When Dr Moeed Yusuf was appointed as National Security Adviser (NSA) recently, it was a decision few had anticipated given the fact that this government abolished the office of NSA after coming to power. In view of the security and strategic challenges Pakistan has been facing, NSA remained a permanent feature in the Pakistani power structure after the 9/11 attacks. The NSA primarily was a key interlocutor of whoever was at the helm of affairs as far as ties with India were concerned. It is no secret that successive governments both in Islamabad and New Delhi used the office of NSA to sort out their issues quietly. But when this government came to power there was a proposal to appoint General (retd) Ehsanul Haq, the former chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee as well as DG ISI and MI, as NSA.
However, the proposal could not see light at the end of the tunnel largely because concerned quarters thought there was no need for a full time NSA. The government, however, brought in Dr Moeed to look after the national security division, but until then he was not elevated to the status of NSA. It was also due to the fact that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi opposed the idea of having the NSA since he believed that the role of the foreign minister and the NSA in the Pakistani context were more or less the same. This naturally raises a question as to why the then government elevated the status of Dr Moeed and appointed him as NSA.
This question was partially answered when Dr Moeed quietly met American NSA Jake Sullivan in Geneva. It was the first face-to-face high-level meeting between Pakistan and the US since President Joe Biden took charge in January. It is clear that Moeed would spearhead efforts seeking future direction of ties with the US and also India. It was interesting that after meeting the Pakistani NSA, Sullivan also held talks with the foreign ministers of India and Afghanistan separately. Whether those meetings were interlinked or not, one thing was certain that the common issue was indeed the Afghan endgame. Also, it was important to note that when the American NSA was meeting his Pakistani counterpart in Geneva at that very time Foreign Minister Qureshi was in New York. It warranted a question as to why the American NSA had to travel all the way to Geneva as he could have met the Pakistani foreign minister at home. If sources are to be believed, there is a possibility that Dr Moeed would even be given a bigger role in the coming months given the important foreign policy and strategic challenges.
Another factor that persuaded the government to appoint Dr Moeed as NSA is India. Tensions between Pakistan and India have eased in recent months thanks to backdoor efforts. But those contacts until now remained confined to the intelligence levels. Given the trajectory, the two countries are keen to build on the ceasefire agreement of February 25. For this purpose, it is natural that the two countries may remain engaged through backchannels. For this the offices of the NSA are the most appropriate forum. It was because of this reason Dr Moeed was handed this charge since otherwise it was not possible for the two sides to open a channel of communication at the NSA level. This clearly suggests that despite setback to rapprochement efforts after Pakistan’s about-turn on resuming trade with India the process is still on track. It is expected that the two NSAs will explore ways to take the next steps in peace efforts. So, the appointment of Dr Moeed as NSA may be surprising for some but is a well thought-out move.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2021.