LAHORE- The current political crisis has badly affected the working of the state institutions and seriously damaged the national economy. Whatever its final outcome, it will have lessons for both the political and military leaderships.
Since the army plays a decisive role in giving such situations a direction, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan are holding regular meetings with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif these days. The prime minister is also in constant contact with the COAS.
Although the purpose of these meetings is to review the situation and decide what should be done to keep things under control, the real intention of the political leadership is to have an idea about the army chief’s likely future moves.
The ruling PML-N has employed a multi-pronged strategy to minimise the impact of campaigns launched by various parties to dislodge it. But all efforts made so far to bring the PTI and PAT to terms yielded no results.
Political observers say that the situation could have been handled very effectively if the National Security Council set up by Gen Pervez Musharraf had been in existence. This forum, they say, was the best for coordination between the political and military leaderships.
The National Security Council was for consultation on strategic matters pertaining to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the State; and the matters relating to democracy, governance and inter-provincial harmony.
Headed by the president, the NSC comprised the prime minister, the chairman of the Senate, the speaker of the National Assembly, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, the chief ministers of the provinces, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistan Army, Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force.
The NSC meetings could be convened by the president either in his discretion, or on the advice of the prime minister, or when requested by any other of its members, within the timeframe indicated by him.
Had the NSC been functional, President Mamnoon Hussain (a PML-N nominee) would have been its chairman and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), Senate Chairman Nayyer Bokhari (PPP), NA Speaker Sardar Ayyaz Sadiq (PML-N), Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah (PPP), KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak (PTI), Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif (PML-N), Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik (National Party), Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah (PPP), COAS and all three services chiefs its members.
In other words, the PML-N, the PPP, the PTI and the National Party would have been the equal stakeholders and none of them could have worked against the system, no matter how serious their differences. And when the political and military leaders had been sitting together in the NSC, the ruling PML-N would not have needed separate meetings with the COAS, as being seen these days.
There would have been no question of the PTI going for resignations from the assemblies as its chief minister would have been part of the important forum. Also, the collective decisions taken from this platform would have saved the country from a situation of uncertainty.
But, unfortunately, the NSC was disbanded by the PPP government shortly after the 2008 polls. Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, then prime minister, portrayed the decision as a great achievement as it buried a relic of the Musharraf era.
The incumbent PML-N government converted the Defence Committee of the cabinet into the National Security Committee. Although it is also an important forum, its composition and jurisdiction are much different from the NSC’s.
The establishment of the NSC was first proposed in 1985 by then CMLA-President Gen Ziaul Haq as a precondition to the lifting of martial law. However, then prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo opposed the idea. The two leaders, however, reached an agreement in the light of which the NSC idea was dropped but the president was “compensated” with the power to dissolve the National Assembly and sack the government. This was incorporated in the Constitution as Article 58-2(b).
The NSC idea was revived by Gen Jehangir Karamat in 1998 for the sake of better civil-military coordination. However, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who was the prime minister at the time, took it as transgression from authority. Nawaz summoned him to his office and forced him to resign.
The army took the prime minister’s punitive action against its boss as an insult to the institution.
And when Gen Musharraf took over as a result of the 1999 coup, he set up the NSC again.