Decoding Pakistan’s Civil-Military Relationship and Its Impacts on National Politics.

Pakistan’s civil-military relationship has a checkered history. It is a subject of perennial concern and fascination. In the absence of a clear framework from the beginning, Pakistan has struggled to strike a balance between civilian and military authority. This power struggle has profoundly impacted the nation’s political landscape, shaping its governance, foreign policy, national security policy and socio-economic development. The pendulum of power and authority mostly remains with the military or has never been on the civilian side. The imbalance that manifests in various forms in shaps needs to be resolved. Somewhere at some point, the process of transitioning power to civilians must be started so that it passes through evolution and reaches its maturity at the civilian dispensation level.

Origins of the Civil-Military Nexus

The roots of Pakistan’s civil-military nexus can be traced back to the early years of the country’s existence. Democracy, from the early days, found itself in nose-tightening circumstances with hurdles everywhere. The fledgling democratic system saw terrible days under the military leadership of General Ayub Khan, who assumed a dominant role in the 1950s.

Role of the Military in Early Pakistan

In the formative years, the military’s intervention in politics became a recurring theme. Often, diverging narratives were smeared to mislead the public opinions in their[military] fever. This period saw the country oscillating between civilian rule and military coups, setting the ground for decades of political instability.

Democracy vs. Military Rule

Cycles of Military Takeovers

Pakistan has witnessed numerous military coups, with leaders like General Ayub, Zia-ul-Haq, and Pervez Musharraf seizing power for almost 30-plus years. These cycles of military rule have often led to the suppression and strangulation of democratic institutions. The trust deficit rolling from the early years till this day. The military takeover has birthed numerous future challenges for the democratic dispensation in Pakistan.

Democratic Movements and Setbacks

Despite the military’s interference, Pakistan has seen numerous pro-democracy movements, notably MRD[movement for the restoration of democracy], the lawyers’ movement in 2007 led by deposed Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar. These movements highlighted the public’s yearning for civilian governance but often faced setbacks. Such movements lost their shine quickly and never transformed into long-term institutional norms and practices.

lawyers' movement
Pakistan lawyers movement 2007

Impact on Governance

Policies and Decision-Making

The military’s influence has extended to policymaking, particularly in national security and foreign relations. This has sometimes led to policies prioritising military interests over civilian concerns; because of the conflict of interests, the military in Pakistan supported loyal politicians to the power corridor to serve them with the benefits.

Development Initiatives

The military has played a significant role in infrastructure development, with military-owned organizations such as FWO[frontier work organization] and NLC [national logistics corporation]. While these initiatives promote development, they also raise questions about transparency and civilian oversight. In the longer term militarys professionalism also get hurt of its primary task of defending and combating the threats lines.

Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Post-Musharraf Era

The post-Musharraf era brought a glimmer of hope for civilian rule, with democratic governments taking the helm. The charter of democracy was signed by leaders of the two big political parties, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz[PLMN] and Pakistan Peoples Party [PPP].  The parties agreed to certain fundamental principles essential for processing democracy.However, the military has continued to exert influence behind the scenes.

Post-Musharraf Era
Former president of Pakistan Gen Pervez Musharraf

The Dawn of Democratic Norms

In recent years, there has been a notable shift toward democratic norms, with a peaceful transition of power from one elected government to another. This signals progress but also underscores the ongoing challenge of striking a balance.

Consequences for National Politics

Influence on Foreign Policy

Its military establishment often influences Pakistan’s foreign policy decisions. This influence can impact international relations and alliances. Around the world, in democratic countries, civilian institutions such as parliament take the lead in devising policy decisions on all important national and international issues.

Role in National Security

The military plays a pivotal role in ensuring national security. While essential, this role also raises concerns about the extent of military influence in civilian matters.

Economic Implications

Civil-military dynamics can affect economic stability and growth. Ensuring economic decision-making remains civilian-led is crucial for long-term prosperity.

Public Opinion and Perception

Media Influence

The media’s role in shaping public perception of the civil-military relationship cannot be understated. It often serves as a critical influencer of public sentiment. Independent and empowered media outlets can only ensure a generation mature with democratic norms. 

Shaping Public Sentiment

The portrayal of civil-military relations in the media profoundly impacts public opinion. This, in turn, can influence political movements and elections.

The Way Forward

Strengthening Civilian Rule

To ensure a stable and democratic Pakistan, strengthening civilian institutions and reducing military intervention is imperative.

Achieving Stability

Balancing the roles of the military and civilian government is crucial for achieving political stability and national progress.


The civil-military relationship in Pakistan has been a defining feature in the nation’s political landscape. While there has been progress towards democratic norms, it remains a complex and evolving issue. It required a broader consensus among political and military establishment elites to chalk out the way possible. The system needs to establish the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

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