The dialectic between contention and finding common ground was manifest last week in two significant remarks by the heads of the judiciary and military respectively. Chief Justice Chaudhry argued the pre eminence of the Constitution in the institutional structure of Pakistan. Army Chief General Kayani spoke of the emerging consensus on constitutional rule: "we all agree that strengthening institutions, ensuring the rule of law and working within the well defined bounds of the Constitution is the right way forward." At the same time the COAS did cross swords with the CJ by asserting that no one individual could define the national interest. This was clearly a riposte to the CJ's view expressed during the Asghar Khan case: that the concerned military leaders could not justify their unconstitutional actions of engineering the political defeat of the Benazir Bhutto government in the 1990 elections, on grounds of the 'national interest'. So while the sparks are flying a consensus is being forged.
General Kayani emphasized the importance of public support for the armed forces of Pakistan. It may be helpful therefore to examine the conditions under which citizens give their support to a particular organization of the state such as the military.
It can be postulated that public support for the military hinges on the citizens considering its organizational behaviour to be legitimate. The source of legitimacy is the will of the people as embodied in the constitution of a country. So public support for the military or any other organization of the state is forthcoming if, and only if, it functions within the scope of, and in a manner specified by the constitution.
So the military will lose public support if it overthrows an elected civilian government, or intervenes in the process of elections, or covertly attempts to destabilize an elected government.
Anyone who has been in contact with Pakistan's military officers (as I have, teaching them economics during annual lectures at the Command and Staff College and the National Defence University for many years), would testify to their character qualities. By and large they exude discipline, a quiet confidence, a humility drawn from an inner strength and a sense of honour. They would unhesitatingly give their lives in defence of their homeland.
Of course most citizens of Pakistan would be moved by such sterling qualities. Why is it then that the Army Chief feels a need to seek public support for the military? Perhaps this is because as an organization the military has frequently gone beyond the institutional limits envisaged in the Constitution. From being an armed force exclusively assigned by law to defend Pakistan's territory, it has enlarged its role to become a major player in the politics and economy of the country.
The identity of any state organization is articulated by the institutional structure (the framework of formal rules and informal norms) within which it is located. Pakistan's Constitution is the foundation on which the entire institutional structure and the associated organizational edifice of the state rest. The central feature of the constitution is that it stipulates a balance between the various pillars of the state: the parliament, the judiciary and the executive with the free media being the fourth pillar. The military within this configuration is simply a subordinate arm of civil authority.
The purpose of this separation of powers and the balance thereof is to establish the necessary checks to arbitrary power. In this way the freedom and the fundamental rights of the people can be ensured.
If a particular organization of the state goes out of balance relative to other organizations within the state structure, two consequences ensue: First the entire state structure is destabilized and hence state authority jeopardized. Second, if a particular state organization arrogates to itself disproportionate power, both its identity and balance with other state organs, are eroded. Thus the very organization that attempts to get extra constitutional power actually gets weakened. As its identity and balance vis-à-vis other state organizations is undermined, so too is its strength. Thus the strength of any state organization as much as its public support is drawn from the Constitution.