CGP’s Kamran Bokhari talks with Saira Yamin, a CGP senior fellow and professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, about civil-military relations and their effects on governments in South Asia.
Though much of the world has moved away from military regimes, the process of democratization is not an easy one, and militaries still have the upper hand in many Muslim countries. Historically, Yamin says, militaries in post-colonial states are seen as the strongest and most effective institutions of a state. In Pakistan, for example, the military has been deeply involved in politics for much of the country’s existence. In the past, military leaders were unwilling to provide civilian government officials the space needed to formulate policy and carry out the functions of a government. Complicating matters is a common public perception that civilian politicians and/or governments are incompetent or corrupt.
The lack of public confidence in a civilian government gives the military clout, Yamin says, but it doesn’t change the fact that in Pakistan the military has not provided long-term solutions. What Pakistan has lacked is the patience for democratic institutions to do their job. However, in recent years, the Pakistani population has lost its appetite for military rule.
Yamin points to the Philippines as an example of a country where a strong military stepped aside to allow a civilian government to take care of domestic matters. Military leaders there made a conscious choice to give politicians space to take a greater role in domestic affairs. Yamin says that training and educating militaries on what their roles should be would help them learn to share political space with a civilian government and, ideally, end up in a situation where a civilian government controls the military effectively and efficiently.
Yamin also points out that civil society can play a large role in keeping democratic institutions on track. A return to military rule in a country with a nascent democratic government can be avoided if civil society keeps pressure on the government’s institutions and demand that political parties subscribe to the rules of democracy.