Pakistan needs an NSC so that all important national policies are made through consultation between civil and military forces.
Pakistan's feudal and dynastic political culture has stymied democratic norms and institutions from striking roots in the country. All successive governments have displayed outright reluctance in terms of allowing and empowering the institution of the National Security Council (NSC). Such an indifferent behaviour on the part of the civilian leadership has created threatening issues of national security and foreign policy. Politicians have been unnecessarily apprehensive that an effective NSC will lead to the military frequently meddling in civilian affairs. This has presumably goaded the military leadership into playing a sort of political role through backdoor influence and non-armed forces since the abolishment of the NSC in 2009.
For the country's greater national security, it is of paramount importance that the NSC be revived and have the needed power so that both the civilian and military leadership is able to jointly identify serious national issues and resolve them with mutual consultation. What is important to note is that the civilian leadership should not be fearful of the dominance of the military in deliberations and decisions of the NSC; the current military leadership has time and again reiterated its firm resolve in terms of enhancing and fostering the ongoing democratic process of the country. But, the civilian leadership needs to be democratic, serious and pragmatic in its approach to the country's national security and foreign policy.
The Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, has repeatedly emphasized that the army will continue to
constitutionally support the democratic institutions of the country. This means that the army is no longer interested in toppling the civilian government. Rather it is inclined to work with the civilian setup to strengthen the budding democratic institutions of the country. This means the political leadership should capitalize on the expertise of the army, the most effective institution in the country, in order to effectively resolve internal and external issues of the country.
Historically speaking, despite its controversial role of overthrowing civilian governments in the past, the army had also endeavoured to provide some kind of democratic institutions to the country. Though General Ayub Khan imposed martial law in 1958, yet he introduced the system of Basic Democracies to politically empower the people at the grassroots level. Even though established by a military ruler, these local bodies inculcated a sort of democratic sense and spirit in the people.
Moreover, the first democratic elections were held during the tenure of General Yahya Khan in 1970. General Pervez Musharraf established somewhat effective local bodies in 2002 and signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007 to allow politicians to take up democratic activities in the country. Though the military can be scathingly criticized for its controversial role in derailing the civilian governments in 1958, 1977 and 1999, it also strove to provide an opportunity to the civilian leaders to establish a democratic system in the country.
As far as the ongoing democratic process is concerned, it is pointed out that the army threw its full weight behind the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against alleged rigging in the 2013 elections. These demonstrations have made it abundantly clear that those who resort to rigging in elections will not escape the accountability dragnet in the future.
Since the army is one of the most effective institutions in the country, its constitutional role in the formation and execution of national security and foreign policy is very important. In this context, the National Security Council has proved to be an important platform where both the civilian and military leadership set together, exchange views and take decisions with mutual consultation.
The NSC has lately helped the civilian and military leadership develop consensus and take decisions on some key issues. After extensive discussions with the military leadership under the platform of the NSC, the PML-N-led federal government took the measure of merging the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When US President Donald Trump lambasted Pakistan for offering safe havens to ‘agents of chaos' in his South Asia policy last year, the NSC responded befittingly to Trump's statement and termed it unfounded. The caretaker government held productive deliberations some time back with the chiefs of the armed forces about the need for cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on countering terror financing and money laundering.
Since the country is faced with multifaceted issues of national security and foreign policy, the government should reform and empower the NSC. It is sad to note that the National Security Council (NSC) was abolished by the PPP government in 2009. The PML-N government also displayed a reluctance to revive the NSC. The democratic dispensations of the PPP and the PML-N erroneously thought that the NSC would help the army increase its role in civilian matters.
The next government should come forward and re-establish the National Security Council for the greater national interest of the country. Secondly, the civilian leadership should increase its expertise in matters of national security and foreign policy. Elected leaders should also demonstrate their seriousness with respect to implementing major decisions of the NSC. This would greatly increase the say of the civilian leadership in deliberations of the NSC, thus dispelling the impression that the NSC allows the military to play a political role.
The NSC should be provided with a team that is competent and experienced in national security and world politics. Such people would help the NSC prepare critical research on major issues under discussion. Cooperation and coordination between the NSC and other relevant institutions should also be enhanced.
The government should shun its sluggishness and promptly execute the policy recommendations of the NSC. Any lethargy from the civilian government will not only render the NSC ineffective, it will also drag the army into political matters because it cannot security and integrity of the country to be compromised
As the army has decided to help the civilian government foster democratic institutions in the country, the decision should be welcomed by the politicians and they should provide reasonable space to the army leadership to have its say in the formation of national security and foreign policy. The revival of the National Security Council would be the best way forward.