Pakistanis have been informed that there will be a new security paradigm that would drive the policy and strategy of the federal and provincial governments in countering terrorism and extremism. This is good news for Pakistanis given the high levels of insecurity as well as repeated attacks on the state and its key institutions. Nearly 50,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in the last decade including thousands of security personnel. While the ruling party underplayed the issue of terrorism during its election campaign, two months in power have demonstrated that governing Pakistan without a redefined national security paradigm will not be possible. Sixty terror attacks in first two months could shake any government let alone a civilian administration that enjoys support in the parliament.
One of the key features of the National Security Policy (NSP) will be the establishment of a Joint Intelligence Secretariat, which will comprise all civilian and military intelligence agencies, with the primary job of coordinating intelligence operations and sources of information. The Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar has assured that the secretariat will start working within six to seven months.
The NSP will also establish a Counterterrorism Rapid Deployment Force at the Federal level, which will eventually be replicated at the provincial levels. Staffed with serving and retired military personnel, this force will be 500 strong and over time shall increase to 2000 serving personnel, with the primary job of securing and responding quickly to terror threats.
The lame duck institution, National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) is being envisaged to act as a focal point of the new security policy. Increasing its capacity and making it fully operational has rightly been identified as one of the first few steps.
The NSP will also be divided into two broad sections: one that deals with internal threats and another that deals with foreign threats. The draft NSP also aim to deweaponize Quetta, while at the same time providing police in Balochistan with over 5000 SMGs and the requisite training to use them in fighting terrorist and sectarian elements.
Though the formulation of a NSP is vital and has been long overdue, criticisms of the scope of the NSP have been widely expressed. The proposed NSP postulates that with NATO troops withdrawal, terrorists in Pakistan will cease to function as effectively as they do now. This postulation however, as Ayesha Siddiqa argues, does not take into account the existence of sectarian and extremist networks in Punjab that have operated independently of the TTP and Afghan Taliban. By claiming that terrorism in North Waziristan drives extremism in Punjab, an erroneous narrative has been constructed which ignores the devastating reach and impact of localized sectarian and militant groups. These groups are now a substantive threat since they are propelling communities in these areas towards radicalisation.
Siddiqa has also argued in a series of articles that the NSP fails to see the growing trends of radicalism and radical movements in non-Pashtun Pakistan that takes various shapes and forms. (Fighting Terrorism, August 7, 2013, Express Tribune). There is little (if any) focus on the NSP in this regard, with networks such as Hizb-ut-Tehrir (HuT) which perhaps don’t encourage violence, but financially support other organizations and disseminate religious literature, which seeks to radicalize middle class elements in the society.
Though the NSP contains provisions for capacity building of the police forces, it needs to include broader reforms to include the judiciary and anti-terrorist courts. That said, however, there are still not viable methods the NSP lays out that deals with those who are sympathetic to militancy within the police or the judiciary.
The assumption that US exit from Afghanistan will tackle the issue of extremism is flawed at best. A recent report prepared by the Home Secretary, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also advised against the idea that NATO troops withdrawal will lead to reduction in terrorism, arguing instead that the withdrawal will be seen as a victory for the Afghan Taliban and would further boost the morale of Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Azam Khan, the architect behind the document argues that, With the departure of the US troops, the TTP and its multiple partners will pursue their jihad with renewed vigour under the banner for setting up a true Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.
The TTP, as KP’s secretary argued, are, firmly entrenched in the region and have institutional support from the Afghan Taliban, since the Taliban do not recognize state boundaries due to their belief in the idea of a borderless Caliphate. Additionally, they are organized and have specialized wings for training, finance, operations and justice, and are likely to pursue their stand against a Pakistani government they view as unIslamic.
It is vital to expand the scope of NSP with a view to correct the civil-military imbalance. The key institutions such as the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) and the Defence Council, both of which are almost permanently handicapped due to the lack of a permanent Defence Minister, need to be reconsidered. Though the DCC is criticized as not having any military representation, the Defence Council makes up for that by being the primary advisory body to the DCC and having more than adequate military representation.
As envisaged by the constitution, the existence of these two bodies is perfectly workable with a few changes. First and foremost, a permanent Defence Minister is required so as to alleviate the PM of contrasting and contradictory roles e.g. the PM cannot make recommendations to himself nor should he be expected to sit in advisory board meetings. Secondly, both bodies have separate secretariats (the Joint Chiefs have their own, while the National Security Adviser has his own) and their resources should be pooled together to undertake policy recommendations made and enacted by the DCC. If comprehensively implemented, these reforms would help provide the National Security Adviser and the PM with detailed, expert and comprehensive analysis of defence and foreign policy issues.
Similarly, there is a broad need for institutional policymaking arrangements that bridge the civil-military divide and leads to greater coordination between the two spheres of government. Currently any coordination between the two exists on a purely informal basis, with the Joint Chiefs’ meeting the PM and the President directly, rather than through institutions such as the Defence Ministry.
Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a noted expert in this area, has observed that the appointment of a permanent National Security Adviser, as an autonomous civilian position rather than a military one, would help further civilian ownership of Pakistan’s internal and external security policies as it would require interaction with the Joint Chiefs and keeping the PM abreast of all recommendations and analyses.
The Ministry of Defence also needs to be strengthened, particularly by stripping it of its military inflexions and running it in an autonomous manner. Since the Defence Council is headed by the Defence Minister, it is imperative that civilian bureaucrats run the Ministry so as to effectively analyse and implement recommendations made by the military. Think-tanks and other research organizations could be used as viable platforms to explore and provide for policy contours.
The time has come for the civilian government to take charge of security policy and it beyond the military domain. Pakistan needs to redefine its national security paradigm; and refocus it towards human security wherein public welfare, justice and inclusion gain precedence over containing the arch-enemy India and decades long policy of acquiring strategic depth in Afghanistan. A security policy is much needed but as the Prime Minister said recently in his address to the nation, our foreign policy also requires a radical review. We need to focus on the region and building economic ties rather than remaining in a state of perpetual conflict and fear.