Democracy And Fragility Nuclear Command And Control Structure Of Pakistan – OpEd


The command-and-control structure (CACS) of a nuclear weapon country plays pivotal role during crisis. It is of paramount importance to investigate such CACS for plotting probable course of action of nuclear weapon state during escalation or de-escalation. Among non- kinetic factors for deterrence stability and escalation control during crisis, the composition of CACS and mode of government are crucial in avoiding the failure of deterrence.

Every war is ultimately fought for achieving certain political gaols through military victory. Understanding this process of defining national interest and to what degree military influences this outcome in Pakistan is very important because there is strong correlation between mature democracies and escalation control during crisis. Understanding of this correlation mandates a deeper look into nuclear CACS of Pakistan and the democracy for legitimate exercise of state power during a crisis or war. The National Command Authority (NCA) of Pakistan is the apex body tasked with the policy formulation for development, deployment and use nuclear weapons in case of deterrence failure. Headed by civilian Prime Minister, members include Defence, Foreign, Interior, Finance ministers whereas on the military side members include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Director General of the Strategic Plans Division, and the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. 

Unlike many nuclear weapon countries, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not just political weapons for maintaining deterrence vis-à-vis India but they are for actual use when such need arises. The façade that military establishment of Pakistan has created in the form of NCA is to show the world that it is the civilian leadership that exercises ultimate control over the nuclear programme of Pakistan. The hollowness of this façade becomes apparent for the fact how little the military establishment honors the principle of civilian supremacy in a democratic Pakistan.

Though on face this apex security body has the Prime Minister of Pakistan, an elected civilian leader as its chairman, I argue that such a structure without the deep-rooted democracy in Pakistan in the face of ever powerful military establishment is extremely fragile at the best. This institution for exercise of state policy during crisis or war can easily be usurped by the military establishment when deemed expedient for safeguarding the military’s institutional interest. 

It is very important to investigate some aspect of strategic culture of Pakistan military with reference to democracy and civilian supremacy. Unlike Pakistan, the military in India after independence accepted the civilian leadership supremacy. Pakistan’s democratic journey went to the dogs at the hands of military establishment. The institution of democracy has suffered since Pakistan became an independent state in 1947. The British colonizers developed state institutions that were essential for the continuation of occupation. Despite the fallacy that few colonist apologists seem to present in defence of the British in India, the communication network especially railways were designed for the exploitation of resources of occupied India for the prosperity of colonisers.

The welfare of the masses of imperial India under the yoke of British Raj was never the priority of foreign rulers. The law enforcement institutions that British gave to subcontinent, especially police and military were structured for protection of interest of the British ruling elite. The local law enforcement personnel of imperial India were made to believe in their superiority over the masses and fact that they were answerable only to the British. Oppression of the masses, superiority complex and accountability to foreign lords became structured in the training of the law enforcement personnel. Growing agitation and political awareness against the foreign rule, eventually forced the British to give more and more control to local political elite over the governance of the imperial India that eventually resulted in the independence of sub-continent. The newly independent states of India and Pakistan inherited the strong institutions of military trained by the British. 

The nascent state of Pakistan despite inheriting a multitude of problems compared to India was stymied right from beginning. The founding father of the nation and political elite of Pakistan wanted to deliver the salvation of masses that promised in the form of independence from the British. The demise of independence leader like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and later the assassination of prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan did irreparable damage to the strong rooting of democracy in Pakistan. 

The undermining of political elite at the hands of military in Pakistan started right from independence. The military leadership of that time first undermined the civilian leadership of the country and then exploited the political vacuum to the fullest for entrenching its grip on the power. What was done behind the curtain was openly done when the first martial law was imposed on 27 October 1958 by dictator General Ayub Khan.   

The military establishment prides in the fact that after the militarization of nuclear programme in the aftermath of fall of Dhaka, the nuclear program was deliberately kept secret and beyond the civilian oversight. There may be some merit to the covert nature of this nuclear programme, but always keeping the civilian leadership of the country in the dark was reflection of military’s culture of undermining the civilian leadership that had entrenched by then.

This covert nature of the program meant a huge resource diversion, but without any scrutiny or accountability whatsoever. It remains a fact to date that the military’s budget and supplementary budgetary grants and expenses cannot be scrutinized by the civilian leadership or audited by the auditor general of Pakistan. Its undeniable fact that Dr. A. Q. Khan was made a scapegoat after the nuclear black market was unearthed by the CIA. It’s virtually impossible for one man to use military planes for transporting sensitive dual use equipment without the authorization and supervision of military leadership. The military higherups stood to make millions of dollars through this illicit nuclear technology trade.

The military in Pakistan has become a big corporation that controls the economy of Pakistan for its benefit. The elections are rigged, the mandate of people is stolen by military when they do election engineering and bring their political cronies. to power.  Pakistan is now undergoing a time that is worse than overt martial law. Political parties, elections and leaders are being managed. It’s absurd to imagine that Pakistan’s military would allow civilian leadership to make decision making in any military crisis vis a vis India. Often those political leaders who try to normalize relations with India and seek for resolution of Kashmir as per realities of our times are presented in media as traitors. 

The biggest beneficiary of the ongoing conflict of Kashmir since independence has been the military of Pakistan that has been exacting huge chunks of economic resources for defence of the country. The civilian leadership of the country believed in the argument for development of nuclear weapons that it would bring exponential savings on the spendings for procuring conventional weapons to counter Indian overwhelming conventional weapons superiority. No military chief has presented the idea of reducing the military strength after Pakistan becoming a nuclear weapon state. The military of Pakistan can be expected to use escalation as tool to impose its military policy and demands for increased military budget on civilian leadership.

Interests of this money-making resource guzzling corporation are presented as national interest. Often the detractors of military who reject the idea of military’s institutional interest as national interest are termed traitors and silenced through abductions and killing. Under these circumstances where democratic leaders are handpicked through rigging and sent home when they lose their utility.

In foreseeable future, the role of civilian leadership in NCA is as fragile as democracy is in Pakistan. The puppet leaders keep on giving speeches about military and civilian leadership on the same page, but the fact remains that the military establishment is the most powerful political actor in Pakistan. The likelihood of rushed use of nuclear weapons vis a vis India during war becomes potent in the absence of strong democracy and civilian control and oversight of military policy of Pakistan.  

Muhammad Bilal Nazir

Muhammad Bilal Nazir is a Pakistani political activist based in the UK.

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