Pakistan: The civilian-military conundrum

The crisis is spiralling out of control at tremendous speed. The strategists of capital have no clue how to address and find a way out of this economic and social catastrophe.

In a country that is endlessly gripped with uncertainty and speculations, cynicism becomes part of the social realm. With almost half of its history under direct military rule and with the single exception of civilian rule in the early 1970s, the army has wielded immense influence. It is no wonder that the change of command in the Pakistan army is always an issue that exacerbates speculations, especially amongst the chattering classes and the petit bourgeois intelligentsia, with an ischemic outlook chained within the confines of the present system, now in a catastrophic crisis. The corporate media, with its vested interests integral to the survival of the decaying system and the state, is in a relentless crusade to divert and bury the real issues of the masses; it has had its heyday in this transition. The replacement of General Ashfaq Kayani by General Raheel Sharif as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has been in the headlines of the rambunctious broadcast media for such a long period of time that it would have been unthinkable in any advanced country. 

The civilian-military ‘conflict’ and the alterations of military rule and civilian democracy is not about ‘good guys’, ‘bad guys’ or heroes and villains as our political elites try to make us believe. The real reason behind this ‘cat and mouse’ charade is the historical weaknesses of the Pakistani bourgeoisie. It is historically belated, economically debilitated, and so dependent, on the one hand, on the landed aristocracy instead of abolishing graft feudalism imposed by British colonialism and, on the other, due to its financial and technological weakness, it had to submit to the crushing domination of the world market under hegemonic imperialism and was forced to act as a comprador or commission agent to corporate capital with a minority share in the imperialist plunder. Its historic redundancy to carry out the tasks of the Industrial Revolution were exhibited in its evasion of taxes, robbing the treasury, defaulting on bank loans and plunging into rampant corruption. No wonder then that more than two-thirds of the economy is today in the informal sector or the ‘black economy’. 

The state and its institutions were weak from inception but they became even more unstable due to the social and economic eruptions in a society utterly failing to develop a stable base and solve any of the tasks of the creation of a modern nation state and in the national democratic revolution. With the passage of time, these problems have worsened and have become festering wounds on the body politic of a nation unable to define itself and coalesce. Religion has become part of the state and is frequently injected into the social streams of society by the state and the political elite to divide and crush mass movements. Parliamentary democracy has been a farce, nothing but a rule of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. It was this character of the ruling elite that enabled the army to assume a dominant role rather than state saviour. In this, it has spread and deepened its influence into civilian institutions, the landed gentry, commerce, finance and business. 

According to the latest issue of The Economist, “Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif will now control not only a vast army and the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, but a business empire ranging from cornflakes to luxury housing.” The financial interests of the military elite have greatly influenced the policies of the armed forces and have veered into adventures and operations like the Afghan jihad of the 1980s that were prodigiously lucrative in this primitive accumulation of capital that has become a hallmark of today’s military. However, this was not the only reason for the successive military takeovers in spite of the condemnations so much in vogue today. The Economist comments, in the same article, “By meddling in elections and mounting coups, it has weakened the political classes, whose consequent ineptitude and corruption gives it a cause to meddle again.” 

The army intervened not just to control the unravelling economy and political chaos that the bourgeois civilian governments brought about but also to crush and curb the mass discontent morphing into a social revolt, threatening the whole system. Ultimately, the fear of the military begins to evaporate and the working classes and the youth begin to enter the arena of struggle initially for overthrowing the brutal dictatorships, but the university of street power very rapidly moves the masses against the very system sustaining the exploitation that shadows their lives. It is no accident that every movement against dictatorship has been reflected through the PPP, resulting in replacement of the military with a weak PPP government. The imperialists and the serious strategists of the state understand far more than the so-called liberal and progressive civil society and the intelligentsia that the only way they can protect and sustain their decaying system is by co-opting the PPP leadership otherwise the masses will either force its leadership to the revolutionary left or alternatively will create a new revolutionary leadership. Due to the capitulation of the PPP leaders, it becomes a tool for the ruling class to subdue the very masses that hold illusions of the PPP as a vehicle for the socio-economic transformation for their salvation. 

This vicious cycle of this mass deception to perpetuate the rule of despotic capitalism has now exhausted itself. The discipline and the priorities of the military today are a far cry from those of the army of the early 1950s. The enormity of the crisis makes it difficult for the military’s elite to intervene directly as it would be an existential threat to the armed forces. Nawaz Sharif dithered until the 11th hour to nominate the ‘right’ general. It is not a question of an individual but, on the contrary, it is all about continuing and sustaining the system. Faced with turmoil and revolt, the military will have no choice but to reluctantly step in to save capitalism. The crisis is spiralling out of control at tremendous speed. The strategists of capital have no clue how to address and find a way out of this economic and social catastrophe. This explains the total inertia of the Sharif regime and the writing is on the wall for this ‘civilian’ setup and its tenure. What has been made elusive is that the toiling masses are seething with revolt as this system further brutalises their lives with massive poverty, price hikes, unemployment, deprivation and misery.

With the eruption of a mass revolt on a class basis, the civilian and the military elites will unite to preserve their system of opulence and power. With a Marxist leadership and party to unite and organise the mass movement, this system can be overthrown and society emancipated.