Politicians enter the sacred National Security Policy zone

What is the National Security Policy of Pakistan? To the best of my humble knowledge if there is any such document or documents, which have evolved with the changing geo-strategic situation of Pakistan, the nation this policy is supposed to secure doesn’t know. At least so far I have not been able to find any such document.  Even some of the people who are supposed to know if there are any ‘secret’ documents laying down the National Security Policy say in the background interview that they have not seen or discussed any such documents. However, there is an unofficial document; I am told recently prepared by a think-tank which was shared with the security and civilian establishment. And that’s all.

This was hard to believe for an uninformed citizen like me. But if it is true then we can presume that the National Security Policy has remained an unwritten document like the U.K’s constitution. This prologue was necessary before going forward to analyse the 5-page “Guidelines for Revised Terms of Engagement with USA/NATO/ISAF and general foreign policy” prepared by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. It is significant because it is  first on three count in the history of National Security policy making: One, that this is the first written document on this issue; two, it is the first time that a committee of the parliament has been asked to prepare the policy guidelines and put it before the elected representatives of the people for approval; and three, for the first time the military establishment has leaned on the people’s representatives to deliberate and give the guidelines after listening to all relevant ministries and representatives of the political parties present in the parliament. I wonder what the democracy-bashers have to say about it.

Now let’s first see under what circumstances, the military establishment opened the window of this sacred zone for the politicians? Some of the major reasons for the army to allow the parliamentarians to enter this domain are: That the army needs the people’s support in countering the Taliban who challenge their writ in Pakistan and are responsible for attacks on the military and civilians – it cannot have a hostile civilian government and fight the Taliban at the same time; That on 5/2 the intrusion of US forces and killing of Osama lowered the image of Pakistan army as it was  proof of intelligence and security failure; That Mehran base attack made many think how weak is  our security as the terrorists took out the specific target they had come for; That the country is bursting at the seams because of the Balochistan independence movement and rising Sindhi nationalism which is encouraged by a section of the US powerful lobbies; That there has been cross-border infiltration by the US forces and some Taliban groups who the establishment feels had the backing of the US; And that the attack by the US forces on Salala Check post in which 24 army soldiers were killed jolted Pakistanis. (Surprisingly slaughter of 25 soldiers by the Taliban in the tribal areas did not provoke our ultra-nationalists).

It is the Salala incident that was shocking for the boys in the garrison and people on the street. The anti-American feelings were further fueled by the politicians and the media. In this backdrop as the PCNS set to work. The report says: “It may be recalled that NATO/ISAF forces attacked Salala check post in Mohmand Agency on 25-26 November, 2011. The Prime Minister of Pakistan taking serious note of the incident called a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) on 26th November 2011 wherein issue was discussed  at length and it was, inter-alia, decided that the matter be sent to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security to debate and advise on the future course of action ….”

This shows that the whole process was undertaken not because PCNS and the parliament should be making the country’s National Security Policy, of course with the input of the security establishment, in the normal course of business in a democratic polity, but it was a reaction to the hostile action taken by the American troops. The scope of the committee was limited to “Revise Terms of Engagement with USA/NATO/ISAF,” which actually boils down to terms of engagement with our major ally and donor, USA.

Pakistan has relied heavily on the US, starting from the policy laid down by its founder Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, fearing powerful India. It had offered to fight the expansion of the communist ideology claiming that it was against the Islamic ideology. And it delivered when put to test after the communist parties took over in Afghanistan. But now to stop the puritan Taliban’s Islam while still adhering to the fact that Pakistan is ideologically an Islamic state has been difficult.

Coming back to the report, credit should be given to the 16-member PCNS which expanded its scope by touching the issues other than terms of engagement. They were right to take a broader view because Pakistan’s relations with the US and 47 other  members of the NATO/ISAF cannot be guided unless the whole ambit of National security is revised. The report therefore includes Pakistan’s relations with China, Russia and defusing tension with India. It has a number of clauses which shows that we are asking for a better price of our services.

The report obliquely shows that Pakistan is with the US, NATO and ISAF, who are in Afghanistan with the UN’s blessing, for the sake of money. Because it is clear that Pakistan does not share the US agenda in Afghanistan. This puts the policy makers in a difficult position. At the one end they want to pander to the 48-nation alliance forces in Afghanistan; on the other end they want to carve a place of their choice for the Taliban, in the future set up and counter the growing Indian influence.

But to put things in perspective such a report should not have been presented without a preamble that what is the overall geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic situation. No national security policy can be made in this day and age without deliberating on the whole spectrum. It is only after putting these factors down that the committee could have arrived at the pragmatic and achievable objectives. At the same time this rationale and analysis of the overall situation could have been helpful in explaining the thrust of the policy guidelines to the parliamentarian and the media. It could have explained that while individual chivalry and unrealistic nationalist chants are possible, the state has to act with responsibility and dispassionately in the interest of the people.

The Parliamentarians who are not honouring the documents signed by their party representatives are playing to central Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa nti-American wave keeping an eye on the captain, Imran and future elections. It is for the first time the Parliament has been given a chance to frame this policy. So far majority of the Parliamentarians have not taken it seriously. They should not disappoint the nation or give a chance to the security establishment to say; look the elected representatives are incapable of dealing with important responsibilities. They must realise that National Security Policy should be approved with consensus sans elections consideration. It’s a matter of greater national interest. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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