Pakistan’s Civil-Military Relations in the Age of Social Media

cc DVIDSHUB, modified, - A member of the Pakistan military helps civilians unload from the back of a U.S. Army helicopter in the town of Khwazahkela, during the evacuation of civilians,as part of the disaster relief effort to help the flood victims of Pakistan, Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, Aug. 4.

Professing that the institution of the military, especially in Pakistan, is or should be ‘apolitical’ is non-viable to say the least. The military is a political institution. The engagement of the military lies between the armed forces, public, and state’s domestic, national, and international institutions including floods and earthquakes relief operations, and so forth. The activities, actions, and/or advice of the military are always bound to happen in a political frame of reference and tend to have a political sequel. Even, their tranquillity or silence can sometimes be construed as a political message. In other words, the military has a connatural political nature. Ergo, the military should not flinch, demur, or evade from being labelled and pronounced political. The debate in lieu should be what it means to be political, in a constructive and germane demeanour, for those in uniform. 

 The swiftness with which a veneer of ‘prestige’ can disintegrate in the public eye through social media was observed via the posts of various official accounts after Imran Khan was ousted from power in April. This is indeed up to the minute for an institution like the military, and it continues to date. Even if social media is perceived as grandstanding loudmouths, it does have deleterious effects with logic-chopping differentiations on an omnipotent and omnipresent power in the country. In the wake of social media prowess, the domestic and international communities’ appeals to the anti-establishment narrative have ceased being ‘dog whistles’ and instead are now being hollered through a ‘bullhorn.’ All it took is an event, a personality, and a political shift for social media to sing a different tune.

The military institution is central and far too important to Pakistan’s society for it to be ‘apolitical’. Its military personnel should be comfortable discussing politics and engage in critical conversations the right way rather than avoiding the subject altogether. They should nurture expository conversations on subjects related to civil-military relations. However, its relationship to politics and state affairs requires an in-depth and serious re-evaluation as it is an entrenched political player and is improbable to surrender its influence in an instant.

 One cannot explicitly blame the military altogether for their interferences. The plausible explanations are specified by Samuel Finer (1962) and Harold Trinkunas (2010). Both have argued that teetering and unsupportive political culture and weak democratic institutions set the parameters for military interventions. For instance, currently, a touch of schadenfreude and epicaricacy is felt among the opponents of Khan, however, this is slamming shut all routes to truce and rapprochement. Such high-strung culture of our political actors is an open invitation and space for judicial activism and military intervention to decide political conflicts. 

We should not cry out for an ‘apolitical’ military, instead a military that steers clear of ‘institutional endorsement’, ‘partisanship’, and ‘electoral influence’. Pakistan has battle-scarred – both the explicit and inexplicit – forays into the political, however the inexplicit is more problematic and perplexing than the explicit, as the inexplicit involves the engineering of power, influence, and sovereignty with no responsibility, answerability, or accountability. A process of overshadowing the decision-making process does not allow political leaders to secure their power by diminishing the power of the military. It is daredevil for any democracy when military officials use their dominion explicitly or inexplicitly to influence electoral processes or, on an institution’s conduct as an arbitrator or as we call it, in cricket terms, an ‘umpire,’ to resolve affairs among two or more factions, which is an excessive stock-in-trade for Pakistani political culture.

Nevertheless, is it too early to ‘call attention’ to the maturing of social media and its role in accountability of inexplicit writ large interferences and tampering? Can the military institution strip away and commit itself to ostrich policy? If so, for how long?

Pakistan is confronting a frightful political instability amid a deteriorating economy, conspiracies, rising inflation, devaluation of the rupee, environmental crisis, water depletion, flooding, post-pandemic crisis, food security, climate change, lack of disaster management, security, and so forth. These crises cannot be resolved without the coordination and effort of all our institutions, including the three branches of the federal government, military institutions, responsible mainstream media, social media, business communities, and academia.

Rather than being reluctant apologists and later ardent defenders of tried-and-tested anti-establishment or pro-establishment sloganeering, we require a more compatible commitment to the essence of reason, individual rights, and representative government. Furthermore, a bona fide devotion to constitutionalism – demanding parliamentary supremacy, acceptance of the role of the opposition, and adherence to what is set down in the Constitution of Pakistan. There should be a delicately managed balance between democratic institutions and the military.


The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

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