On National Security

National security has become a much debated issue in Pakistan. Governments – past and present – have also focused on this issue but almost every time with different interpretations on what ‘national security’ means and whose job it is in the government to address it.
An ad hoc APC held in Islamabad on September 9 has laid out the essence of the collective wisdom of the leadership of the country on one important element of national security: terrorism. However only time will tell about the usefulness of this undertaking.
The definition of national security is still evolving and will continue to vary with the circumstances of each individual nation. The definition of national security drawn up by an Indian scholar is fairly impressive. I quote, “The measurable state of the capability of a nation to overcome the multi-dimensional threats to the apparent well-being of its people and its survival as a nation-state at any given time, by balancing all instruments of state policy”.
The basic question that needs to be addressed is: does Pakistan need separate national security architecture like the National Security Council (NSC) in addition to the current system of government with the federal cabinet, a Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the Defence Committee of parliament?
In our fast-moving globalised world there is a need for serious coordination between various ministries and agencies of the government to manage the multiple security challenges faced by our country. Renaming the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) as the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) is at best an ad hoc arrangement. It seems some of us confuse national security with national defence. We should let the DCC focus on the vital issue of national defence and let it perform its designated and very important function, both in peace and war. 
Besides conventional issues like defence, foreign policy, economy, and internal security other problems like energy, floods, law and order and national integration are serious issues that impact on our national security. From time to time this list may expand to include problems like foreign investment, price of crude oil in the international market, peace in Karachi and at times the price of atta (flour) in the open market.
While there are various ministries for such issues, I strongly believe there is a need for an active wing within the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, designed to integrate the input of all federal ministries and agencies almost on a daily basis and advise the prime minister, and when necessary the federal cabinet, on the appropriate course of action. An important task of this setup would be to develop a national security policy document under the direction of the PM and update it from time to time.
Countries like the US, Israel, India and some others have such a setup and call it the National Security Council (NSC) headed by an advisor to the prime minister/president. Members of the NSC are the usual suspects like ministers of defence, foreign affairs etc. The chief of defence staff (chairman JCSC) and the heads of intelligence agencies are associate members and attend the NSC meetings as and when required. However, each country has its own protocol as to who is a permanent member and who is not.
For Pakistan too I would recommend a national security outfit in the PM’s Secretariat and headed by a Nation Security Advisor (NSA) with the primary aim of providing advice to the prime minister and his cabinet on national security issues. The NSA should have the rank of a federal minister. Besides the NSA, the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and interior should be permanent members of the NSC. I am not comfortable with the decision of the present government to include the chairman of the JCSC and all service chiefs as permanent members of the CCNS. This, I believe, makes this committee military-heavy and may retard the development of the political leadership and our nascent democracy. I, therefore, propose a radical departure.
In Pakistan today the office of the chairman JCSC has limited powers while the service chiefs organise, train and run the operations of their respective services at will. In reality the army chief is more than the first amongst equals. This is so for two important reasons. First, Pakistan’s defence is based on a land strategy while the air force and the navy are essentially supporting services to the land strategy and second, because of the first reason the army is many times larger and has a sizable presence in all corners of the country.
The army is the lead organisation in fighting terrorism as was abundantly clear during the recent APC. The army is also the lead agency in battling various national calamities like floods and earthquakes. Because of the dominant position of the army it may, therefore, be prudent to have the army chief as a permanent member of the NSC for the next two tenures and then review the situation after a specified time frame.
A way around the issue of not making the senior-most military officer (chairman JCSC) a member of the NSC could be to make the army chief the chairman of the JCSC. I am not suggesting this as a permanent arrangement but only for a limited timeframe of five to ten years, while the political leadership mull over any changes in the responsibility and structure of the higher defence organisation. Faced with many serious problems and a nascent democratic setup it may not be possible for the political leadership to reorganize the higher defence organisation at this point in time.
On issues of national defence the chairman of JCSC and the three service chiefs should continue to play a prominent role as members of the DCC as well as members of the National Command Authority. However on other national security issues like foreign policy, the economy, terrorism, energy and national intelligence the political leaders should take charge.
The National Security Council (NSC), for want of a better terminology, should meet as and when required by the prime minister. However, the national security advisor, supported by his lean staff, should brief the prime minister almost on a daily basis on the current national security issues, of course after having taken the views of the relevant ministries and agencies.
The NSC, I believe, should remain an advisory body while the PM and his cabinet remain the primary executive authority as expected in a democratic parliament setup. It is the PM who has to provide the leadership and integrate all elements of the federal government and take along parliament and the provincial governments.
The buck should stop here. It is high time we in Pakistan stopped talking of the civil and military leadership as two different institutions. All institutions, civil or military, come under the prime minister and it is his job to create harmony between them, if indeed he wants to succeed. This Mr Prime Minister is yet another challenge and I pray for your success.