Categorized | South Asian Politics

Need to Make and Maintain a Shared View on Tackling Terrorism

Posted on 28 August 2013 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari


  Pakistan has experienced more terrorist attacks since the new federal government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power in the first week of June 2013.

 Now, after experiencing a lot of violence, the Muslim League government is gradually moving in the direction of adopting a straight policy of countering terrorism. The statements of the prime minister and the interior minister are now clearer on tackling the terrorist groups. However, the federal government still avoids publicly endorsing military operations in the tribal areas. It continues to make vague statements on talks with the Taliban.

 Another major change in the policy of the Nawaz Sharif government is the decision to set up a National Security Council under the title of Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS). This was decided in the first meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) on August 22, 2013.

 The Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) is a reincarnation of the National Security Council set up by General Pervez Musharraf in 2004 under an act of the parliament. However, the federal government has attempted to control the political fallout of reviving the NSC by giving it a new name and describing it as the reconstituted cabinet committee. If it was simply a reconstitution of the DCC there was no need to renaming it because the DCC meetings are attended by all those made members of the new committee.

 There appears to be three major reasons that the PMLN government wants to hang on to using the words “cabinet committee.”

 First, the PMLN, like the PPP, was opposed to setting up the National Security Council going back to the time when the civilianized military government of President General Pervez Musharraf wanted to establish a National Security Council in 2003-2004. Despite the opposition of these political parties, the parliament passed a law in April 2004 with the support of the pro-Musharraf PMLQ and its allies. The PPP government kept the NSC dormant during 2008-2013, although the law was done away with.

 Second, the military top command was not keen about the DCC as the highest policy review and policy making body on defence and security affairs because the top brass of the military could not be its regular members as they were not part of the federal cabinet. Their participation in the DCC was described as being in “attendance” along with the top most intelligence officers and senior bureaucrats who participated on “invitation.” Musharraf’s NSC and the proposed CCNS give the top brass a status equal to the civilian members.

 Third, the structure of the NSC set up during the Musharraf rule had unwieldy membership that excluded key cabinet members. Although the key cabinet members attended the NSC meeting but they were not formal members. The proposed CCNS includes those cabinet members and excludes others who were included for the first time in 2004.

 Traditionally, the military top commanders have been keen to establish NSC in the post-military rule phase which provides a legal and constitutional cover to the role of the military in the national security affairs in expanded mode which includes issues of related civilian policy domains.

 If we examine NSC type institutions in other countries, one fact appears reasonably conspicuous: the role of the command of the military is limited when it comes to the final level. However, in the states ruled by the military their presence at the highest level is integral to the system.

 Perhaps one can argue that in Pakistan, the defence and security affairs, including the key foreign policy areas were the preserve of the military and the ISI during the years of direct and civilianized military rule. The Foreign Office used to give input to this process but it was mainly doing the implementation task.

 The situation has changed somewhat during 2008-2013 when the decision-making in the above mentioned domains is done through a civilian-military consultative process. This also includes the meetings between the service chiefs, especially the Army Chief, and the Prime Minister and the President. The role of Foreign Office has also improved. Much depends on the intellectual and professional caliber of the Foreign Minister and his/her capacity to maintain a relationship of confidence with the military and intelligence top command.

 The proposed CCNS institutionalizes the ground realities of policy making in Pakistan. It can strengthen and deepen the consultative process provided the CCNS functions regularly and the civilian take up security and defence affairs in a more professional manner.

 The CCNS should meet on a regular basis rather than in an emergency situation only. It needs to meet once a month, or more, if required. An office of a “civilian” National Security Advisor (NSA) should be established on a regular basis that should also look after the CCNS secretariat, directly under the Prime Minister. There must be a regular research support system under the NSA that provides insights into defence and internal and external security. The NSA should maintain a link with the research-centres/think-tanks, the academia and others who work on these affairs.

 The top civilian leaders and the military high command need to develop a shared view on terrorism and its sources and how to tackle it by military and non-military means.

 The civilian leaders should not ignore extremism and terrorism in order to win the votes and support of those who sympathize with Islamic militancy. The military should also change its dual policy of fighting against some extremist group while ignoring others, hoping these radical Islamic groups may help to achieve the military’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. Both need to adopt non-discriminatory policy for controlling extremism and terrorism. All those who kill people and terrorize them must be tackled.

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