It’s a standard bromide that firm civilian control over India’s military can be traced to the British colonial legacy. Curiously enough, that legacy is never invoked to explain the diametrically opposed pattern of civil-military relations within Pakistan, a country that also emerged from the collapse of the British Indian Empire.
Obviously, the roots of these two markedly different arrangements lie elsewhere. That said, it’s fascinating to watch how civilian authorities in both states are now dealing with important tensions in civil-military relations. In India, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh, has gone to court to demonstrate that he is indeed a year younger than the civilian bureaucrats in the Indian Ministry of Defense assert. His decision to seek judicial redress has raised eyebrows amongst many commentators in New Delhi because this case is unique. No other chief of staff has had a fracas with his civilian counterparts on the question of his age. In the end, the courts will issue a ruling and the two parties will simply have to accept its verdict.
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Across the border, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has already warned Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of dire consequences in the wake of his firing of a former general and defense secretary, Naeem Khalid Lodhi. As has been reported here, rumors are widespread in Islamabad that the military, unhappy with both President Asif Ali Zardari and the prime minister may well send them packing.
Of course, this would hardly be the first time that the Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan had so asserted his prerogatives. Military coups in Pakistan hark as far back as 1958, with the most recent one in 1999. Civilian governments in Pakistan, unlike in India, exist at the sufferance of an overweening military establishment. Indeed, to date, not a single civilian regime has been allowed to serve out a complete term. If the current regime actually manages to ride out the present crisis and survive until the scheduled national elections of 2013 it will have achieved a milestone of sorts.