Feb 25, 2009

Wrapping up the NSC

The prime minister has once more said his government plans to abolish the National Security Council, the body created by President Pervez Musharraf to act as a supreme decision-making body. With its domination by military officials, including the three service chiefs, the body was criticized as yet another means to make the civilian sector subservient to the military. Yusuf Raza Gilani’s directives to the law ministry to draft legislation to wrap it up must therefore be welcomed as a move aimed at restoring the authority of elected representatives. The process should be an uncomplicated one, given that all that is required is a simple parliamentary majority.As is so often the case in Pakistan, the real situation is just a little more complex. We have a situation where parliament and the cabinet are regarded as bodies that do not really take major decisions. Instead it is widely believed that this process takes place chiefly within the presidency, and involves the head of state and a small team of buddies ringed around him. Whether or not this is truly the case the strong perception that it is so is deeply damaging to the government and to its image. This is something that Mr Gilani needs to be aware of. The chief challenge for him and his team of ministers must be to seize back control of governance. The promise that parliament will be made a sovereign body has yet to be delivered upon. The tasks today are in many ways far more crucial than simply dismissing the NSC. There are also more complex. While doing away with a body that is no longer needed is relatively easy, the task of creating an environment in which decisions can be truly democratic is considerably more difficult. So far we have seen only limited debate in parliament on key issues. There have been reports of angry mutterings within the cabinet about the failure to consult or even inform it on key matters. The problems are inter-linked. The representatives of people, led by their prime minister, need to assume responsibility for running the affairs of state. To ensure their role is effective, supra-constitutional bodies must go. The notion that even during eras when there is a fa├žade of democratic control the military actually runs matters has done nothing to strengthen civilian rule. The real issue for the prime minister is to take steps that can help in the achievement of these goals.

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