This is an age of specialisation. Management, especially at the state level, demands specialisation of individuals and institutions. But specialisation is of no use if it is not coordinated to achieve major objectives.
While managing a state now it is very difficult to clearly mark out the boundaries between security and foreign affairs, or between economic, security and foreign affairs. To run a government with success, coordination among all vital institutions is a must. And this can be highlighted through the many issues we face in Pakistan, one of which is militancy in the tribal areas.
If we stick to neat categories this issue belongs to the Ministry of Interior. But now it is also very relevant to the Ministry of Defence due to the ongoing operation of the Pakistan Army in the tribal areas. As we all know, a foreign hand is involved in this militancy. In that case, this case also has a direct connection with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet another department, the Finance Division, is relevant as all approvals for state spending plus taking care of the IDPs, is not possible without this division.
And the story does not end here. No one can deny that in the modern age food, energy, environment and media and so many other departments are directly related to national security.
The good news is that we need not invent the wheel yet one more time to deal with this coordination problem. There are hundreds of states around the globe, many of them dealing with this issue by forming bodies like national security councils. These forums are the meeting point of all major institutions within a state to address the more pressing security issues through coordinated efforts. Indeed there is a huge difference over their configuration.
States faced with existential threats and with a heavy dependency on military decisions have more members from the military. On the other hand, welfare states, where security is priority but not a threat for the state, membership usually represents more civilians than uniformed persons.
Pakistan, unfortunately, is a security state. From day one, its eastern border needed heavy deployment. Constant monitoring of its western border along with battling internal militants, a gift of the international tug of war in the region, are facts of our daily life. For at least three decades our army and its institutions have been at war on the internal and external fronts. This became worse after 9/11 and the resulting ‘war against terror’ in Afghanistan.
Thus, the importance of such a coordination body for national security in Pakistan needs no advocacy. The idea for such a committee was presented by Gen Jahangir Karamat long before 9/11, but at that time it was deemed unnecessary.
Nawaz Sharif took oath for his third term as premier while Pakistan was – is – faced with serious security threats. It was rightly expected that he would appoint very competent ministers to develop and implement policy; and would work seriously for civil-military coordination. However, both hopes were not fulfilled as he filled his cabinet through very traditional Muslim League methods, and did nothing to improve national security coordination.
As stated, Pakistan was going through a very critical phase in terms of internal and external security, thus this inaction on the part of the government resulted in huge pressure, which forced the prime minister to convert the Cabinet Committee for Defence into the Cabinet Committee for National Security.
The committee was to be presided over by the PM himself and its membership included the ministers for defence, foreign affairs, internal affairs and finance. Three chiefs, representing three forces were also nominated as members of the committee. It was decided that a separate secretariat would be set up for the committee in the building of the PM’s Secretariat, which would be managed by the security advisor to the PM.
A very brilliant and active officer from the Foreign Office who proved his ability as ambassador in Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq, was appointed as secretary to this committee. Initially it was decided that the committee would meet four times a year but in its initial days, due to security issues persisting, it held four meetings with very short intervals. This coordination proved very helpful in very complicated issues like the operation in the tribal areas and dealing with Afghanistan affairs.
However, all this initial energy evaporated as the political situation eased for Nawaz Sharif, and the PTI’s dharna ended. Nawaz Sharif was Nawaz Sharif again! Thanks to the ill advice of the PM’s colleagues, the committee secretariat has still not shifted to the PM’s Secretariat. Muhammad Sadiq has sent more than a dozen agenda items with all the necessary homework, but no meeting has been called to deliberate on them. The last meeting was held in October, and now after one year, there has been no meeting of a committee that was formed for the sole purpose of coordination, and which deals with no other area but national security.
Just to compare the frequency of national security coordination bodies in other states: in the US it is held on a daily basis, in Afghanistan and India meetings are arranged weekly. Even in countries that have no urgent threat to their national security, like Britain and Japan, coordination meetings are held on a weekly basis.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sufficient time to spent abroad, and even two to three days outside of Islamabad, even when he is in Pakistan. But somehow he cannot spare one hour for this meeting in an entire year. He indeed meets with all those who are members of this committee, the ministers and military chiefs but it is said that he prefers those one-on-one meetings as they leave no official record behind.
Now, with all the damage done, the prime minister has decided to appoint Lt-Gen (r) Nasir Khan Janjua as security advisor to revitalise the committee; he has also ordered to set up the secretariat of the committee at the PM’s Secretariat. The selection of the advisor, either made on military recommendation or on its own, is indeed creditable.
Nasir Khan Janjua, who recently retired as corps commander Southern Command, has proved his credentials in Balochistan. He worked for a political solution for militancy, and we can conclude that he has innate ability for civil-military coordination. He is competent and hardworking and one hopes he will manage the committee affairs with ease and skill.
It would be of great value for the political leadership as well as for the state if this committee is given its due priority and importance. If it meets on a weekly basis, it will enable our military and civilian leadership to face national security challenges with efficiency and confidence. The frequency of meetings will also end any fear of a civil-military collision, which will end any chance of future political dharnas.
Our present government would also enjoy a side benefit of such meetings. A meeting on a weekly basis, under Gen Janjua, would end mutual disagreements among ministers of the cabinet. If Khwaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar share a table with Janjua, I hope there will be fewer chances of prolonged disagreements. However, if PM Nawaz again prefers decision-making about national security in private meetings and with favourite persons, I fear the consequences would be bad for democracy and the state.
The writer works for Geo TV.