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Military Intervention In Politics

To ensure and protect the sovereignty of any state, the military is considered a unique and important organization. For analyzing politics, the military plays a significant role in every state. In developing countries, the intervention of the military in politics seems inordinate and it has become a common phenomenon in political circumstances.

After the Second World War, countries had become independent, and subsequently, these countries faced various political problems. Some of the problems were nation-building, ideological conflict, economic crisis, lack of democratic values, and political parties. For the same strong military gets chances to make a role in politics. Pakistan and Myanmar can be considered perfect examples.

It is not realistic to find any institution that is not under political influence. In a modern political system, the military is rare by giving maximum facilities as a non-political organization. But the present military is not far away from politics, especially in third-world countries. In the view of Amos Perlmutter, “Today armies affairs have become intertwined with politics.” In a democratic value-oriented society, politics belongs to civil society. So, relations between politics and the military may be considered civil-military relationships.

The intervention of the military in politics generally takes place when the present government is deemed unfit to look after the needs of the citizens. Economic problems, civil unrest often lure the military into taking charge of the government. This intervention often results in catastrophic situations. The military gains unprecedented power and the two major domains of the country i.e., politics and defense end up in one pair of hands.

The military generally overthrows the government on the pretext of protecting the interests of the citizens. However, the real motive is to gain absolute control over the country’s people and resources. Freedom of speech and expression is threatened, corruption runs rampant and disobedience in any form might result in disastrous consequences. Military intervention has always been frowned upon by international organizations that propagate peace and democracy.

Pakistan and Myanmar are apropos in elucidating the impact that military intervention has on the stability and economy of the country.

Case Study: Pakistan

The turbulent political history of Pakistan explicitly brings out the impact of military intervention in politics. Pakistan became independent in 1947 and has witnessed a tumultuous political journey since. Even though Pakistan was established as a democracy after independence, the military has always played a key part in the country’s politics.

The first military coup happened in 1958 when the retired Major-General and President overthrew the government of Feroz Khan Noon and declared Martial Law. His second-in-command, Ayub Khan, appointed himself as a 5-star Marshal, out of dissatisfaction with Khan’s policies.

The first democratic elections in Pakistan were held in 1970. The Awami League secured a majority in East Pakistan while the Pakistan Peoples Party won in West Pakistan. However, when attempts at sharing power turned out to be futile, President Yahya Khan declared Martial Law. Fearing separation from East Pakistan, Bhutto demanded to form a coalition with the Awami League. Mujibur agreed to this proposal and the newly allied parties put pressure on Khan’s government, who in turn ordered for their arrests. This was met by massive disapproval and soon turned into what we now know as ‘The War of 1971’.

The military government collapsed as a result of the war and Bhutto assumed power. Defense expenditure rose by 200% and the country started taking on scientific projects. The 1977 elections ended with another coup d’état and Zia-al-Haq took control.

In 1999, Nawaz Sharif became a traitor in the eyes of Pakistanis, since his actions regarding the Kargil War were highly condemned by his countrymen. Afraid that Musharraf might take control of the government, he tried to prevent his flight from landing. The generals instead overthrew him in another military coup and Musharraf became in charge of the country’s government.

The military has always played an important role in Pakistan’s politics. Its impact can be seen in the defense expenditure of the country as well as the power vested in the country’s military.

Case Study: Myanmar

The study of Myanmar exactly represents how the intervention of the military in politics can hamper a country's economic progress and become a threat to the human rights of the civilians. Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 to 2011, and Yangon (earlier called Rangoon) was the main center of protests in the 1980s and 2000s that ultimately led to the military agreeing to a transition to democracy.

Suu Kyi in 2015 won Myanmar’s first election and became the head of government, but the military continued to have a role to play, by retaining control of three ministries.

The results of the 2020 election which were held during the pandemic, were being seen by the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Suu Kyi, as a mandate for its plan to reform the Constitution, through which it aimed to reduce the military's role in politics and governance. But, the Myanmar army could not tolerate that the constitution made by them in 2008, the rights they reserved for themselves may be revoked by any government.

The military ensured to safeguard in the Constitution its role and supremacy in national affairs. According to it, the military reserves for itself 25% of seats in both the Houses of Parliament, to which it appoints serving military officials. Also, a political party that is a representative for the military contests elections. Its share of seats reduced further this time because of the NLD’s performance.

The election results in 2015 and 2020 showed the growing popularity of Ms. Suu Kyi and the increasing unpopularity of the military. The 2020 elections were held after the Army launched a cruel crackdown on Rohingya in the name of fighting terrorism, which forced more than 7 lakh Rohingya Muslims to migrate to neighboring countries, mainly Bangladesh.

NLD won the 2020 Elections with a huge margin which had set the alarm bells ringing in the headquarters of the Myanmar military. The Generals may have sensed that even the limited democratic experiment was gradually threatening the military’s well-established interests with Suu Kyi being immensely popular.

The NLD's electoral pledges to systematically limiting the Army’s powers coupled with the prevailing feeling that the country’s economic liberalization would weaken the army’s grip over its media, public discourse and civil society forced the army to the coup and take back the powers to retain and regain its control over the civilians.

In the end, it can be said that the frequency of a military intervention is proof that the society is yet politically immature and unfit for representative institutions. But, indeed, military intervention and its consequences are not the final solutions. It will not make the representative institutions strong. It can be termed as a lesson for representative institutions or civilian authority.

The corporate self-interest of the military together with the political ambitions of the chief has itself significantly contributed to political immaturity. Rapid change of power brings instability, and it starts from the role of the military in politics.

In Pakistan and Myanmar's point of view, military intervention was unexpected after independence but as a new-born nation, prominent leaders failed to overcome the crisis especially in the field of politics. People’s expectations were not being fulfilled by the civilian authority. All these situations gave space to the military to intervene in politics with popularity.

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