Making the NSC functional

Published: July 6, 2018
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The writer, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Pakistan Army, has a doctorate in civil-military relations and is a member of the teaching faculty at SZABIST University, Karachi

The writer, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Pakistan Army, has a doctorate in civil-military relations and is a member of the teaching faculty at SZABIST University, Karachi

In a classic civil-military relationship between the policy-makers and the military commanders ‘war should always remain the servant of politics and never become its master’. This is true because all wars eventually stop and when that happens it should be the civilians in charge and ruling and never the military. In the context of the WOT that our military fights it remains the great aspiration and longing of the populace of this country that this war must eventually and finally end. This hope of re-addressing this war is generated due to the coming elections in which the turnover of political leadership is expected and with it is expected a fresh team of policy-makers asking the same basic questions once again ‘why are we fighting this war and what do we want out of it? How to get what we want? And how to build up on what we have already achieved?’ To say it in one line, there is all the likelihood of placement of new political horse in front of the military cart and with its placement there may be a change in the way the new incoming government conducts its business especially in the realm of defence policy.

The activation of National Security Council (NSC) which has been most vociferously advocated in some of my recent articles and the reactivation of which may just be one pronounced post-election consequence as a result of the political turnover. The NSC was originally designed to bring in more order in the process of creation and implementation of defence policies. It provides the most suitable structure for blocking any centre of authority (military or civil) from imposing dictates that others may disagree to, in fact provides a suitable place to prevent policy from becoming a victim of compromise or moving all over the place and in different directions. Already if we see policy is pulled in two different directions with military leaders focused on operations and military strategy while the political leadership serving many other matters of national importance that divert their attention. The NSC therefore provides that platform that knocks out the fundamental tensions from the civil-military relations and provides the most suitable forum for using the civil-military engagement for the purpose of war fighting. The integration of policy with the military operations will ensure that political decision-making and military implementations are no more independent and in a cause-effect relationship hardly allow each other of making lofty claims of unilateral successes and taking over the whole show.

Without going into the details of what prevented the previous civilian government from harmonising its relationship with the military counterpart it is safe to assume that the political masters wasted more time in developing strategies in how to discipline and dispose of those still serving and in uniform through an unnecessary formal disconnect and those who strayed through a provocative judicial perseverance and pursuance. Dramatically overshooting their ability to do either, the political masters of the previous government committed the criminal ignorance of not leading the way of bridging the gap between policy and military operations thus leaving civilian procrastination as a great impediment in the way of undertaking simultaneous military operations in many settled areas where they were warranted. While the civil-military imbalance in the previous government’s tenure was marked by the absence of a functional NSC the coming government is best advised to use the NSC forum to keep the civil-military options open and avoid any repetitive and impeding civil-military constraints. Not a place to accommodate uninformed politicians and armchair generals the NSC through the presence of the quality civilian and military leadership can only act as a great bridge to identify the gap between the capabilities and the purpose for which the war is being fought, this only through the active debate and participation of the policy-makers and the military operators.

The NSC is also likely to act as a great tool to give rebirth to the concept of fighting of WOT as an extension of policy and not  be left to itself and to the military to create a momentum of its own, re-emphasising the politics and the purpose for which it has been launched. Policy through the NSC will have a great opportunity to indulge in pre-war planning, war time execution as well as post-war activities. Now that the major burden of fighting the war is over, both the civil and military leadership in a future NSC can suitably gel to find an eternal way to peace. If politics has so far considered the NSC as a forum that constraints the prime minister the new political turnover may do otherwise — see it as a function to impose the civilian will and supremacy on the military. The military is also likely to benefit as the head of the government would have to systematically consider the views of all the stakeholders and not treat policy in an adhoc manner executing whatever actions (avoiding giving any formal statement on captured Indian spy, inviting and hosting Sajjan Jindal in Murree and inviting Indian PM Modi to Jati Umra are few examples) that may strike his private and individual fancy.

Foreign policy is also likely to get an opportunity to be debated in the forum after having pursued through the normal process a foreign ministry and not left to be conducted entirely and totally from the PM House like was being done during the time of the previous government. The head of the government’s tight control on the (unsuitable) choice of the selection and deployment of diplomatic initiatives is also a matter that could be thoroughly debated within the NSC before some thoroughly unpopular and unsuitable choices are made public drawing national and international condemnation of such an ill-founded political activity.

Unfortunately, but in reality some of the major breakthroughs in the WOT during the tenure of the previous government tenure have been in the areas of military operations and not in foreign policy that only goes to suggest that the freewheeling individual-based political choices and political interference in the matters of foreign ministry have yielded dysfunctional results. ‘Strategic behaviour’ unlike an individual behaviour is always an outcome of being answerable to an institution and attributed to a process — the NSC is the ideal forum that institutes such a behaviour and through which the civil-military interaction and policy-making should proceed. It is that large body politic (with even the opposition leader included) that would disallow even the strongest head of the government (a political showman or even a powerful leader) from committing to a course of action/policy-making, because a strong disagreement may exist amongst the participants of this body politic. What else is the making of national policy-making if not compromise and consensus building — an activity that the NSC is designed to initiate and accomplish. Would the NSC be made functional — may be a pertinent question to ask from whosoever wears the next government’s crown.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2018.

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