If we attempt to address the national security policy for the present government, we need to start with an aim. Considering the complications in assessing our threats, this might be a very complicated task
In 1997, the Commandant National Defence College (now National Defence University) decided that the concluding wargame of the War Course would begin at the national level so as to include bureaucrats attending the National Defence Course. They would be tasked to formulate policies in support of an impending war.
Since I was sponsoring the exercise, it fell to me to rewrite the exercise, beginning with a national policy in the event of war, which was to be supported by foreign, domestic, economic, fiscal, and all other policies that these career, Grade-20 bureaucrats, aspiring to rise further after the course they were attending, were expected to formulate.
It was astounding that none of them could formulate a policy! It took me two two-hour sessions to explain that a policy begins with a clearly spelled out aim, a time period over which that aim is to be achieved and, after considering options which for the purpose of the exercise they were required to spell out in detail, to select one to achieve that aim over the specified period. The selected option is then fleshed out with necessary details for subordinates to act upon. This was all the more ironic because a professional soldier was attempting to explain policymaking to professional bureaucrats!
Last week, I attempted to outline the threat(s) Pakistan is faced with. Regretfully, we have not been blessed with a competent political leadership for a very long time and, at this juncture, when we are faced with the greatest challenges to our existence, we have no better, if not worse.
Nonetheless, we urgently need a national security policy that caters not only for the multifaceted military threat, including the conventional threat from a powerful and hostile neighbour, India, but also its domestic and international aspect relating to terrorism and religious extremism; as well as the increasingly powerful non-military threats which could soon overpower the military considerations, if they are not addressed and very soon.
If we attempt to address the national security policy for the present government, we need to start with an aim. Considering the complications in assessing our threats, this might be a very complicated task. However, if we simplify it we could perhaps consider the aim to be ‘in the period left to us before the next election, while decreasing the threat(s) to the life and liberty of our citizens, both from external and domestic sources; we will seek to improve their quality of life for the future’.
Fairly simple and sufficiently comprehensive to cater for the variety of our threats — and it includes a time frame — it could apply to all countries of the world at any time. In fact, this is the purpose of any government at any time and yet, only if lucidly stated, it is possible to consider options to achieve it, select the one most likely to deliver, before fleshing it out.
Before considering options, it is important to state that in an attempt to execute the policy we select, Pakistan is not an independent actor and, unfortunately, there are a number of external influences that will impact us. Therefore, any policy selected will not entirely be under our control, and the selected option will also have to be acceptable to all other actors and cater for all other factors. In addition, it will have to be sufficiently flexible to adjust to modifications resulting from the factors and actors that we cannot control.
A huge ask of brilliant intellects, an impossible one for ordinary mortals like myself. Consequently, I have no intent of even attempting to spell out what our national security policy should be. My purpose is to point out the urgency of its necessity, the theoretical methodology of getting there, and the complications involved in the formulation and implementation of any security policy under the prevailing national and international environments.
I do not expect this to have any effect on those that are deciding our fate; this article is another exercise in futility. However, I find it necessary, before concluding, to state that to formulate options, consider them, select one and flesh it out, an apparatus is essential. Although the Constitution provides for the Defence Council to be the advisory body, one that has almost never met and is unlikely to function successfully in its present form, and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet to be the decision making body, neither has a secretariat: the one that would flesh out the selected option.
In the absence of a secretariat, it would fall to the lot of different secretariats, with different priorities, to flesh out the options, resulting in a meaningless, disconnected effort, destined to fail. This could only have a hope of success if it was a unified effort.
Thus the only options available to the government are to restructure the DC and the DCC and provide the latter with a secretariat. Alternately, it could modify the Musharraf-created NSC into a genuinely functional body with a secretariat, thus obviating both the DC and the DCC.
By Shaukat Qadir
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)