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Discussion Session on Civil Military Relations in Pakistan
Start Date 
End Date 
NUST Main Building, Seminar Hall

Global Think Tank Network (GTTN) of the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) organized a high-level discussion session on civil-military relations in Pakistan on Thursday, the 17th of March. GTTN Senior Fellow and former Commander 11 Corps, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Masood Aslam, made a detailed presentation on the topic. Eminent intellectuals, academics, distinguished statesmen, diplomats, scholars, and students were present. Some of the personalities who participated in the discussion included GTTN Senior Fellows; former Chairperson HEC, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman; Rector NUST, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Muhammad Asghar; former Federal Minister Dr. Sania Nishtar; Rector NUML Major General (Retd) Ziauddin Najam; CEO and Group Chairman Interactive Convergence Dr. Shahid Mahmud; Former DG IB Dr. Shoaib Suddle; and Editor-in-Chief Blue Chip Magazine Humayun Gauhar.


The discussants agreed that the question of civil-military relations lay at the very roots of the challenge of organizing and managing a modern nation-state. This challenge had been met by different nations and peoples in different manner around the world. One common thing that was to be noted in countries and states like the US, Germany, and UK, where this question seemed to have been satisfactorily settled, was the mutual recognition on the part of civilian and military spheres of authority of the indispensable functional presence of both for ensuring a successful and secure polity focused on delivering a free, safe, and decent life to their citizens. However, in these countries the process of establishing and maintaining the harmony between spheres was difficult and in a state of precarious equilibrium at any point in time. 


It was unanimously affirmed that this mutual recognition and respect had been historically and routinely lacking in the institutional interaction between different spheres of decision-making in Pakistan. The problem of the lack of civil-military harmony had chronically beset the country since its inception as an independent and sovereign state. One of the most potent reasons that had hampered the dual process of the development of state institutions and maturation of state functionaries in Pakistan was the sinister regularity with which the civil-military understanding or interaction broke down and resulted in the alternation of inefficient military rule and clueless political dominance. Further, differences in cultures of leadership and orientation of objectives in politics-civilian and military spheres were stated to be a major factor in the perpetuation of mutual suspicion that manifested whenever any major national situation rose or an important decision had to be made. 


The discussants realized that there was an urgent need to promote greater goodwill and common understanding between political and military leadership. It was stated that uncompromising preference for and insistence on competence, merit, and integrity across the whole spectrum of private and public spheres was one way in which harmony could be established not only between civil and military spheres but between all segments and sections of society. However, it was also recognized that this long-term solution could be brought about only through certain fundamental changes in the way Pakistani society had been organized. While, gradual but committed efforts had to be undertaken for the realization of the long-term objective, immediate modi Vivendi also needed to be created urgently to enable trust-based civil-military harmony. 


One important recommendation was to shift the emphasis provisionally from civil-military interaction and relations to the delimitation of roles of civil and military spheres leading to the formulation of strict and verifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) for both spheres. This had to be followed with the establishment of a viable system of monitoring and evaluation to ensure if these KPIs were being fulfilled meticulously and efficiently by both the spheres. 


Another cardinal recommendation that came out of the discussion was to leverage the power of higher education, science, and technology to try and create a workable harmony amongst these spheres through focusing the attention of both on the primary need of acquiring the latest body of knowledge and technology to enable Pakistan to become globally competitive and sustainable in the present and the future. This could not be done unless the focus of both politics and military was the establishment of an elaborate, extensive, dynamic, flexible, and advanced infrastructure and system of knowledge creation and dissemination that was able to reach the whole length and breadth of Pakistan and specialized in turning raw human resources into human capital of the highest order. This focus would allow leadership classes in Pakistan to look beyond the medieval conceptions of power and authority. These obsolete conceptions of power were built on a worldwide of a bygone world in which there used to be minimal social mobility with minimal local and global networking which in turn was compounded by mass ignorance. Leadership style and culture of governance in Pakistan, regardless of institutional spheres, was, therefore, completely out of tune with the demands and realities of the 21st century world in which Pakistan found itself. Pakistan could no longer be kept in such a time warp. Focus on knowledge and innovation would have far-reaching beneficial effects for the country. It was recognized that this focus did not only have to be verbal, but also had to reflect in governmental priorities, become the leading concern in actions of leaders and masses alike, and transform into the top priority of social and institutional relations in the country. 


A second interesting and promising recommendation was common learning sessions conducted by leading national and global experts for different institutional tiers of leadership. From the national level all the way down to the local level in diverse fields that were critical to running the 21st century, states, markets, and societies and crucial for managing continual local, national, regional and global change. These sessions were considered an extremely important tool for creating the cutting-edge mind-set required for governing Pakistan efficiently. Interestingly, the People’s Republic of China had institutionalized such learning sessions for its leadership at the highest level decades ago, which, to a large extent, enabled China to become a first-order global power in a space of just three decades. It was recognized by the discussants that these sessions, if they were ever to be conducted in Pakistan, had to be persistent and persevering so that the initial ingrained cynicism of officialdom could be surmounted.


In sum, the discussants asserted that improvement in civil-military relations were an evolutionary process, but the task of statesmanship and policymaking was to positively accelerate the process rather than disrupt it. A brief investiture ceremony took place at the end of the discussion session for the thought leaders associated with NUST GTTN.