The national security paradigm

By Raza Muhammad Khan

The core concepts of defence and security matters have not spawned a serious political debate in Pakistan so far, probably because of their complexity. However, evinced from the scores of the National Security Committee (NSC) and the National Command Authority (NCA) meetings in the recent past, successive governments, appear to be seeking to put national defence back in its box and substituting it with national security.

This is the right approach, whether by design or default, as national defence mainly relates to the military domain and sometimes exudes a passive attitude, which usually benefits the aggressors, besides being asynchronous with the obtaining sub-continental environment. In comparison, national security is a flexible and expansive alternative, encompassing a broad range of external and internal risks, challenges and concerns, that Pakistan faces and the employment of all elements of national power, to respond to these.

This policy flows from the vital national interests, to be protected or promoted and ensures safeguarding of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, through balancing of the available means and indicating the ways, to do so. It is gratifying that today; Pakistan is more secure than before, despite some imperfections and constraints of our existing security structure and politico-military decisions. However, a heavy and unprecedented price, in terms of blood and treasure was paid, for these flaws. In the foreseeable future, numerous threats like terrorism, economic coercion and strangulation, extremism, hybrid warfare, sub-conventional aggression and other forms of conflict, are inevitable as well; demanding even greater sacrifices and synergy of efforts. Thus, an appraisal of two areas, for further optimization of our national security paradigm is warranted.

One is to bring about a major shift in the security apparatus and structure; the other is to improve and formalize the process, functioning and framing of our security strategies and doctrine. The former can be achieved through a collective refinement of the existing, five tiers of the security organization; comprising the NSC; NCA; Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC); Defence Council (DC) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC).

Among these, the first four components include key federal ministers, the three services chiefs and the chairman JCSC, while the last is primarily a military forum. The NSC and NCA are headed by the PM and the DCC and DC by the Defence Minister. Presently, the NSC at the top resembles a consultative forum on geopolitical and strategic environment and some policy matters with security overtones, due to the absence of a well-considered and defined catalogue of national interests and objectives, and an official security policy that is premised on them.

Due to this inadequacy, economic, energy, cyber, space, human and food security appears outside the NSC’s ambit. Further, within the security hierarchy, the National Security Adviser’s (NSA) role appears ambiguous and sometimes redundant. Besides, the NSC Secretariat, comprising a few bureaucrats and an academician, is unable to perform efficiently. At the second layer, since the NCA is appropriately configured, it can effectively develop and employ the nuclear forces, under its constitutional ‘authority’.

The DCC, at the third level, approves the defence policy but is dormant, possibly since it is based on a committee system. At tier four, the DC is responsible for oversight and development of the military, budget allocations and acting as a filter between itself and the DCC; however it is also inactive. Finally, though the Chairman JCSC performs a crucial role at the NCA, but in the conventional sphere, besides coordination on major tri-services matters, he does not wield executive authority over the forces.

As the committee system prevails at the JCSC forum, its decisions are wasteful in time and the one suggestion that makes absolute sense can be lost in efforts to build consensus. From a military standpoint, this system is particularly un-conducive to produce efficient and urgent decisions during war or to harmonize the structural growth, evolution of doctrines and standardization of military system during peacetime. Unity of purpose, joint preparedness, and interoperability in the military is lacking, integrated employment is challenging and optimum utilization of the security budget is tough.

Finally, the present system allows direct access by the heads of the armed forces to the PM, which is most helpful for single service interests, but not for inter-services harmonization. So here are some recommendations to eradicate the snags: First; despite some organizational defects, the DCC and DC are valuable mechanisms and they must therefore be revived. Second; most countries, including India, have vested the command and control of all or parts of military assets, in a single authority from the dominant service, called the CDS (also other names), who reports directly to the government, ensuring a robust chain of military command and control.

Though the CDS usually acts as the principal advisor to the government on military matters, but within this framework, the services chiefs have considerable autonomy. Adoption of this model by Pakistan is imperative to ensure force multiplication to overcome multiple security challenges, eliminating duplicity and bringing fiscal efficiency. Meanwhile, the role of the NSA must be redefined, the capacity of the NSC Secretariat enhanced and the existing Joint Staff Headquarters, that is the Secretariat of the JCSC, (and later the CDS), must be reinforced.

Finally, a more daunting, but vital transformation is to enact laws that compel the federal government to periodically determine national interests and formulate comprehensive security policies. This top down approach will guarantee that the defence, internal security and other associated policies flow out logically and coherently from guidance at the uppermost level; which shall certainly swing the onus of security in the political domain, where it rightly belongs.

Besides enhancing national resilience, these reforms will simplify and streamline military management and oversight, while enhancing the rather hyped, ‘civilian control of military authorities’. A forceful civilian intervention is necessary for this reorganization and it should therefore be collectively sponsored by the government and the two parliamentary committees on defence.

The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former President of National Defence University, Islamabad.

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