Following last week’s article, in which I concluded with the necessity of a secretariat that could flesh out policy and highlighted that the current constitutional arrangement was unworkable, a number of readers have wondered why the current arrangement is not workable. Let us consider why modification is needed.
The Defence Council (DC), which should be called the Security Council if it is to address all security related issues and not just those relating to defence, is supposed to be the advisory body on national security issues. It is chaired by the defence minister and consists of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three service chiefs, and the federal secretaries of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and interior.
One reason why it has almost never met is because for most of our history, there has not been a full time defence minister. Most prime ministers chose to hold the additional portfolio of defence. Consequently, had they chosen to chair the DC in their dual capacity, it would have risen to a decision making body, or suffered from the same anomaly as Musharraf’s National Security Council. The NSC was indeed malafide in conception, proven by the fact that it excluded the ministries of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and interior, whose input is essential to any discussion on national security. An NSC in which the prime minister sat as a member to formulate advice for him to re-consider in his capacity as prime minister!
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), which should similarly be called the Security Committee of the Cabinet, is the decision making body on all matters of security. It is chaired by the prime minister, its members are the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and interior; each is assisted by the respective federal secretaries, while the CJCSC and the three service chiefs are ‘in attendance’, i.e. they are available to provide input when and where necessary.
The JCSC was, in conception, a possible secretariat to the DC. However, the JCSC represents the three services and does not have the requisite cross section of representation required to deal with the multi-dimensional threats to our security that we are talking about. What is more, it is not the DC that requires a secretariat, but the DCC where, after a policy decision is taken, there is the necessity of ‘fleshing it out’ under one organisation.
Theoretically, in a democratic set up, this is almost ideal, except for the deficiency of a secretariat. In fact, theoretically, the JCSC is representative of all three services and, with the Chairman JCSC, who is also the ‘advisor to the government on military matters’ as member of the DC and ‘in attendance’ to the DCC , should suffice. The inclusion of the service chiefs, giving them the opportunity to express their individual views, apparently makes it as democratic as possible.
However, there are ground realities that need to be taken into account. The CJCSC has never even been allowed to function in his capacity as ‘advisor to the government on military matters’. In fact, he has over time become merely a ceremonial appointment. What is more, in a country where the prime minister is known to seek an appointment when he wants to see the chief of army staff, there is a totally different ethos. Even with as democratic a COAS as we have today, equating him with federal secretaries in the DC or keeping him ‘in attendance’ to the DCC, thus excluding him from the decision making process is unlikely to be successful.
Consequently, if a modified version of the current constitutional set up is to be retained, it should perhaps look at the advisory body or ‘Security Council’ as consisting of the second tier from the military organisations as their members i.e. DGJS, CGS, VCAS, and the VCNS.
Whereas the decision making body could be referred to as the National Security Body, or by any other name if the previous term NSC has become politically unacceptable. Chaired by the prime minister, its members should remain those of the DCC, assisted by their secretaries but with the addition of the CJCSC and the three service chiefs. Each of these senior military officers should be assisted by the CGS, or equivalent, of each HQ.
The national security secretariat should function alongside the prime minister’s secretariat under a permanent secretary, a bureaucrat equivalent to a federal secretary but with a skeleton staff for day-to-day functions. Additional staff earmarked by appointment from each component of the organisations headed by each member of the NSB should be co-opted whenever a policy has to be fleshed out or modified. This would then be a comprehensive and functional national security apparatus.
Alternately, the NSB along with the proposed secretariat could function as both — the SC and the NSB — like the NSC in the US. When chaired by the US president — in our case by the prime minister — it is a decision making body, and when chaired by the national security advisor, it becomes an advisory body.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
Reproduced by permission of DT