Who Controls Pakistan's Security Forces?

By: 
Gordon Lubold

USIP hosted a panel discussion April 19 on the state of Pakistan’s security forces that looked at the political and security dynamics at play and how they affect the military.

April 21, 2011

PAKISTANI FORCES: WHO’S IN CHARGE? – USIP hosted a panel discussion April 19 on the state of Pakistan’s security forces that looked at the political and security dynamics at play and how they affect the military. Border security is a perennial concern in Pakistan, but weak civilian oversight means the military has far more influence. “Who controls the military? It should be the civilians,” said the Atlantic Council’s Shuja Nawaz, one of three panelists. “But the reality on the ground is that there hasn’t been the preparation that I would feel is necessary to run the military. In Pakistan, it’s a question of governance.”

“A CONSTITUTIONALIZED ARMY” – But USIP’s Moeed Yusuf calls the Pakistani military a “constitutionalized army,” meaning that despite its big influence in the country, it still operates “within the system.”

BUILDING CIVILIAN CAPACITY – The panel discussion was led by USIP’s Robert Perito and included Columbia University’s Hassan Abbas as well as Yusuf and Nawaz. All experts generally agreed that the civilian government must be seen as more credible by all Pakistanis. “The civilians have to perform in their own governance tasks much better,” said Yusuf. He noted that there is a “philosophical commitment” to democracy, but that government officials have to do a better job at governing. “People have to start trusting the state… there is no other alternative.”

WHAT ABOUT THE ISI? – Many people believe that Pakistan’s secretive ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence agency, holds the real power in Pakistan. But Yusuf says there is no credible evidence that point to this. The ISI falls “very much within the national security framework,” he said. “I’ve never seen it as a rogue organization, I’ve just never seen any evidence of that.”

THE ECONOMY PLAYS A HUGE ROLE – Nawaz said that Pakistan relies on “import substitution,” in which it produces goods domestically in part to help prop up its own economy by shunning some imports. “Pakistan has over time been involved in import substitution on a fairly large scale,” said Nawaz. But if the economy stumbles in a large way, then the military is in trouble, he says.

THE BOTTOM LINE ON SECURITY FORCES? – Abbas said that when people talk about changing the bureaucracy in Pakistan, they must be patient. And Yusuf indicated the Pakistani government needs time and space: “If you want Pakistan to get out of this, then the only way is to let the political process function,” he said. “If you keep disrupting the system, then it will never mature.”

April 21, 2011
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