SALMAN RAFI SHEIKH – Military creep: Pakistan’s federal system is being undermined by militarisation

In 2008, when Pakistan transitioned from nine years of military rule under Pervez Musharraf to an elected civilian government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), many believed that Pakistan’s ‘culture of military coups’ was headed in a decisively more democratic direction. The transition came about as a result of the ‘Lawyers’ Movement’, a mass protest initiated by lawyers from March 2007 to 2009, following the unconstitutional suspension of Pakistan’s Supreme Court justice. These hopes for democracy were strengthened when the 18th constitutional amendment was unanimously passed by the Parliament in April 2010. 

The amendment not only constitutionally blocked military coups by strengthening Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution – which barred any person from abrogating, suspending or holding the constitution in abeyance, and stripped Pakistan’s higher courts of their powers to legitimise military coups – but also added a number of other provisions to strengthen the hold of the civilian political forces on the polity. Even more significant was how it reversed Pakistan’s centralised political system by transferring powers and financial resources to the provinces. This was a major departure from the military rule of Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008) when Islamabad controlled all powers and financial resources to the exclusion of the smaller provinces.

In 2021, however, Pakistan’s military has significantly regained control of politics, with current and former military personnel swamping civilian institutions, constituting a virtual ‘hybrid martial law’ regime. While the militarisation of the polity generally weakens democracy, in the Pakistani context, the military’s dominant role also has serious implications for the multi-ethnic federation as well, undermining provincial rights and autonomy guaranteed through the 18th amendment….

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