At the start of the new year, reports emerged on how the Pakistan Army has changed its security doctrine, turning its face away from ominous eastern borders, looking now to disruptive western borders and deeming internal threats as being more pressing than external, read Indian, aggression. In the most obvious indication of the shift, the latest edition of the Green Book, a semi-official compendium published by the army and carrying comments and analysis by serving and retired senior officials, for the first time included a new chapter titled ‘Sub-Conventional Warfare’.
The Herald brought together security experts and defence analysts to discuss whether the shift is real or just imagined. Stephen P Cohen, researcher on South Asian political and security issues; security analyst Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir; political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa and Husain Haqqani, Pakisan’s former ambassador to the US now working as a director at the Hudson Institute, Washington, took up the question in two lively sessions, discussing it among themselves and with Herald’s readers.
Herald. Do you think the military has changed its doctrine in a big way or are most reports about the change largely media hype?
Stephen P Cohen. Both India and Pakistan are rethinking military and nuclear doctrines. They are going through the exact process that Americans and the Soviets went through from 1949 to 1964. They will make mistakes but both countries are more concerned about domestic politics rather than foreign relations; the question is whether or not they can control their own bureaucracies (read the military) and, in Pakistan’s case, the extremist groups, some of which would like to precipitate a conflict.
There is a real change in the Pakistan Army’s doctrine and in fighting priorities. Is it too late? We don’t know but we do hope that the army has learnt what can be done in the real world as opposed to what they would like to do. Unlearning past clichés is difficult but must be done for Pakistan’s sake.
Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir. When Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani took over as the army chief in late 2007, he seemed to understand the need for a change. I believe that this new doctrine was completed by the end of 2008 but became public only recently.
Husain Haqqani. This appearance of change in the doctrine is a positive development though it is clearly not enough. Militarism and militancy represent a mindset bred since the earliest days after the creation of Pakistan and there is no sign that a concerted effort is underway to change that mindset. To serving and retired military officers, India is the eternal enemy and “cutting India down to size” with the help of non-state actors a viable strategy.
Ayesha Siddiqa. I don’t think there is any substantive change in the doctrine. In any case, the media story regarding the change in doctrine was planted. The military’s own intellectuals later denied [there was any] change. There is logic to the story, beginning from the fact that if the doctrine was to alter, the entire nuclear doctrine would stand on its head, as its main justification is India. Not even the establishment pursued the BBC story [which reported the change] for very long. The Green Book of 2006 had also dealt with terrorism but this time, it has been given a twist as though the military looking away from India is a bit nonsensical.
Herald. Can you explain some salient features of the new doctrine?
Qadir. The key features of the new doctrine are: devolution of authority, learning to live without a logistic support line and initiative. Essentially, it means giving local commanders on the ground more control.
Herald. Why did the military need to plant such a story?
Siddiqa. It could have been planted to denote one opinion within the army.
Haqqani. For decades, especially after the intense scrutiny following 9/11, Pakistan’s military leaders have used public relations and media as a substitute for actual policy change. Take the example of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. Instead of ever seriously checking out that possibility, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues simply used media stories to suggest bin Laden was either dead or sick or in Afghanistan, as if that would solve the problem.
Psychological war tools have been deployed repeatedly in civil-military relations, in US-Pakistan relations and in dealing with internal policy critics. The story makes the US and other Western officials discuss the new doctrine instead of continuing to pile on pressure about the continued presence of non-state actors in Pakistan.
Herald. Do you think there is a realisation among the military leaders and thinkers that these non-state actors are becoming an existential threat to Pakistan?
Siddiqa. [The military leaders] are irked by non-state actors but not to a point where they would strategise about them. There is still a tendency to distinguish between the good and bad Taliban.
Haqqani. Non-state actors bother the military but it remains unwilling to recognise the need to completely shut them down. Moreover, non-state actors have generated sufficient internal strength to be able to blackmail the state occasionally. Islamist and hyper-nationalist elements within the media often supported by the General Headquarters’ psychological war operatives make it impossible for civilians to create national consensus against non-state actors.
Herald. Do you think there is a need to change Pakistan’s military doctrine? If yes, what direction should it take?
Cohen. Pakistan Army’s leaders are not fools. They are grappling with serious problems at home and an entirely new military relationship with India brought about both by the introduction of nuclear weapons and India’s acquisition of new conventional weapons. It is no longer enough to do old things more efficiently; the rules of the military’s games have changed. The army needs to rethink some of the larger strategic context — allowing trade with India to move ahead was a dramatic step in the right direction.
Siddiqa. Yes there is a need for change but for that to happen a few things must take place. I looked at the South African model which is very interesting. They identified several stakeholders in national security including military, industry, bureaucracy, general public, etc, conducted a survey on defining threat perception and used it to formulate the objectives of national security and determine the size of the armed forces. I wonder if we can do that too. Peace has to be seen as necessary for national growth. The problem is that a military doctrine that constitutes a reduced emphasis on India [is seen as] an existential threat to the army.
Haqqani. A military doctrine follows from the process of defining national interest. The society and the parliament – not the military – must define that. The army still considers itself the sole arbiter of national interest. The debate must shift from just “how do we fight the enemy?” to “who and what is the enemy?” and “what should Pakistan’s priorities be?”
Herald. How can the process of setting the military priorities right be launched, given the fact that the current parliament has almost always failed to stand up to the military on security, strategic and foreign policy issues?
Haqqani. Civilian leadership in setting strategic priorities is still a long way off. The military’s hegemony of the realm of discussion and debate must end. Criticism of the army’s decisions is not and should not be construed as opposition to the institution of the army. The national debate on foreign policy and the way it is conducted must change before civilians can assert themselves.
The problem we have is that there are too many instruments of intimidation against those who simply seek to redefine national interest from within the government. In Pakistan, the process has been short circuited. Certain shibboleths have been created. Anyone saying we need not try to install a pro-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan but rather should become friends with whichever regime is in power [in that country] is immediately branded anti-state.
There is little room for diversity in views about the US and India. The national discourse glorifies some terrorists, insisting that they be only called militants, and those who want to oppose all terrorists are often described as foreign agents. This manner of discussion and labelling must end for genuine discussion and real civilian supremacy [to prevail]. The military has a respected place in a nation but it cannot be the only respected institution.
Siddiqa. There is no messiah kind of formula at work. It doesn’t help when the military goes around castigating anyone who questions its formula as anti-Pakistan. The parliament has to realise it must take the bull by the horn. Theoretically, no military force has voluntarily surrendered its power or allowed that debate. In Turkey, it happened because the military was under pressure to have the country considered as a candidate to join the European Union (EU). In Latin America also, this shift happened because of external intervention which gave a fillip to internal pressure.
Herald. How do we reduce the military’s power and influence over security and strategic and foreign policy issues?
Siddiqa. I have often proposed a civil-military dialogue between the serving military officials and civilians. The only condition being that the army must not try to infiltrate the civilian [participants] through its agents and the dialogue should take place with serving military officials, not retired ones, [and it should happen] out of the media’s sight.
Herald. How did Turkey and Indonesia overcome their civil-military imbalance? How can we replicate that in Pakistan?
Haqqani. Turkey took many years to overcome the civil-military imbalance. After 1983, the military created new constitution and new parties. Even then, for 20 years the military’s meddling continued. The generals used courts to disband the Refah Party. Recep Tayyip Erdogan organised the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and patiently fought every attack one by one. The major parties agreed that they will deal with one another and not cut deals with the military. It was a gradual process; something similar might yet happen in Pakistan.
In Indonesia, the military decided to let its influence be handled through retired generals in the political sphere, thereby isolating the serving officers from politics. The election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president represented the culmination of that process. This might be less of a model for Pakistan as Indonesia has a presidential system while Turkey and Pakistan have both opted for parliamentary democracy.
Siddiqa. The military in Turkey has a different relationship with its people; it has promoted nation building. Later, it was obliged by the EU to support and strengthen democracy in order for Turkey to be accepted in the union. The JDP, of course, put its act together, which helped. In Indonesia, it was mainly after the Asian financial meltdown that the military had to surrender power.
Usman Ahmad. It is often opined that unless politicians improve their performance, the military will remain dominant in political, social and economic spheres. Please comment.
Siddiqa. Underperforming politicians are a problem in a society that is turning apolitical and which has a powerful military. However, democracies in transition are weak. It will take time.
Usman Ahmad. Is there a military think tank which decides how, when, and why the military should change its doctrine?
Siddiqa. The military has a process of thinking and debating things provided there is direction from the top as well. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the military has the capacity to change or seriously challenge existing ideas. Since the army is a powerful bureaucracy, it has little incentive to think. The control of media and academia has further strengthened its belief in what it does and says.
Musharaf Zahoor. Why should Pakistan reconsider its national security policy?
Siddiqa. Pakistan ought to reconsider its national security policy for its own benefit. We are lagging behind in most development and human resource indicators. We cannot be focused on military adventurism and [simultaneously] hope that the country gets somewhere.
Haqqani. Pakistan needs to change the doctrine of military superiority within society and state. Until that happens, any change in the military doctrine will be insufficient or ineffective in changing the country’s direction. The military has the right to give views, opinions and inputs but the nation must determine its priorities as a whole. We are falling behind in education. Our economy is underperforming. The entrenched conflicts of which Pakistan has become a part are largely responsible for this situation. Hyper-nationalist rhetoric, often encouraged by the military, must give way to rational discourse about issues and problems.
Siddiqa. Change depends on a number of things but it begins with the availability of intellectual space in a country which has now become miserably deficient. Unless we create that space we will never be able to come up with ideas or develop a consensus that benefits all. The military must understand the benefit of creating a partnership with the people and giving them ownership of national security.
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