many obstacles ahead, the Pakistani civil-military relationship does seem to be evolving into some kind of working partnership—an accomodation that will be essential for Pakistan to become a successful democracy.

Reported by Khoi Nguyen, Asia Society, Washington, DC