ISLAMABAD: The National Command Authority (NCA) Act about the command and control of strategic assets was passed after open public discussion in parliament in 2010, but the rules framed under it are still being kept a closely guarded secret and the authorities concerned seem reluctant in placing them even before the house despite repeated requests by the members of two committees of the Senate over the past two years.
The NCA is the apex civilian-led command headed by the prime minister to oversee the policy formulation, exercises, deployment, research and development, and operational command and control of the country’s nuclear arsenals.
The last periodic report of the Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation recently laid before the house raised some questions about the operationalisation of the NCA Act, but it escaped notice in the maze of over two dozen reports by various committees during the last days of the outgoing Senate.
The 8th quarterly report of the committee for the period January to March presented by its chairman Taj Haider showed as to how the committee members found themselves helpless and powerless when the defence secretary despite being present in the Parliament House building sent a request for postponement of the agenda item despite knowing that it was the last meeting of the committee.
Authorities seem reluctant to place documents even before parliament
The officials of the ministry of defence were to give a briefing to the committee on “rules / regulations framed under NCA Act, 2010” and it was upon their request, that the committee had made arrangements for holding the session in camera.
Neither the secretary nor any other official of the ministry bothered to attend the meeting, according to the report.
The committee chairman, the report says, informed the members that defence secretary had requested through the Senate secretariat that the agenda items related to his ministry may be postponed as he would be busy in a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence.
According to the report, the committee chairman informed the members that on the request for the postponement, he had allowed the defence secretary to send additional secretary or the joint secretary to attend the meeting.
Mr Haider said the secretary insisted that the matter was very important and he personally wanted to brief the committee.
However, Taj Haider said, neither the defence secretary nor any of his representatives came to the meeting even for discussion on another agenda item pertaining to a briefing on the rules of defence housing authorities.
The rules under NCA Act were previously also denied to the Senate Committee on Defence.
PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, who retired from the Senate after completion of his six-year term on March 11, had first raised the issue in the meetings of the Senate committee on defence in 2016, but to no avail. Again, he demanded presentation of the NCA rules when he became a member of the committee on delegated legislation.
In the last committee meeting, according to the report, Mr Babar said that since the NCA Act was passed through an open parliamentary debate, the subordinate legislation should also be discussed openly.
He said “if the secretary was too busy, he could have nominated some senior officer, but it too was not done”, says the report.
Mr Babar was of the view that if the defence secretary so wished, he could attend both the meetings in the same building under the same roof by taking leave briefly from the NA committee and walking into the Senate committee. “But again this eminently doable and sensible course was not adopted,” the report quoted Mr Babar to have said during the meeting.
“He wondered whether the avoidance was deliberate as the Senate term was about to expire and the ministry hoped that the matter would soon be dead and buried,” says the report.
Mr Babar said that previously as a member of the defence committee also he had asked for these rules. However, it was denied for as long as 16 months till finally he resigned from the committee for some other reasons. “The defence ministry seems to resist this committee as well, he said,” according to the report.
There is a lingering suspicion that the rules may have been framed in violation of the Act itself, the report quotes Mr Babar as saying.
If the rules indeed are in conflict with the Act it would have “dangerous implications for the command and control of strategic assets”, the report quoted him as saying.
Mr Babar apprehended that the rules might be in conflict with the basic law and wished to “place on record his apprehensions” about its destabilising potential, according to the report.
When contacted to seek his comments on Sunday, Mr Babar said the committee’s report was a public document and there was no need for further elaboration by him as he had already made his views known.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2018