#PakArmyRebuildingPeace has been trending on twitter. It makes one ponder on the actual role of the military and our perception of it. The trend itself was reflective of the peacebuilding efforts of the Pakistan Army. It contributed to glorifying the army while appreciating its efforts at our borders and within our borders. The trend in itself is harmless but the narrative which it propagates needs serious thought. Is peacebuilding the military’s role? If not, why is military taking it up and furthermore why is our democratic society ok with this?
Across the globe military’s prime role is defense – ensuring the nation-state stays intact and unbreeched from aggressors. Military is also activated for search and rescue missions and assistance in emergencies and provision of humanitarian aid. In Pakistani context; military and democracy have been in a power struggle for most of the country’s life. (Fun Fact: If you google martial law; almost all entries on the first page come up with Pakistan in them followed by a couple regarding Trump).
So, coming back to the question – is peacebuilding the military’s job? There exists a variety of literature on how military can contribute to peacekeeping and be part of peace missions – however peacebuilding seems to fall within the civil authority arena. Pakistan’s context is very different – not only because our power corridors have evolved under years of military rule but also because of inept democratic governance (representatives and structures). We want democracy, but we also want the military to be pleased with whatever we democratically do – if that isn’t done the political price associated with it is too high to pay. We want military to take charge of cities to ensure peace, we also want military to train our cricket team so that they are fit enough to win. And since civil departments are not able to maintain law and order within the country we have the National Action Plan and the terrorist courts – so let’s just say that democracy single wheels while military is tasked to stabilize and damage control. Our ideal being that, single wheeling should be fined and democracy should be the stabilizing agent.
The military knows what power tastes like, knows the capacities/performance of the democracy – is well resourced and is amongst the strongest military forces in the world. Military also responds to the ever so frequent cries for help from civil institutions. So now again; is peace building the job of the military? Ideally, still no – while military’s role is to purge the homeland of aggressors and keep the peace – the civil authorities should step in and take charge to build the peace. Since the military frequently steps in matters which should swiftly and effectively be dealt by civil authorities – it is seen as the role of the military. Since military is able to take up that role – it starts gaining communal acceptance and we tread further towards maybe permanent militarization of our society without even realizing it. This is when we cultivate beliefs which make it unpatriotic to question the military budget or to God forbid slash it for societal well-being (which may include capacity building of civil authorities). This is not to undermine the capacity, courage and role of the military but a call to bump up the capacity (and commitment) of the democratic representatives and structures. We should thank our veterans for their services as we should thank police, judges and teachers. Glory aside, no institution funded by taxpayers should be immune to critique.
The ‘war on terror’ is an amorphous phenomenon and Pakistan being much affected by it will mean more work for the military and atop that more relegated work for the military given the present trends. The heated debates on the reinstating terrorist courts is an example of this. The civil institution whose power could be relegated in this case is the judiciary – a core pillar of democracy.
The acceptability of a phenomenon can be easily seen in public narrative and #PakArmyBuildingPeace is a strong message for those who want to open their eyes to it.
The principle of political control of the military should be rooted within democracy as civilian institutions should be supreme. This delicate balance needs to be maintained for robust defense and effective and continued democratic governance.