Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Purpose of the NSC

December 27, 2008


NO ONE shed a tear at the demise of the National Security Council. On the contrary, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's announcement on Nov 28 that the NSC would be disbanded was received with relief. For the NSC set up by presidents more than one were not modelled on the US's National Security Council as an aid to democratic governance but on the Turkish model tailored to suit the ends of the president of the day.

The first NSC was President Ziaul Haq's creation. He inserted Article 152-A into the constitution by the dubious device of the Revival of the Constitution Order with effect from March 2, 1985. Its task was to make recommendations relating to the issue of a Proclamation of Emergency, “Security of Pakistan and any other matter of national importance that may be referred to it by the President in consultation with the Prime Minister. The National Security Council shall consist of the President, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Senate, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistan Army, the Pakistan Navy and the Pakistan Air Force and the Chief Ministers of the provinces.”

Article 152-A was deleted by the Eighth Amendment which went into force on Nov 9, 1985. But on Jan 6, 1997, a mere four weeks before the Feb 3 general election, President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari made a notification to establish a Council for Defence and National Security. A caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Meraj Khalid was in office. The notification was issued under articles 90 and 99 of the constitution as amendments to the Rules of Business. Rule 20-A established the council. It was a patent nullity and a gross abuse of rule-making power.

After the general election Nawaz Sharif lost no time in declaring as prime minister that he had no use for the president's council.

The military coup of October 1999 gave fresh impetus to the revival of the idea. As chief executive Gen Pervez Musharraf made an order on Oct 31 appointing a National Security Council comprising himself, the chiefs of the air force and the navy plus “such other members as may be appointed by the Chief Executive”. Its terms of reference included everything except the kitchen sink “The Council shall deliberate upon, discuss and tender advice to the Chief Executive on such matters as the Chief Executive may deem expedient and necessary to refer to the national security, foreign affairs, law and order, corruption, accountability, recovery of bank loans and public debts from defaulters, finance, economic and social welfare, health, education,

Islamic ideology, human rights, protection of minorities and women development so as to achieve the aims and objectives enshrined in the Objectives Resolution of 1949.”

It was woefully apparent that the institution was a fig leaf to cover the nudity of arbitrary power. The Legal Framework Order of 2003 revived Article 152-A. In 2004 the National Assembly enacted the National Security Act, 2004. The remit was “to serve as a forum for consultation on matters of national security, including the sovereignty, integrity, defence, security of the State and crisis management”.

Its composition was revealing. The president, the prime minister, presiding officers of the National Assembly and the Senate, the leader of the opposition, chief ministers of the provinces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee plus the chiefs of the army, navy and air force.

A body so constituted cannot possibly facilitate either dispatch or candour. Legislation was necessary because the 17th Amendment to the constitution envisaged substitution of Article 152-A by an Act of Parliament.

But it is the NSC of a kind that has a disreputable ancestry. Turkey's constitution of 1982 is not a model for emulation but a warning to be heeded. It recalls in its preamble “the operation carried out on September 12, 1980 by the Turkish Armed Forces in response to a call from the Turkish nation.” Article 118 establishes a National Security Council comprising the president, prime minister, the chief of the general staff, and ministers of defence, internal affairs and foreign affairs. Its remit is formulation and implementation of “the national security policy of the state”. It can decide on measures for the preservation of the independence of the state “and the peace and security of society”.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it an advisory body on security. That is precisely what a National Security Council should do. In the US, the NSC was set up by the National Security Act, 1947. It has been used or ignored depending on the president's style of functioning. Kennedy ignored it but set up an executive committee (Excom) which deliberated throughout the Cuban missile crisis.

A good NSC has two advantages. It gives the armed forces an institutional say in matters of security. Their advisory input is imperative. Only a foolish government would neglect their contribution. Besides, the NSC fosters disciplined decision-making as distinct from decisions based on the omniscience of the supreme leader. The American experience teaches a lot — by analogy not blind invitation. The formulation of options, based on thoughtful policy papers, is a process not to be belittled. Fundamentally, it must be an aid to democratic governance, not a curb on it.

The writer is a lawyer and an author.