Speakers demand national security consultation on regular basis

LAHORE: The participants of a roundtable conference on ‘Effective National Security Consultations – A look through Global Models’ on Thursday demanded that the National Security Council (NSC) should meet weekly, or at least on a monthly basis.

The roundtable was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. A number of eminent personalities, members of civil society and a large number of media personnel attended the event.

The speakers at the roundtable included former National Security Division secretary Muhammad Saddiq and senior analyst Saleem Safi. They were joined by members of PILDAT Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations ,including former ambassador Lt Gen (r) Humayun Bangash, former Sindh governor Lt Gen (r) Moinuddin Haider, Dr Parvez Hassan, former Defence minister Shahid Hamid, former high commissioner Shahid Malik, former Defence secretary Lt Gen (r) Talat Masood, senior analyst Arif Nizami and Mujibur Rehman Shami.

Saleem Safi said that pre-eminence of military in Pakistan’s national security policies meant that civilian supremacy as defined under the Constitution was only a dream. “The Pakistani military leads through its unparalleled discipline. The civilian elected leadership through its inability to provide good governance has ceded space to military on national security and regional and foreign policies. Political leaders and parties have not prepared themselves on dealing with central issues of foreign policy, internal security and national defence. Issues and problems of FATA and Balochistan are not discussed,” he said.

“The current as well as previous governments have shied away from holding institutional dialogue and instead relied on individual meetings between the elected prime minister and services chiefs. The national security consultations and dialogues must now include key political leaders and other stakeholders. Despite the commendable model of NSC, it has failed to provide the forum that is required to address key concerns,” he said.

Muhammad Sadiq, former National Security Division secretary, said that evolution of Cabinet Committee of National Security or NSC was created through a political consensus. “Earlier, the services chiefs were invited to join meetings, but not be full members. However, the new COAS at the time, General Raheel Sharif asked for Services Chiefs to be full members. That led to the change of nomenclature of the Committee from a Cabinet Committee to the National Security Committee. That it should be a decision-making body was agreed within the Committee that allowed Premier to bypass the Cabinet and the Parliament. The change to decision-making body from the originally-planned advisory body, affected the committee’s effectiveness as both the COAS and PM began to meet individually and avoided regular meetings of the committee. Once the spat between the PM and the interior minister resulted in the meeting not being held for five months. It is imperative that the NSC must meet more frequently and preferably on a weekly basis. The office of the National Security Adviser must be occupied by an individual who has priority access to both the PM and the COAS,” he said.

Another speaker, Dr Parvez Hassan, said that the NSC must have a law defining its membership. He proposed that the NSC membership should be enlarged to include other stakeholders such as presiding officers of the Parliament. The tiers of NSC must be activated and involve think tanks and experts who provide policy input to the NSC.

Shahid Hamid recommended that meetings of NSC must be held weekly ahead of the meetings of the Federal Cabinet and consultations or decisions of the NSC must be endorsed by the Federal Cabinet. “This is especially necessary in the light of recent ruling of the Supreme Court that it is the Federal Cabinet and not just the elected prime minister, who is constitutionally responsible for executive decision-making in the country,” he said.

Other Members of the PILDAT supported the demand for weekly meetings of NSC. However, they said that other political parties or office bearers should not be included in the NSC. Shami said that the statutory role of NSC would weaken the authority of the Federal Government which must be avoided. “The NSC must be an advisory body. The role of the Secretariat of the NSC is of paramount importance in its effective functioning, Humayon Bangash said.

Arif Nizami said that the dormancy of NSC under the premiership of Nawaz Sharif was due to his personal distaste for institutional structures curtailing his own powers. “The NSC will have to evolve over time to be effective,” he said.

PILDAT President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, while introducing the subject of the roundtable, said that consultation on national defence and security with key organs of the state was a globally accepte practice.

 Published in Daily Times, February  9th2018.