Traditionally in humanitarian emergencies, there has been a distinction between the military and the non-military domains: an approach built upon the principles of international humanitarian law that make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants, protecting the latter from armed attacks. This approach requires adherence to the key principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality which are considered to be critical in the prosecution of the humanitarian mandate and addressing human suffering.

However, over the years military actors are becoming increasingly involved in the provision of relief assistance in the aftermath of a crisis. While military actors can undoubtedly help to save lives and alleviate suffering by drawing on key comparative advantages, their involvement in the delivery of assistance can contribute to a “blurring of lines” between military actors on the one side, and humanitarian actors on the other.

In Pakistan, the armed forces are frequently called upon by the civilian government to contribute to relief assistance, recovery and reconstruction in emergency response situations under Article 245 (1) of Constitution of Pakistan[1].  This implementation of seemingly similar activities by humanitarian and military actors within the same geographical area has necessitated various forms of civil-military coordination, which entail increased coordination, communication and comprehension of respective roles and mandates, capacities and limitations.

Acknowledging the need for both humanitarian actors and military actors to operate effectively within the same environment, the Guidelines for Civil-Military Coordination in Pakistan aim to establish agreed principles and practices for constructive civil-military relations.

The Guidelines address civil-military coordination in both complex emergency situations and disasters in peacetime settings. They guide the interactions between humanitarian actors, military actors (armed forces and paramilitary forces), police and other civil law enforcement agencies, and relevant civilian government authorities in Pakistan. By signing on to the Guidelines, actors make a commitment to respecting the following principles:

  • Humanitarian actors must be able to provide assistance in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.
  • Humanitarian assistance is extended with full respect to state sovereignty.
  • Humanitarian actors must retain their ability to obtain access to vulnerable populations in all crisis-affected areas.
  • At all times, a clear distinction must be maintained between humanitarian and military actors.
  • The independence of humanitarian action and decision-making must be preserved both at the operational and policy levels.
  • Considerations on civil-military coordination must be guided by a commitment to ‘do no harm’.
  • Humanitarian assistance occurs with the ownership of the civil government and disaster management organisations. .
  • The use of military assets, armed escorts, joint humanitarian-military interventions and any other actions involving visible interaction with the military must be the option of last resort, where there are no comparable civilian alternative to meet a critical humanitarian need.
  • Respect and sensitivities must be maintained for culture, structures and customs of the communities where humanitarian activities are carried out.

These principles apply to all emergency response situations in Pakistan. A “strategy of coexistence” should be followed for civil-military coordination in complex emergencies. Strategies of coexistence are characterised by circumstances where there are no common goals to pursue and actors merely operate side by side. In this instance, civil-military coordination should focus on minimising competition and conflict in order to enable the different actors to work in the same geographical area with minimum disruption to each other’s activities.

A “strategy of cooperation” should be followed for civil-military coordination in disasters in peacetime. In this there is a common goal and agreed strategy, and all parties accept to work together. Coordination should focus on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the combined efforts to serve humanitarian objectives.

The Guidelines provide practical recommendations on the application of the agreed civil-military principles for each of the two different strategies in the following areas:

  • Distinction of Activities
  • Joint Civil-Military Interventions and Use of Military Assets
  • Use of Armed and Military Escorts
  • Liaison Arrangements
  • Humanitarian Clusters’ Coordination with the Military
  • Information Sharing
  • Coordination of Mine Action
  • Coordination of Air Space Management
  • Training and Awareness-Raising on Civil-Military Coordination
  • Coordination of Early Recovery Activities

To ensure a successful implementation of the Guidelines and promote adherence to the agreed principles and practices, the creation of the following forums is recommended for the coordination of civil-military relations at the strategic and operational levels:

  • A Civil-Military Coordination Steering Committee consisting of representatives from the Humanitarian Country Team, the National Disaster Management Authority and the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army to guide strategic coordination of civil-military relations.
  • Provincial Civil-Military Coordination Working Groups where required, located within the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities and consisting of relevant representatives from the humanitarian community, the army’s corps headquarters/field formations, the paramilitary forces and the provincial Home Department to lead on operational coordination.
  • Field Liaison Arrangements as required to bring together District Coordination Officers with relevant liaison officers from the humanitarian community and the military for operational coordination.
  • A Humanitarian Working Group on Civil-Military Coordination made up of humanitarian actors to promote consensus within the humanitarian community on the articulation and operationalisation of the Civil-Military Guidelines and a related Action Plan and to act as a technical advisory body on civil-military coordination to the Humanitarian Country Team.

[1]“…subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so”.  Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.