National Security which has been defined in the past only in military terms is no longer relevant and is being revised to include key civilian components at its very heart.

In the current context, the nature of threat to National Security comes from unconventional sources. Factors such as extremism, terrorism, sectarian and ethnic tension, anti-Pakistan propaganda, weak economy and even the energy crisis challenge the country’s existence. These are new kinds of threats which cannot be ignored while discussing and formulating the policy relating to national security.

Additionally, over the years, on account of bad governance and adventurism by the Armed Forces of Pakistan, the equation between the Armed Forces of Pakistan and civilian government has tilted in favour of the former, which needs to be curtailed so that on pressing issues, both civilian and the military leaders remain on the same page.

Last month the Defence Committee of the Cabinet decided to reconstitute the Committee by baptizing it by the new name “Cabinet Committee for National Security”, which is interpreted as a disregard of the proposal to create a proper National Security Council under the Act of the Parliament.

I tend to believe differently and hope it is not final.

It is pertinent to survey various organizations existing in Pakistan that pertain to the issue of National Security.

c    Cabinet Committee for Defence now renamed as Cabinet Committee for National Security.

c    Parliamentary Committee for National Security consisting of only the members of the Parliament.

c    The unnamed Cell created by the Interior Ministry for coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

c    Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Civil Intelligence (IB).

But the complex issue of the national security cannot be dealt with by these adhoc measures nor in hiccups through fragmented institutions as above.

No doubt when the military rulers tried to establish a National Security Council under constitutional dispensation to give supremacy to the armed forces with the President chairing the Council who retained his uniform, and included four Chiefs of Armed Forces in the NSC, the democratic government that followed them abolished the same by repealing it through constitutional amendment.

A Senator criticized the NSC set up by General Pervez Musharraf and stated what will the Prime Minister or other Ministers be able to achieve when four tigers in uniform will be sitting across. Coming from the rural area, another Senator elaborated: “Someone asked a peasant if you meet a lion in the jungle, what will you do? The peasant said, then what can I do, it is for the lion to do what he likes.” Consequently, the NSC was abolished.

A country like USA learnt the lesson that adhoc measures do not give satisfactory results and thus created a permanent NSC through an Act of 1947 by a law passed by the Parliament. Eminent personalities like Henry Kissinger, Hilary Clinton and Condoliza Rice have acted as National Security Advisor to the President. The British government has likewise established NSC to “coordinate responses to the pressure faced by them and encouraged at the highest level the work of the foreign, defence, home, energy and national developments, and all other arms of the government contributing to the National Security”. (It may be interesting to note that later the Charter of Council was amended to include climate change also as a National Security issue).

USSR, France, China and India have established the NSC through relevant laws. Besides these nuclear states (dejure or defecto); non-nuclear states like Iran, Turkey, Brazil and Malaysia are known to have formed their NSC.

The common structure of NSC that emerges from the survey of the NSC of the various states would bring about the difference between a Council and a Cabinet Committee.

c    NSC is a continuous and corporate institution whereas the Cabinet Committee exists so long as the Cabinet exists.

c    NSC is established by the Law of the Parliament which gives ownership to the parliament. A Committee is created by the act of the Executive which can exercise discretion to alter its structure from time to time.

c    NSC consists of three tiers which operate independently to study, assess and report the concerns on the security issues. At the lowest level is a sort of think tank consisting of retired officials from Foreign Ministry, former ambassadors, research scholars and intellectuals. The task of this Committee is to prepare analytical reports and forward these to the next level which consists of relevant officers of military and bureaucracy who hold regular consultation meetings. This unit can summon the intelligence agencies to express their understanding of the particular problem. Based on the studies made by the first group and the second group, at the third level are top military representatives and civilian representatives formulating the policy along with the Advisor whose duty is to convey to the Chief Executive about new problems or change in policy of any matter relating to security, almost on daily basis.

Obviously, the Chief Executive and the Cabinet Committee does not have the advantage of a proper input supplied by an adequate structure which provides consistency.

Lastly, the NSC works through a Secretariat which monitors and maintains records thus assuring their continuity.

It must be noted that the structure of the new CCNS brings in four tigers again in uniform face to face with the ministers, and give them the status of Cabinet Ministers.

One has to be also conscious of the fact that the National Security paradigm shifts constantly and swiftly. Various adhoc organizations can spoil the broth rather than help to reach a workable and an effective solution.

With regard to proper relationship between civilian and the Armed Forces, I will recommend our readers and leaders to hark on the advice of Stephen P. Choen, who in his book “The Future of Pakistan”, has made the following recommendations:-

“I part company with many in Pakistan who believe that in managing the civil-military relationship, it is wrong to “bring the army in to keep it out” through such arrangements as the National Security Council (NSC) adopting NSC arrangements …… (which) will solve the services problems of policy coordination.”

At the end, I have a caveat that Cabinet Defence Committee was least suited to decide the issue of the NSC because the newly named committee includes the earlier committee members, thus perpetrating their continuity.

I am aware of the negative reaction of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to the address of General Jehangir Karamat delivered by him in Navy Academy, suggesting the formation of an NSC when ha had to resign because of the ire of the Prime Minister, but that was in the distant past (1998) and in the environment of that time could be interpreted as an intervention by the Chief of the Army in the affairs of the government. The leaders of the nation do not remain hostage to their past, and now that Nawaz Sharif has been elected in a credible election, he is expected to move forward, shirking the past and taking care of the future in the present.

Accordingly, while CCNS has replaced CCD, work should be undertaken by the present government for a permanent structure of NSC which is imminent need of the nuclear Pakistan.

The author is a former Senator and Chairman, Human Rights Society of Pakistan.