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Review of security doctrine

January 14, 2018

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POLITICAL analysts at home and abroad have described Pakistan in many ways. But the attribute of a ‘security state’ is perhaps the most popular. This perception may not be inaccurate, although Pakistan does not have any declared national security policy.

Some say it is not even necessary for a state to declare its national security doctrine. It should be dynamic, though, for security challenges are never constant and continue to be defined by emerging variables. A few years ago, it would have been hard to predict the political and diplomatic crisis that the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is currently redefining friends and foes, face today. The same is true for the emergent diplomatic affair between Turkey and Russia.

Pakistan’s case is also not too complex to grasp as certain trends were evident as to the direction in which circumstances will lead the nation. Afghanistan is not only at the core of all the country’s strategic and diplomatic challenges, it also compounds its internal security problems. The recent stand-off with Washington is one expression of that.

Pakistan’s strategic doctrine is certainly focused on India’s military might. But the country has gradually fallen into the Afghanistan trap and is now finding it hard to pull itself out of it. It is important for Pakistan to diversify its geopolitical options as its strategic partners (mainly China) and potential partners (mainly Russia) want stability in Afghanistan. Old and new internal and regional security challenges have compelled Pakistan to review afresh its security, strategic and geopolitical priorities.

Old and new challenges have compelled Pakistan to review its security and geopolitical priorities.

The government and security institutions have started reviewing the country’s strategic choices and security doctrine. Apart from the military institution’s input, the federal government has also taken a few initiatives. In December 2017, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tasked the national security adviser, retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, to present the national security policy which, as of now, has been documented and circulated to the relevant committees. It is expected that it may be launched this year. This multilayered policy, conceived in global, regional and national perspectives, will focus on the safety, security and well-being of Pakistani citizens.

The government has also tasked the National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta) to reformulate the National Internal Security Policy. The first Nisp was announced in 2014 but not implemented. It was conceived in a narrow perspective to counter terrorism and either overlooked or downplayed some important challenges. It is expected that the Nisp consultation process will be completed before June 2018. These are promising developments portending that Pakistan might finally have a declared national security policy, which would be complemented by Nisp. This exercise is not an abrupt development and has roots in the recent diplomatic crisis with the US.

During the last one and a half decades, Pakistan has developed critical infrastructure to address internal vulnerabilities, including provincial counterterrorism departments, rapid response forces, Nacta, and, importantly, the role of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS). The latter has been transformed after 9/11 and has become an important forum.

However, these institutions face two major challenges: first, ambiguous policy and operational frameworks; and second, the lack of parliamentary or civilian oversight. The militarisation of internal security affairs itself has become a challenge for the government and internal security institutions and they have to share their powers, resources and even responsibilities with military-led institutions. Even at CCNS meetings, the policy input comes mainly from the military establishment. The parliament and government have not developed any policy infrastructure that can contribute to policy formulation and add parliamentary and public perspectives to any policy framework.

Even in the ongoing national security policy formation process, parliament has not been taken on board. Nor did parliament feel the need to initiate a debate on critical policy formulation to provide an insight into national security. The government is also going to announce a national narrative soon, in a ceremony to be held at President House, but parliament was not taken on board even on this initiative which should be its primary responsibility.

What happens when the supreme constitutional, legislative and people’s representative body is bypassed in such critical policy discourse? Not only does it create issues of legitimacy and ownership, it also ignores input on critical and serious challenges that parliament and civil society can discuss in a frank manner.

For example, the issue of the status of banned organisations — that has been troubling Pakistan for several years and complicating its external and internal security challenges — should not be discussed at any controlled or bureaucratic forum. Only parliament can decide the fate of banned organisations, especially those conceived by the world as state proxies. The reintegration of groups was not a part of any declared state policy, and parliament was not taken into confidence on the issue. Parliament, through its collective wisdom, can ease the huge burden of the security establishment while providing policy direction on the future of banned organisations.

Another major problem, left vague in policy formulation, concerns the implementation and monitoring mechanism as in the case of the National Action Plan. So far, nobody is ready to take ownership of NAP. Multiple authorities are supposed to be responsible for its implementation. Parliamentary oversight can address the issue.

NAP should also be discussed and debated in Nisp consultations. Most experts agree to divide NAP into two parts, the first dealing with counterterrorism challenges and the second with counter-extremism issues. A revised NAP could also be made a part of Nisp.

Most importantly, in any security policy fundamental rights should not be compromised; the effective implementation of the rule of law and constructive measures to stop the misuse of authority also need to be ensured. This could help remove the tag of ‘security state’ from Pakistan.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018