Is it a Ne­ces­sity?

An NSC strength­ens the writ of the govern­ment at many lev­els and re­in­forces demo­cratic val­ues through a wide-an­gle view.

Southasia - - MALÉ - By Taj M Khat­tak

In the last few decades, a pub­lic de­bate has raged pe­ri­od­i­cally in Pak­istan about the need to have a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC) for higher pol­icy for­mu­la­tion. His­tor­i­cally, an NSC was first formed in the late 1960s dur­ing Pres­i­dent Yahya’s regime with a view to ad­vis­ing and as­sist­ing the pres­i­dent on na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy is­sues. When Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto came to power af­ter the 1971 Indo-Pak war, he dis­banded the NSC and re­placed it with the De­fence Com­mit­tee of the Cabi­net (DCC). In the 1990s, Nawaz Sharif sacked Army Chief Gen­eral Ja­hangir Kara­mat for merely sug­gest­ing a need for an NSC dur­ing a ques­tion-an­swer ses­sion at the Pak­istan Navy War Col­lege in La­hore. Af­ter the 1999 mil­i­tary coup, Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf made the NSC func­tional but it was made re­dun­dant in 2009 dur­ing the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party’s regime. Iron­i­cally, it was Nawaz Sharif who again re­vived the NSC in 2013.

The ex­is­tence of an NSC in a coun­try’s pol­icy-mak­ing struc­ture is not a bad idea, per se. It ex­ists and serves the pur­pose of in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized in­puts in a num­ber of coun­tries, such as the UK, the U.S., Turkey, In­dia and Iran, to name a few. Every state al­beit has de­vised its own method­ol­ogy for con­sul­ta­tions on com­plex pol­icy is­sues at a fo­rum like the NSC. These method­olo­gies, by and large, en­sure that for­eign and se­cu­rity pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions are har­mo­nized and in­clu­sive rather than ex­clu­sive of in­puts from any im­por­tant state in­sti­tu­tion.

In the UK, the NSC is tasked with over­see­ing all is­sues re­lated to na­tional se­cu­rity, like de­fence, in­tel­li­gence co-or­di­na­tion, cy­ber se­cu­rity, re­silience, en­ergy, re­source se­cu­rity and de­fence strat­egy. In the U.S., an NSC has ex­isted since the end of WWII even though the coun­try has a highly em­pow­ered Congress and Se­nate, apart from a num­ber of ‘think tanks’ which in­de­pen­dently and rou­tinely brain­storm global is­sues and throw up the best pos­si­ble se­cu­rity op­tions to serve the na­tional in­ter­est. The US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil acts as the Pres­i­dent’s prin­ci­pal arm for co­or­di­nat­ing poli­cies within var­i­ous govern­ment agen­cies in the U.S. and with coun­ter­parts in other coun­tries.

The US Congress or the Se­nate does not feel threat­ened by the NSC en­croach­ing on its po­lit­i­cal space be­cause, over a pe­riod of time, it has evolved into a strong po­lit­i­cal en­tity in its own right. The NSC, as such, is con­sid­ered a sup­ple­ment­ing agency com­pris­ing ded­i­cated per­son­nel to help the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive to­wards ro­bust and qual­ity de­ci­sion-mak­ing in de­fense and for­eign pol­icy do­mains. The Turk­ish NSC, known lo­cally as the Milli Güven­lik Ku­rulu, MGK, de­vel­ops the na­tional se­cu­rity of the coun­try. In Iran, the Supreme Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, as it is known, de­ter­mines de­fence and na­tional se­cu­rity po­lices and co-or­di­nates po­lit­i­cal, in­tel­li­gence, so­cial, cul­tural and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties. It is also re­spon­si­ble for ex­ploita­tion of ma­te­rial and in­tel­lec­tual re­sources to face in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal threats.

In In­dia, where democ­racy has had a longer run, the NSC func­tions at three lev­els. At the top, NSC meet­ings are chaired by the Prime Min­is­ter with key min­is­ters in at­ten­dance but no rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the armed forces, although they can be in­vited for im­por­tant ses­sions to get their point of view when­ever re­quired. At the next level, the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary holds con­sul­ta­tions with the army, navy and air force chiefs for strate­gic plan­ning along with sec­re­taries of key min­istries and the gov­er­nor of the cen­tral bank. At the third level, known as the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sory Board, the mem­bers are area ex­perts but not from the govern­ment. This struc­ture has an ad­van­tage where rec­om­men­da­tions are put up by in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sion­als with­out the usual con­cerns about dom­i­nance of one in­sti­tu­tion over the other.

One com­mon strand run­ning through NSC or­ga­ni­za­tions in dif­fer­ent coun­tries is that in all cases, the adopted mech­a­nism, by what­ever name, is de­signed to im­prove pol­icy mat­ters af­fect­ing se­cu­rity of the na­tion and in­te­grates dif­fer­ent as­pects such as for­eign, mil­i­tary, eco­nomic, fis­cal and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. This helps for­mu­la­tion of all-in­clu­sive pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions through area spe­cial­ists. There is no fric­tion or any turf war be­tween dif­fer­ent branches of the state or or­ga­ni­za­tions since the govern­ment oth­er­wise has a vast spec­trum of pol­icy ar­eas to con­tend with, such as agri­cul­ture, in­te­rior, health, education and wel­fare, civil ser­vices, com­merce and so forth.

It is un­for­tu­nate that in Pak­istan, in spite of ten elec­tions in the last sev­enty years, the par­lia­ment, bar­ring

The post-9/11 sce­nario raised the bench­mark of chal­lenges fac­ing Pak­istan.

a few in­stances, has so far not dis­played po­lit­i­cal sagac­ity. This lack­lus­ter per­for­mance cre­ates a vac­uum for other forces to step in. Put an­other way, if the par­lia­ment, is re­spon­sive to pub­lic sen­ti­ments on cru­cial is­sues and en­acts leg­is­la­tion, re­gard­less of self-in­ter­est of its con­stituents, there will be very lit­tle for the NSC to ingress into. The ar­gu­ment that the pop­u­lar demo­cratic process in Pak­istan is still in its tran­si­tion and nascent stages and should be given space to grow, can cut both ways; the op­po­site view be­ing that par­lia­men­tary prac­tices and leg­is­la­tion should in­spire pub­lic con­fi­dence with dis­cern­able pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors to­wards ma­tu­rity which has sadly been lack­ing.

An­other rea­son why the need arises to bring cru­cial for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity is­sues un­der dis­cus­sion at a fo­rum like the NSC in Pak­istan is the ne­glect suf­fered by the for­eign, de­fence and fi­nance min­istries un­der suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments for the past so many years for self-serv­ing rea­sons. This has cre­ated in­sti­tu­tional and struc­tural weak­nesses in these key min­istries and re­duced their ca­pac­ity to come up to the de­mands of rou­tine func­tions of state­craft. Nor­mally, in more sta­ble coun­tries, it is the strength in these three min­istries which syn­er­gizes na­tional ca­pac­ity and po­ten­tial to­wards sound na­tional poli­cies.

Bal­ance of power is a del­i­cate mat­ter and ideally it should al­ways be in favour of the rul­ing politi­cians. To achieve that, po­lit­i­cal par­ties have to get their act to­gether. Shenani­gans like Me­mogate and Dawn-Leaks do not help the bal­ance of power or the na­tional se­cu­rity of Pak­istan. Till such time that our po­lit­i­cal mech­a­nism takes stronger roots, the NSC can play a vi­tal role in pol­icy for­mu­la­tion. It should thus be seen in a wider con­text as an or­ga­ni­za­tion to strengthen ar­eas where it needs sup­port. The post-9/11 sce­nario has raised the bench­mark of chal­lenges fac­ing Pak­istan and hav­ing a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has be­come a ques­tion of ne­ces­sity, not choice.

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