"The shift in Turkey is not only from Military to Civilian supremacy but it's also a move towards Islamisation." Raja Mujtaba

By Air Commodore ® KhaIid Iqbal

Pakistan and Turkey have been emulating each other’s civil-military relations model in a somewhat cyclic pattern. Both countries have had an equal number of military takeovers to their (dis)credit; and unfortunately, both also went through the gruesome saga of hanging an elected Prime Minster each. Two countries have political and national security structures with identical strengths and weaknesses. Some of Pakistan’s military rulers idealized the Turkish model; and some Turkish coup makers took cues from military take overs in Pakistan.

Recent low intensity mutiny in Turkey manifested in the form of collective resignation of top brass has stimulated an academic interest to gauge the possibility of achieving a sustainable civilian supremacy in Pakistan and Turkey.

Turkey has lived under the shadow of military control since the era of Kamal Ataturk.  Visibly it came under military domination since 1960 when Prime Minister Adnan Menderes’ government was toppled in a coup; a year later, he was convicted by a military court and hanged. Suleyman Demirel’s government was overthrown by another coup in 1971. Third military intervention in 1980 resulted in re-writing the Turkish constitution that firmly institutionalized military’s indulgence in the domain of civilian governments.  Military again stepped in, to overthrow Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamic coalition in 1997 on the presumption that he was planning to change the secular character of the constitution into an Islamic one, and checkmating the military interference in the civilian domain. 

After a snowballing standoff with the ruling Justice and Progress Party (AKP), Turkey’s army chief General Isik Kosaner resigned alongside the navy and air force chiefs. General Kosaner stepped down after several meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ahead of a scheduled meeting of the army’s high command to decide promotions for senior officers. Friction between the government and military was fuelled by an ongoing trial targeting dozens of senior military officers accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

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Explaining in his farewell message, General Kosaner said, “The long-term investigation and arrests aim always to keep the Turkish Armed Forces on agenda, to create public opinion against it and non-objective mass media spread false information to put the nation against its armed forces. It is impossible for me to continue my duties in this high post because this situation prevents me to defend the rights of men who are under my command.” If the generals had been betting on public outcry, the lack of uproar shows just how far Prime Minister Erdogan has advanced in his struggle to subordinate the military to civilian political leadership.

Political leadership was prompt to cease the opportunity, quickly new military chiefs were appointed. This event has triggered the speculation that a tamer phase in Turkish military’s history is on the cards. "The era in Turkey when the military made political decisions is over," says leading Hurriyet columnist Cengiz Candar.

This is indeed a defining moment for Turkey. It may put an end to military’s craving for overthrowing the civil governments. The AKP has emerged as a strong democratic government and enjoys good credibility at home as well as abroad.

Turkish Military subscribes to Kemalist secularism and has taken upon itself to navigate Turkey on secular path. Military coups in Turkey have persistently weakened the religious movements. It was a close call for the current government when it narrowly escaped an attempt to constitutionally out-law it in 2008; this was followed by a series of unsuccessful military plots to overthrow the government.

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The AKP has held the sway for the last eight years mainly because of its superb economic performance and improved public services following years of financial instability. The growth rate last year was 8.9 per cent, the second highest among G-20 nations after China. It also went to the public through a referendum and has won the mandate to reform the constitutional court. AKP is on its way to amend the 1980 constitution. Prime Minister has indicated that he would consult even those political parties which are not a part of the current parliament.

Prime Minister Erdogan is promoting a movement for moderate Islam and is setting up his country as an example of success for Muslims. At least for the time being he has demonstrated that the military no longer wields the veto power it once held over Turkish politics.  

The credit for the transformation of the Turkish scene goes to Mr Erdogan. He avoided the mistakes committed by his mentor, the late Necmettin Erbakan, who formed party after party each time it was banned. His mistake was that he clashed with the generals directly without realising that Turkey had secularism deeply entrenched not only in the armed forces but also in the judiciary, politics, media and the academia. Mr Erdogan was more cautious. He declared that he accepted secularism. During his first term he avoided taking the military head on. Gradually, during the second term, he started denting the mandate of the powerful Security Council, headed by a general. This he combined with an undiluted commitment to Turkey’s pro-European orientation.

The AKP government is more powerful than ever before, it is maintaining a single-party monopoly of power for a third consecutive tenure. No wonder, the generals find it difficult to tamper with a civilian government with a record of spectacular successes. Generals opted to quit out of deeply ingrained arrogance, as they just could not allow themselves to stay in their posts and behave like fetch boys of an elected government!


Without a shadow of doubt, civilian power is now supreme in Turkey, though sustainability of new found equilibrium would depend upon continued good performance by successive civilian governments as well the mindset of succeeding generals.

In 2002, Turkey suffered from almost all the ills that Pakistan is facing today. A sinking economy, political instability, ‘junta’ dominated civil-military equation and polarized societies were the hall-marks of Turkish landscape.  Can Pakistan go the Turkish way? Not in short to medium time frame. Yes it is doable in long term provided our political system could prop up successive strong single party governments meeting the high performance benchmarks. As the judiciary has disciplined itself by declaring that its no judge will take oath under a PCO, political parties also need to formulate an honour code for not cohabitating with any coup maker. Political Parties Act needs to take care of disproportionate political clout that has been incrementally acquired by relatively smaller political parties and groups. There is a need to support the strengthening of a strong two party system for the sake of stable and potent governments in Pakistan. At the same time there is a need to correct the distortions of our Higher Defence Organization.

For Turkey and Pakistan it’s indeed a journey of a thousand miles fraught with fragile and reversible gains; yet each journey begins with the first step!