Whither National Security?
The civilians and the armed forces in Pakistan have never agreed on the best ratio for workable civil-military relations.
Jinnah strongly believed in democracy. His concept of western liberal democracy was greatly debated among the political circles of the left and right. He obviously did not visualize any role of the armed forces in the country beyond their primary function of defending the national borders. He believed that the armed forces must refrain from indulging in politics.
Unfortunately, after Jinnah, the political leadership that followed was intellectually shallow.. Democracy in the new-born country became a laughing stock and even Pakistan’s survival was put at stake due to the political instability, poor economy and a constant threat on the eastern border.
This is when power shifted to the Pakistan armed forces which came forward to stabilize the country economically and militarily. In the first Martial Law led by Field Marshal Ayub Khan and in his decade-long rule, there was noticeable progress in the industrial sector and development of infrastructure. But Ayub stifled all political voices and there was unrest and suffocation in the country.
When there was a war between India and Pakistan in 1965, Ayub Khan stood up and inspired the nation against Indian aggression. Despite all its contradictions in the socio-political and cultural spheres, Ayub still provided a solid ground for Pakistan’s economic and military development. However, political forces drove Ayub Khan out of power.
His successor, Gen. Yahya Khan, following the pattern of the US National Security Council, floated the idea of a National Security Council with the function to advise and assist the president and prime minister on national security and foreign policy issues. The concept has surfaced from time to time since then. It has even become a controversial issue in certain political circles which argue that such an institution would provide legal cover to the military for expanding its role and influence and would subdue the popular democratic process.
In 1969 Gen Yahya Khan did set up a National Security Council under the recommendations of the armed forces. A comprehensive report on this important matter was proposed and submitted by the Commander of the Eastern High Command in East Pakistan, Vice Admiral S. M Ahsan in 1968 to overcome challenges involving various foreign policy issues. This was a consultative body with Maj.
Gen Ghulam Omar being named as its secretary.
However, the idea was highly opposed in the public and political circles due to its impacting civilian affairs. It had a little support from the right wing which thought the NSC would serve as a bridge to stabilize civil-military relations. In 1973 when the armed forces made repeated recommendations for the necessity of the NSC, the proposal created resentment in the parliament. Prime minister Bhutto instead created the DCC - Defense Committee of the Cabinet - which provided that the responsibility of national defense rested with the prime minister.
Gen Zia kept the DCC active, even during martial law until the time he became president through a referendum in 1985. He inserted Article 152-A into the constitution which, subsequently led to the establishment of a National Security Council. The NSC created a strong reaction in civil society. It was dissolved by prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993 and PPP government again reactivated the Defense Committee of the Cabinet. After Pakistan’s nuclear tests by the Sharif government in 1998, the debate for the recreation of the NSC started in military circles. Gen. Jahangir Karamat debated the idea of an NSC which could discuss the military point of view on security issues. The idea was logical and could develop civil military relations on more healthy lines. However, this was during Nawaz Sharif’s second stint. He removed Karamat and appointed Gen. Pervez Musharraf in his place as army chief. Soon after, the Kargil War came about and a further boost was given to civil-military tensions. In the absence of a comprehensive mechanism like NSC, events led to the dismissal of Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999 when he tried to remove Gen. Musharraf.
Gen. Musharraf announced a sixmember National Security Council and then, on October 3,1999, he formally established the NSC under an order of the Chief Executive. In 2004, prime minister Shaukat Aziz for the first time presented the NSC through an act of parliament. A civil bureaucrat, Tariq Aziz was appointed as the first national security advisor by the Chief of Army Staff, Gen., Pervez Musharraf, who had also become president by then. Aziz remained in office till the resignation of President Musharraf on August 18, 2008. Mohammad Ali Durrani was the second advisor of the NSC and he was deposed by the prime minister in 2009 on charges of an irresponsible statement with regard to the acceptance of terrorist Ajmal Kasab’s Pakistani nationality.
After that, the NSC was not operational anymore and the PPP government reactivated Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC). During the tenure of the PPP government from 2008 to 2013, the Memogate scandal once again created tension between the army and the government. The proposal of the interior minister to bring the ISI under the control of his ministry also kicked up controversy.
Despite signing the COD (Charter of Democracy) in May 2006 which called for the dissolution of the NSC, when Nawaz Sharif came into power in 2013, he was aware of the impending pressure from the armed forces in the event he made a policy blunder in either internal or external affairs. He may have been reluctant to go against the Taliban but the Pakistan Army was compelled to launch an operation in North Waziristan. This is when Nawaz Sharif restored the NSC and appointed Sartaj Aziz as the National Security Advisor. Sharif proposed that a dialogue with the Pakistani military would create a civil-military partnership to harmonize and balance power sharing. The political parties and civil society also thought that the military should be formally inducted into the policy-making structure.
Even in advanced democracies such as the United States, France. etc., the armed forces are important pressure groups. They take significant part in policy-making on security issues. The US NSC ensures coordination and concurrence among the armed forces and other instruments of national security such as the CIA, etc. India also has a six member body on the lines of an NSC which was established in 1998. However, the armed forces have no direct representation. Iran, Turkey and Israel have different kinds of security mechanism. In Israel, an NSC was established in 1999. Turkey got its NSC in 1961 when the country was under military rule. In August 2003 there were some significant changes in the role of the Turkish NSC and in August 2004, a civilian diplomat was appointed as secretary general of the NSC foe the first time.
The role of the armed forces in the NSC cannot be wholly denied or minimized in the Pakistani context, Power sharing can be variable and its success in the civilian space depends on the capability of the political forces.
The role of the armed forces in the NSC cannot be wholly denied or minimized in the Pakistani context.