Pakistan faces serious multi-dimensional crises - War On Terror, issues of law, order and economics, and threats to its territorial security - to name a few. Who in a democracy is to formulate and implement strategies and policies, and then coordinate between the many state institutions to counter and deal with all this? The ultimate authority to decide what to do and upon whom the entire responsibility rests is indeed a country's chief executive. While in most countries this is one institution, in Pakistan, where constitutional powers are shared, the burden to meet challenges ahead rests with the president and PM together. Although heads of state are assisted by the Cabinet and Parliament also provides valuable input, yet the world has long ago recognised that matters of "national security" are so wide that it is not possible for the president/PM alone, or even with ministers, to adequately deal with everything. It is equally well understood that it is not the Parliament's function to run governments or to assist the leadership on the matters of strategies. To fill this gap, the world has come up with the institution of National Security Council (NSC), which is generally a body constituted of core heads of government to advise leadership on matters of national importance. Today NSC is the norm rather than an exception in all democracies, albeit its exact role and functions have been adapted by each country according to its own history. Pakistan too began an experiment with NSC when the idea was proposed by Zia, which is the reason why NSC is still considered by many to be anti-democratic and a ploy by the army to control the country's governance. This perception had some basis and according to Dr Rizvi, renowned defence analyst, Zia's aim in proposing NSC was to achieve his demand that the military should have "constitutional guarantees for ensuring that it shares decision making with political elite at national level." Zia accordingly added Article 152-A to the constitution establishing Pakistan's first NSC. The experiment was abandoned in 8th amendment as Parliament considered the concept abhorrent to its sovereignty. Second NSC set-up in 1997 by Laghari's interim government was also scrapped when Nawaz took over as PM. This was the time of intense PPP-PML rivalry, and process of vendetta had disappointed many who even felt that democracy had failed. General Karamat airing the frustration of the army again floated the idea of NSC at the Navy War College, Lahore in1998 when he said: "A NSC at the apex would institutionalise decision making if it was backed by a team of credible advisors and a think tank of experts." According to Dr Rizvi, Karamat was "outlining the shared concern of the top brass of the army about the deterioration of economic situation, political confrontation, growing civic violence, sectarian killings, corruption and mismanagement against the government. They felt that these developments had negative implications for the military." Third NSC was established by Musharraf through an order in 2001 and given constitutional cover through LFO in 2002. It was then agreed in a package deal with MMA that instead of making it a constitutional body, NSC would be organised through law only which led to passing of the NSC Act 2004. The Parliament however at the time supported this NSC Act with the Jamali claiming NSC to be a "safety valve to save democratic system." Under this Act NSC comprises of 13 members which include the president, PM, chairman Senate, speaker NA, leader of opposition NA, four chief ministers (9 civilians) and chairman joint chief of staff with 3-service chiefs. The function of NSC as stated in the Act are to serve as forum to the president and government on matters of national security including the sovereignty, integrity, defence, security of state and crisis management and to formulate and make recommendation to the president. Cabinet members and other officials may also attend by invitation. Till today NSC has hardly met making it virtually a useless body. The reason unfortunately is the perception amongst the parliamentarians that NSC is a competitor of Parliament and an instrument for the armed forces to keep a control over government. This perception, in my view is wrong and it is unfortunate that we are unable and unwilling, as a result, to take advantage of this truly vital organisation. I may now turn to examples of other countries in order to dispel the impression that NSC is anti-democratic or a tool of the army. In USA the NSC was formed in 1947 under President Truman. According to Wikipedia the US NSC "is the principal forum used by the president for considering national security and foreign policy matters...(it) also serves as the president's principal arm for coordinating these policies amongst various government agencies...(over time) the influence of the council has become stronger and stronger..." Chairman of joint chief of staff and director of National Intelligence are the military and intelligence advisors to NSC. US NSC is used regularly for following on the country's challenges and to give solutions. France and other European countries too have well-established NSCs. When Germany established its NSC it was criticised for being an encroachment upon sovereignty of its Bundestag (Parliament), Schockenhoff responded "Of course not. There is no question of Bundestag's role being diminished. NSC would create new coherence. It would provide analysis and an overview. This is very important given the federal structure of our country." Most countries in Latin America and Central Asia have NSCs. The scope and functions of NSCs are of course tailor-made to suit the conditions of each country. Iran, for example, has an NSC with 3-members out of 14 being from armed forces and a role to formulate defence and national security policies under guidelines of the supreme leader, coordination between the security policies and the country's politics, social, cultural and economic fields and intelligence; and mobilisation of material and intellectual resources for dealing with internal and external threats. The decision of NSC is effective after it is confirmed by the Supreme Leader. India is an interesting example as it has traditionally been anti-NSC primarily because Indian politicians and bureaucracy did not want any interference from its armed forces. They too have however been forced to form an NSC. Indian experiment has established a three tier system. At the top is a 6 member NSC which has no military representation. There is however a second tier (Strategic Planning Group) which includes amongst others armed forces' chiefs, its role is to undertake long-term review of defence matters and strategic issues for submission before NSC. At the third level there is a National Security Advisory Board which is based on experts on all the various facets of the government which acts as a think-tank. NSC may ask them to study and give opinions on various issues for consideration. Countries use NSCs to focus on assessing their risks and challenges and putting forth strategies. Since government institutions often work in competition with each other even if objectives are the same, NSCs serve the purpose of having one body which enables coordination to take place not only inter se state institutions, but between institutions and top level decision makers. Presence of armed forces' heads adds value for not only do politicians have the advantage of valuable input from them on matters of military and intelligence, but this also enables forces chief's to share and give their point of view on matters like economics, commerce, agriculture, media etc which fall in the realm of national security. There is no reason why Pakistan should not utilise these functions of NSC too. Keeping in view Pakistan's politics and geo-political situation an institution like NSC is more important because all concerned, have a chance to interact, get to know each other and remove differences and misunderstanding. Perhaps it will help save future martial laws? If there ever was a time it is now for the present government to treat NSC as a nerve centre for crises management and strategy. While decision making ultimately will be that of the executive leadership, appropriate consultation with NSC and availability of various options and solutions will enable the heads of the state to give good decisions. Changes are taking place fast, and while I believe that the government is trying its best to cope with everything, it is not possible to meet all challenges without the help of an institution like NSC. Before matters spiral out of control, NSC concept must be implemented in letter and spirit. I would go further and suggest that NSC should not only be given constitutional cover but, as in India, a subsidiary think tank body should also be constituted consisting of non-political experts who would provide the basic preparatory and opinion work to enable NSC to design roadmaps and options on issues of national interest for the government to consider. There is yet another aspect. Pakistan is a nuclear power in a region that is centre of uncertainty and insecurity. West continues to allege that we are an "irresponsible nation" and nuclear arsenal is not safe in our hands. In these circumstances it is all the more important to effectively implement an institution concerned with national security affairs which is recognised worldwide. I believe that NSC cannot and will not compete in terms of authority or responsibilities with other institutions of the state in matters related to national security (It's decisions are not binding and it is civilian dominated with 9 out of 13 members from the political leadership) and hence there is no need for the politicians, bureaucracy or Parliament to be threatened by this institution. The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan E-mail: