Misconceptions about NSC


In his address to the nation last Friday the President touched briefly on Afghanistan before turning to the major event in the future, the general elections on Oct 10, 2002 and the proposals for constitutional amendments thereof for good governance. He was extremely eloquent in elaborating the concept and mechanics the next day at the editors briefing. While the complete subject requires profound analysis and debate, one would like to concentrate on the fundamental misunderstanding of the concept and role of the National Security Council (NSC) as proposed in Pakistan and in vogue in other countries. This misconception badly needs to be corrected, at the moment we are jumping to conclusions because of misnaming of the entities, at least in the Pakistan context.

In the political sense, the NSC, as being proposed by the President, is an 11-member body composed of the President, the PM, the Leader of the Opposition, the four Chiefs Ministers and the four Service chiefs. This NSC would give the Armed Forces an indirect role in governance and act as a escape valve to avoid military intervention in the future. This would also put some restraint on the President in using his arbitrary powers under clause 58(2)b of the Constitution. Given the history of martial laws and dismissal of the PM (twice each Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif), there needs to be a mechanism to serve as a check and balance between the President and the PM. Critics say that the proposal gives too much power to an indirectly-elected President, they conveniently forget that in a parliamentary democracy the PM is also indirectly elected and derives his strength from the same source that gives the President the mandate also. As for giving the Armed Forces a role in governance, the proposal does not give any role in day-to-day governance but in fact mandates a monitoring function expressed as a minority (4 members out of 11) in the NSC.

In the United States, the NSC has a geo-political role, it has nothing to do with politics. The NSC has a permanent staff that has no role in governance but is comprised of the best available minds and talents in the country. They focus on issues of maximum importance to the nation, preparing position papers giving the President not only first hand background knowledge but options to pursue in case of a crisis. Since the President is directly appointed and, the Cabinet is appointed by him, the NSC’s role is far from being politically controversial. Every country has to have an NSC Secretariat, a focussed think-tank of the Establishment that is of tremendous assistance in cutting down debate and getting on with the action during any crisis. Every time a US President takes office the NSC churns out a National Security Strategy, this helps the President in identifying critical problems and advises him on how to deal with such problems. In the US President’s four year term, a revised edition is made after the second year. This virtually becomes a road map of governance identifying problems and suggesting solutions. It does not override the authority of various Cabinet Divisions but provides the President and the PM an independent viewpoint that may coincide or detract from each Ministry’s position, in essence it provides a well-thought out position without any motivation.

Pakistan needs both the political NSC and the geo-political one. However since so much controversy has been generated about the NSC, it becomes necessary to make a distinction between the two. The political NSC should be called the President’s Advisory Council (PAC) as per its real role in helping the President resolve national political issues while the National Security Council, which must incorporate the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) as a Division, should be called the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and would also be reporting to the President. This should resolve the confusion. Since the PAC would only be meeting from time to time the NSCS will provide the staff work necessary. The prime responsibility of the NSCS would be to prepare the National Security Strategy, something that has eluded our combined geniuses for 55 years. The National Security Strategy Report, which must be presented to the PAC and approved by it, is intended to “serve five primary purposes (1) to communicate strategic vision to both the Executive and Parliament, and thus legitimize the rationale for resources. Both Parliament and the Executive need a common understanding of the strategic environment and the administration’s intent as a starting point for future dialogue to reach such a “common” understanding between the elements of national power (2) to communicate the same common vision to the citizens of the country, to the intelligentsia and the masses alike, and to a number of other quite many disparate entities (3) to communicate coherence and farsightedness in the security policies of government: that all citizens, fully support. (4) to document a strategy where none exists! We must have the ability to forge consensus among these competing views on direction, priorities and pace, and getting “on board” important players several political levels down from the President and PM (5) to contribute in substance and presentation, to the overall agenda of the Government. With these five purposes in mind, what follows is an interactive, interagency process on that evokes multiple drafts and several to resolve differences and ultimately approve the final document” (THE NATION, June 08, 2002).

It is people who really define the character of the institutions and who make the processes what they are. People of intelligence and goodwill respond to the need to place national interests above those of organization or person. By law, the NSCS should not get involved in day-to-day governance because it is not a substitute of government but has an advisory/support role on an “as and when required” basis. Its position papers will give the background, factors and the options available will always be available to the PM and his cabinet which may also task the NSCS as and when required which must meet periodically at least once a month. The NSCS must have a “Governing Board”, the composition must include all the eleven members of the PAC as well as the Federal Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Finance Minister and the Minister for Interior and shadow ministers from the Opposition in each Ministry. The NSCS must be headed on a day to day basis by a full-time-Chairman, called National Security Advisor who should be a member of the 20-member NCSC Governing Board, reporting directly to the President, but available to the PM as per the will and discretion of the PM who remains the Chief Executive of the country. The President has no role in day to day governance except those constitutionally mandated to him (or her), e.g. PAC, NCSC, Armed Forces, NAB, FPSC and the Federal Ombudsman.

Anyone exercising such authority as envisaged for the President must be directly elected. Because of the special circumstances availing, viz (1) the desperate need for continuity (2) the penchant of the politicians to reverse structural reforms once in power and (3) the possibility thereof of reaction from the Armed Forces, this time around President Musharraf must continue in office, his period of 4 years starting with the day the National Assembly and Senate meet, whichever is earlier. Thereafter the President, and this includes President Musharraf if he desires another term, must be directly elected. To avoid non-serious candidates each Provincial Assembly must elect from its own Province two non-party candidates from the intelligentsia, superior judiciary the Armed Forces or the civilian bureaucracy, essentially an independent technocrat. The National Assembly should elect two members from Islamabad Capital Territory. These form the candidates panel for a direct Presidential election, if any candidate declines to contest before the date of withdrawal his name will not be included. No electioneering will be allowed since the President is a non-political entity but candidates can do indoor canvassing and will be given time by the State on Pakistan TV and radio to address the public. If any candidate gets more than 50% he or she will be elected as President, if not then a run-off election between the first two will decide the issue. A directly elected President will have the necessary moral authority to head the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), which must be distinct from the National Security Council Secretariat (NCSC). Let’s put this confusion and controversy to rest.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).