Whither NSC?

Published November 29, 2015
The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.
The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.

A RECENT ISPR press release alluding to poor governance by federal and provincial governments, and the rejoinder by the Prime Minister’s Office, once again underscored the urgent need for formal institutions of the state where diverse, and sometimes competing, views on national security can be discussed among various stakeholders.

There is no question that a public statement by the ISPR on governance by the elected government is undesirable. One should, however, try to look for the underlying causes.

The PM and COAS have met over 70 times in the past 27 months. It is certainly not lack of communication which contributed to this public expression of dissatisfaction. It appears to be a preference for informal, unstructured and un-institutionalised interaction, without any reliable mechanism for follow-up on decisions, which has prompted the move. After all, the prime minister and the army chief had a detailed meeting along with their respective aides just a day before the press release. It seems, however, that the meeting has not been helpful in effectively communicating each side’s point of view to the other and some degree of frustration is evident in the statement.

Likewise the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office indicates that the political leadership has not been able to make the military leadership understand the limitations of the civil, political and democratic processes, which, at times, are in stark contrast to the military style of working.


A formal mechanism is needed for a civil-military exchange of views.


Over the years, almost all modern states with functional democracies and significant security challenges have evolved institutions where civil and military leadership can engage in informed discussion on security matters. These institutions are headed by the elected political leadership and supported by an administrative and research infrastructure.

In the US National Security Council, the president chairs the meetings and a national security adviser heads the council staff which numbers around 100. Hardly a week goes by when the NSC does not meet. The UK NSC meets every week with the prime minister in the chair. It has 200 full-time staff headed by a national security adviser. India has a three-tier NSC established in 1998, with the apex tier chaired by the prime minister. The other tiers include the strategic planning group and advisory board. The Turkish NSC, established in 1961, has undergone a major transformation from a military-dominated institution to one subordinate to the elected president.

Various governments in Pakistan have toyed with the idea of an NSC. The first was established by Gen Yahya Khan in 1970 but remained mainly on paper. Gen Zia tried to create one by amending the Constitution but the National Assembly successfully thwarted this effort in 1985. Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Jehangir Karamat proposed constituting NSCs in 1992 and 1998 respectively, but the idea did not find favour with the elected leadership.

Malik Meraj Khalid’s caretaker government established a Council for Defence and National Security but Nawaz Sharif, following his election in 1997, allowed it to die a natural death. Gen Musharraf set up an NSC first through a constitutional amendment and later an ordinance.

The present government should be credited with the first serious attempt to create a National Security Committee in 2013, duly supported by a secretariat in the shape of a National Security Division led by an experienced federal secretary. The committee is headed by the prime minister with all three service chiefs and the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee as its members along with federal ministers for defence, foreign affairs, interior and finance, and the national security advisor. How­ever, the committee has hardly met and has been practically marginalised for the past one year since its last meeting in October 2014. It seems either that political will has weakened subsequently or reservations from certain quarters have come in the way of regular meetings and effective functioning of the NSC.

Pakistan is facing a number of security challenges and more than one active insurgency. If the state is unable to use the NSC effectively, discontent will be turned into undesirable public expression by one party or the other. It is imperative that the NSC’s rules of business are amended so it starts meeting monthly, if not more frequently. More important, the leadership must start according due importance to institutions rather than relying on informal channels.

One hopes that with the appointment of a full-time national security adviser, the NSC will be reinvigorated. While an activated NSC will greatly help the consultative process, the parliament and provincial legislatures and their committees of defence and home affairs should get their act together and start exercising effective oversight in the execution of the National Action Plan by the government.

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2015

Opinion

Editorial

Miftah’s misery
Updated 06 Jul, 2022

Miftah’s misery

It cannot be easy to be finance minister in times like these, with friend and foe alike gunning for you over difficult decisions.
Phone tapping
06 Jul, 2022

Phone tapping

IT is the season of audio leaks. No sooner does one ‘incriminating’ clip lose its shock value than another...
Transgender job quota
06 Jul, 2022

Transgender job quota

IN a society where transgender persons often face violence and abuse, the Sindh Assembly’s decision to reserve a...
Warming ties
05 Jul, 2022

Warming ties

BILATERAL ties with the US are clearly on the mend after an extensive rough patch under the PTI government. While ...
LNG emergency
Updated 05 Jul, 2022

LNG emergency

The problem is that Pakistan does not have sufficient cash at the moment to buy even a single LNG cargo at present prices.
The invisible half
05 Jul, 2022

The invisible half

WHAT better illustrates the Afghan Taliban’s misogynistic and mediaeval worldview than the fact that not a single...