Pakistan’s National Security Council?


Why we need it


National Security Council (NSC) was an important organ of the state. In complex policy issues, it offered a platform for sustained exchange of views between the civil government and the military. It comprised of Chief of the Army, Chief of the Air Force, Chief of the Navy, the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers of all provinces, the Chairman Senate and the Leader of Opposition in the Parliament.

Every state has devised its own methodology for consultations on issues between both the civil and the military. This coordination is necessary for statecraft to run on well-oiled wheels. The challenges faced by Pakistan are many. The war on terror being fought within the borders of Pakistan make it imperative for all those responsible for the security of Pakistan, whether internal or external, to be on board. The National Security Council ensured that decisions were taken with mutual consultation. Every individual therefore representing a specific setup owns the decision taken. Each understands the responsibilities awarded. The efforts are thereby harmonised between different institutions and not restricted to pockets acting in exclusion of each other.

The fear that National Security Council will be hijacked by the military and will be used to push back the civil government is simply unsustainable. A strong government delivery to the masses will take that space of right. The fear should not be of the military taking away their space, the fear should be of not delivering to the masses.

The balance of power is a delicate matter. The political parties need to get their act together; NSC can play a vital role in policy formation, nurturing political institutions and giving support to bring a much desired change that the masses desperately want. It is important that such a platform is reconstituted to form a bridge between the two organs at least till such a time that the political mechanisms are strong enough.

In 2009 however, the National Security Council was abolished in Pakistan by the former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. Majority of PML-N, too, did not support the NSC then. Hence this organisation was trashed.

Though Pakistan is not the only, and never has been the only country, to have a National Security Council. These include UK, US, Turkey, India, Iran to name a few. India constituted its NSC in 1998. The three levels of NSC in India are chaired by (a) Prime Minister and key Indian ministers. However, Indian National Security Council does not have as members those representing Armed Forces. They are, however, invited to sessions as and when required. (b) Cabinet Secretary with Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force for strategic planning; others on board include secretaries of key ministries i.e., finance, home etc, along with Governor of Reserve Bank of India; and (c) the third is known also as the National Security Advisory Board which include people known as experts in their area of work. They are not from any government institution. The National Security Council therefore has at its disposal a team of experts who may be called upon to research and study an issue proposed by the National Security Council. This offers excellent field/subject opinion without being influenced by concerns a government employee would be influenced by.

Now this does not mean all National Security Councils should act as does in India. Each country has different challenges facing it, each country needs to respond to these challenges in a manner best suited to their given situation.

Pakistan is facing a set of challenges that is unique in nature. It includes sectarian violence, ethnic violence, war on terror, floods, foreign interference in Pakistan by hostile countries, to name a few.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent member at the UN was summoned to Islamabad after decision was made by the Pakistan government to raise the issue of Indian interference in Pakistan with the UN. Later, the decision was taken to reverse the step, or ‘postpone’ as delicately put in diplomatic language inspite of evidence from Balochistan of Indian involvement in terrorist activities there. (Pakistan News 2015) This decision should ideally have been taken at the National Security Council level had one existed. Not before discussing all the pros and cons and the cascading long term impact of deciding for or against taking such a step.

In the challenges, nations face today, where cyberattacks are a reality. Owing to geographical communication barriers being down, the psychological warfare is a reality. Ingress in foreign territories with members of the country’s local population is a reality. The roles of the stakeholders of any country needs better definition and much better coordination. It requires the organs of a state to be on the same page and stand as one to face the challenges.

The National Security Council’s benefits will directly relate with the acumen and capability of its members. Having said that, the goals must be clearly defined, all long-term goals and short-term goals must relate to the goals to be reached. National Security Council is essentially an organisation that should help in attaining policies formed.

According to an interesting piece by Robert Cutler in Foreign Affairs on merits and demerits of setting up of a National Security Council, “The National Security Council, as the top mechanism of government for aiding in the formulation of security policy, has a policy-planning function and a supporting-staff function. The complex problems of national security require constantly informed analytical research. This quality can best be realised by the use of specially qualified groups, drawn from the operating departments and agencies and also from outside of government on a project-by-project basis.”

The National Security Council is to be seen in a larger context of being a coordinating machinery for the government and providing support in areas of work needing support. In a scenario of conflicts, as seen in Pakistan, the role of National Security Council can assume a sharper profile. It is the hawk that safeguards jealously its nation’s interests. 9/11 changed the face of the world that we knew forever, it has raised the benchmark of the challenges facing Pakistan. This requires rising to the occasion. Developing a mechanism that fosters better understanding between the two organs becomes a question of necessity, not choice.

The questions one must answer are: Did the presence of a National Security Council strengthen the country? In the present atmosphere of challenges will a National Security Council strengthen Pakistan’s hand in facing and overcoming these challenges?

Japan House of Representatives passed a bill to establish an NSC in November 2013. The Japanese NSC is described as a unification of its agencies to “coordinate the national security policies of Japan”. Unfortunately, with us being a nation with no Foreign Minister, a National Security Council may be a long shot.


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