Pakistan & Turkey: A Tale of Two Countries

IRSHAD SALIM (Oct. 2013) – Pakistan is witnessing a dramatic change in civil-military relations, in much the same way as in Turkey, where the civilian government seems to have reined in its once powerful generals. In both countries, the judiciary, which played the role of the equalizer, seems to be asserting itself at present.

Turkey has been busy dismantling the structure that facilitated military coups. In Pakistan, the attempt to dismantle the coup infrastructure began with several judicial verdicts in the past few years – “and continues embarrassingly though,” to quote an elder.

The first phase showed the Erdogan government’s determination to go after those who plotted and staged military coups. The Turkish civilian government decided to fight back by throwing its full support behind the judicial process of holding coup plotters accountable.

As a result, a large number of military officials in Turkey, including generals, were prosecuted along with other bureaucratic and civilian elements. As is in Pakistan, the prosecution of high ranking military officials responsible for staging coups was a novelty in Turkey’s political history also.

In Pakistan, whether the process begins in earnest remains to be seen, though the desire and nascent efforts for this are obvious.

The second phase was concerned with cleansing Turkey’s judicial system of factors that legitimized or were used as pretext for plotting a coup.

Article 35 of the army’s internal service code, which stated that the military has a duty to preserve and protect the Republic of Turkey, was believed to provide legal justification for a coup d’état; this was amended by a parliamentary vote on July 13, 2013.

Former Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar’s constitutional verdicts went in the same direction, and the 18th Amendment took care of clauses in the constitution, especially Article 58(2)(b), which were strategically used to dissolve the parliament.

In February, 2013, Turkey’s four retired generals and a serving military officer testified in an Ankara court as part of a probe into the forced resignation of an Islamic-leaning government in 1997 that led Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to step down. The current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a student of Erbakan and was a member of Erbakan’s party RP and was elected as the mayor of Istanbul in 1994 on an RP ticket.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, was also a RP member and minister under Erbakan’s leadership. Both leaders later became co-founders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won three general elections and has been in power since 2002.

But tensions have been building for years between Erdogan’s government and the Turkish military, which has authored four coups and considers itself the self-appointed guardian of secularism.

On the electoral map, nearly all of Turkey – apart from the Aegean coast, is the AKP’s (Erdogan’s) power base. In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N rules the largest province of Punjab — Pakistan’s hinterland – and sends maximum number of lawmakers to the National Assembly.

Sharif and his party have valid reasons to be bitter. They were ousted in 1999 by the military government led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf and even before that, COAS Waheed Kakar ‘mediated’ between then PM Nawaz Sharif and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

So why do we see a push in both Pakistan and Turkey to take the military out of the equation — or limit its role?

While Turkey is taking a U-turn from secularism, Pakistan appears to be grid-locked. Erdogan, with his right-wing politics, is being criticized by the US and EU. In contrast, Nawaz, who is mostly right of center, is being supported.

Interestingly, the armies of both these countries hold access to or control the exit point of resources that will be needed in the coming years by those who control two-thirds of the world’s resources.

A version of the article was also published here — in Jan. 2014.