With a new government all set to come in, counterterrorism and security will continue to be one of the biggest challenges facing the country's new political administration. One of the solutions has been the establishment of a counterterrorism environment created by politicians through legislation, budgets and policy decisions. This has been attempted in Pakistan by setting up the Parliamentary committee on National Security (PCNS). Formed in November 2008, this committee came into existence due to a preceding session of the Parliament, which resulted in a joint resolution calling for “an urgent review of the national security strategy and revisiting the methodology of combating terrorism in order to restore peace and stability through an independent foreign policy.” The parliament also recommended setting up of a “Special Committee of Parliament ... to periodically review, provide guidelines and monitor the implementation of the principles framed and roadmap given in this resolution”. The committee was granted wide-ranging powers such as the one to “summon or invite any Minister, Official or any other person to carry out the purpose of the Resolution and seek Government record including classified record, information and assistance from any Government or Agency in that regard”. It almost immediately started sending oversight reports but was critical of non-implementation of its recommendations from the very start. Even though the rules governing the committee mandated it to present periodic reports to the government, it did not observe any timelines in connection with these reports, notwithstanding the fact that the government had to apprise the committee on action taken on its recommendations. Also, the committee could not carry out its main task of defining a national security strategy, and its contribution in taking forward counterterrorism legislation and the Nacta bill is ambiguous. The main accomplishment of the PCNS seems to have been in building consensus for a firmer stance on Pakistan-US relations, which has been integrated into a 16-point agenda.
The committee held a total of 63 meetings during the period of November 2008 to March 2012, with a resultant report which recommended paradigm shifts in Pakistan's foreign policy, especially viz-a-viz US-Pakistan relations. These recommendations were enshrined in the 16-point “Guidelines for Revised Terms of Engagement with US/NATO/ISAF and General Foreign Policy”. It remains to be seen how effectively and in what form these are implemented by the new government. One of the more crucial points that has emerged from PCNS functioning, that should be an enduring guideline for the new government as well, is the principle that relations should be based on written agreements, since mere verbal agreements with states will not suffice. It is also important that the principle of vetting all national security related MOUs and agreements through the PCNS be continued. The parliamentary committees dealing with defence and foreign affairs could also become part of the consulting apparatus of the PCNS before taking decisions.
The committee has deliberated on and presented recommendations on a variety of issues during November 2008 to March 2012, including Pakistan-US relations, memogate, counterterrorism legislation, counterterrorism authority, relations between Pakistan and India, etc. Many of these issues need to be re-engaged by the new PCNS, and issues such as the dormant Nacta should be taken up to give it actual status beyond just the legal enactment. One of the most important tasks for a new PCNS is legislation, which will be a part of the directing tangential forces of counterterrorism. In Pakistan, this legislation is resonated by the Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) passed by the Government of Pakistan, which has been amended by many ordinances, but many flaws in the old ATA remain. Thus, even upon superficial scrutiny, the criminal justice system relating to terrorist prosecution presents many challenges, which need to be resolved before the dismal conviction rates of terrorists can be improved upon.
One thing is for sure; it is much better to have a PCNS than to not have one. It will also be beneficial for Pakistan's security if the new PCNS can continue to hold deliberations on a non-partisan basis, and if the opposition and the government can develop consensus in a mature manner. However, to bring clarity to the process of drawing a coherent and robust nation security doctrine, certain terms of reference framed by the PCNS like “rules of engagement” and “ … facts on the ground … qualitatively bridged through effective steps” need to be effectively contextualised. In other words, the new PCNS should not just make semantic declarations, but give clear directions for the country's security apparatus to implement. There are security issues which need to be addressed immediately and mere words will not suffice for long.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.
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