20 April 2016
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment project, is heralded as a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan’s economy and regional cooperation. Being a crucial part of a major development initiative led by China, known as ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR), to connect Asia with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the CPEC is much linked to hopes, interests, as well as regional and global geopolitics. However, such a mega project never comes without challenges and critical questions. Besides the puzzle of the feasibility of its implementation, or potential impacts on the regional cooperation, it seems that the CPEC development has severe negative impacts on the country’s traditional unhealthy civil-military relations.
Pakistan has been ruled by military forces for around half of its existence, subsequently, it is considered to be a classic example of a praetorian state. The country’s military perceives itself as the sole guardian of national sovereignty and moral integrity, the chief initiator of the national agenda and the major arbiter of conflict between social and political forces. Furthermore, civilian rule was always characterised by unrestricted and persistent power struggles between government and opposition, between different political institutions (branches of government) and center-region tensions in combination with autocratic styles of governance, mismanagement, and corruption. This created a situation in which civilians’ lost public support and the army was able to regain its reputation and ‘moral legitimacy’ to intervene directly in politics. Subsequently, the military (deliberately or unconsciously) was able to nourish the perception that civilians were neither able to form a sustainable, functioning government nor capable of running the affairs of the state. Having this in mind and observing the development of the CPEC and respective projects, one can’t help feeling but it seems that history is repeating itself. More concrete, much of the critic on the CPEC is focusing on the concrete route of the corridor, the distribution of Chinese investments and the chosen places for energy, infrastructure, Special Economic Zones (SEZs, industrial and manufactural hubs) projects in favour of Punjab on the expense in the provinces of Baluchistan and KPK. Taken the facts on the ground and the secrecy surrounding the project into account, there are no doubts that these critics are justified. However, these debates are missing one significant point: the increasing institutionalization of a formal role of the military in the country’s political system. By having said this, the article will bring following arguments forward: Firstly, the way how the CPEC gets implement does not only limit the decision-making power of civilians (understood as the elected representatives of the people) but also make civilian control over the armed forces even more unlikely. Secondly, since civilian control of the armed forces is interpreted as a sine qua non for democratic consolidation, the operationalization of the CPEC is undermining the latest attempt of democratic transition initiated by the 2013 general elections resulting in the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another via elections. Thirdly, in order to ensure the implementation of the CPEC, the military was able to build-up a parallel governance structure, exercising legally tremendous executive and judicial powers.
The CPEC in the context of civil-military relations and civilian control
Praised as a new economic lifeline, the CPEC is supposed to provide the essential link between the ‘land based belt and the sea road’. In order to do so, the CPEC will connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with Gwadar Port on the Baluchistan coast in Pakistan’s south-west. According to the plan, the CPEC will be implemented through a ‘1+4’ cooperation structure:the Economic Corridor at the centre and the Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure and industrial collaboration as the four key areas. In order to operationalise this endeavour, the corridor is a combination of cross-sectional components: Infrastructure, trade, connectivity, transport, energy, services among others. It is expected that the CPEC will boost the country’s economy, attract much needed foreign investments, and uplift the social and economic conditions in the poorer provinces. In brief, the CPEC is portrayed as unique to change the country’s unfortunate economic patterns and pushes Pakistan political and geostrategic standing in the region. However, besides several political, administrative, and environmental hurdles, the major challenge for Pakistan is toguarantee a secure and stable environment for the CPEC development. Being disappointed about the performance of the federal government in Islamabad in countering terrorism and militancy, the military got increasingly involved in respective decision making and implementation, weakening the power of civilians.
At the moment, in the context of CPEC development, Pakistan is witnessing the total absence of civilian control. In order to assess this statement, civilian control is “defined as civilians having exclusive authority to decide on national politics and their implementation. Under civilian control, civilians can freely choose to delegate decision-making power and the implementation of certain policies to the military while the military has no autonomous decision-making power outside those areas specifically defined by civilians”. As such, fully-ﬂedged civilian control requires that civilian authorities enjoy uncontested decision-making power in all significant policy areas, namely Elite Recruitment, Public Policy, Internal Security, External Defence, and Military Organisation. If the military gain dominance in any of this area, civilian decision power, and control must be seen as serious challenged.
Losing grip: The decline of civilian decision-making power in the CPEC project
Based on the above-outlined concept of civilian control, one can identify several indications for the further weakening of civilian decision-making power and democratic governance on the central and provincial level.
First of all, the challenge of ensuring security for the CPEC development had the most significant impact on the civil-military relations and civilian control in Pakistan. For example, the military organisation got totally out of the hand of civilians exemplified by the formation of new armed forces in Baluchistan and Sindh, dedicated solely, for the protection of CPEC and related projects-, a decision solely made by the army’s top brass. Even more remarkable is the increasing autonomy of the army in the area of internal security which finds its expression in the army’s unilateral decision to launch the Operation Zarb-e-Azb which started in summer 2014. The decisions to an extent the duration as well as to an extent the operations in geographical terms of this anti-terrorist campaign was also done by the armed forces themselves. Zarb-e-Azb focused initial on the border areas of Afghanistan, but the army declared the whole territory of Pakistan as an area of operation. In this context, the major (official) goal of the country’s security circles is to link the CPEC with the aim of achieving a ‘terror free Pakistan’. Regarding Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif:“We [Pakistan’s security forces] will not stop unless we achieve our end objective of a terror-free Pakistan” irrespective of the costs. These costs appeared not only in the form of remarkable human and material resources but also in the willingness of the soldiers to sideline with civilians and to scrutinize the latest achievements in democratic transitions for the sake of CPEC implementation.
Another example for autonomous decision-making by the soldiers is the Karachi security operations. Here we have a similar situation like with Zarb-e-Azb: the decision to carry out decisive measures against terrorists was done by the military and the rangers (a paramilitary force headed by the army) themselves. The civilian and the civilian government was informed about it after the decision were made.
Also in the area of public policy, the establishment of the Apex Committees at federal and provincial levels results consequently into the reducing of the decision-making power of the executive combined with a lack of parliamentarian oversight by the national and provincial assemblies. In other words, most of the important decisions related to CPEC are done by a military-bureaucratic hybrid. The establishment of Apex committees aimed at the enhancement of civil-military interaction in order to improve the security situation in general and to counter terrorism in particular. In this context, the initial tasks of the Apex Committees were to coordinate security and implement theNational Action Plan (NAP), which was drafted jointly by the government, parliament, and army.
However, over the time, the Apex Committees have become more important decision-making bodies than the federal and provincial cabinets. An indicator, therefore, is that the federal and provincial cabinets meet less frequently as compared to federal and provincial Apex Committees. It is well-known that the Pakistani Army plays since the creation of the country the most dominant role in politics, directly through a military coup and martial law or indirectly influencing informally the civilian decision-makers to act in the interest of the military. However, the new administrative set-up of Apex Committees has brought the military formally in the civilian sector of governance and political, administrative management and strengthens its positions in all decision-making areas relevant to CPEC and beyond.
A latter phenomenon started already with the enactment of the 21th constitutional amendment which let to new institutional arrangements like the granting of special powers for the armed forces and the establishment of military courts.
The CPEC – Another lost opportunity to improve civilian governance and control
Despite the traditional dominant role of the military in Pakistan politics, over time and due to extraordinary circumstances – for example after Pakistan’s armed forces lost wars (and its reputation) against India in 1965 and 1971 or the unexpected death of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 – civilians had exceptional chances to regain control over ‘their’ soldiers and decision-making and as such to strengthen the political institutions. Against this backdrop, a successful implementation of the CPEC would create another exceptional moment for civilians to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the military. However, to do mishandling of the project (lack of political will, capacities, transparency and communication), foremost the halve-hearted approach of the Prime Minister Sharif’s administration to deal with the challenges of Jihadist terrorists and militancy and to operationalize adequately the NAP, it created for the army another opportunity to call on the ‘doctrine of necessity’. In other words, the description of the civilian government as incompetent to ensure security and stability, crucial pre-requisites for the corridor development, served the soldiers as justification to act autonomously and to take over directly the implementation of the NAP and subsequently the CPEC development too. In result, civilian lost control over the CPEC decision-making process. Civilians might continue to be the public façade, but it is obvious that the military top echelon is calling the real shots. As such, the civilian failed once again to establish supremacy over the country’s armed forces in order to consolidate democratic rule.
In order to break out of the historical patterns featured by the army’s dominant role in Pakistan’s politics, an improvement and/or establishment of civilian control and oversight mechanism are needed. Here, all military-dominated Apex Committees have to be immediately dissolved and national and provincial assemblies, as well as the respective cabinets, must be in charge again. If this is not possible because of the complexity of the issue as well as a lack of capacities and capabilities specialised institutions/bodies must be established under direct (sole) control of the civilian (legislative and executive) institutions. It will be essential for the country’s democracy that any military representative must be totally removed from any decision-making power (or not allowed to exercise) and must be obliged to report transparently on the status of security and ongoing activities regarding the given context and beyond. If measures in this direction will be not successfully carried out, the CPEC will further entrench the military in the country’s politics and subsequently, harm any attempt to bring the country back into the process of democratic transition. Today, the armed forces possess the strongest formally institutionalized role in the country’s political system ever. The military was not only able to extend its institutionalized role in a decision-making process, on the expense of all three branches of governance (executive, legislative and judiciary), but also to build up a ‘quasi-parallel structure of governance’. In result, the military does not need anymore a direct take over (coup d’état) the, directly or indirectly, the governance in order to rule the country.