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Columnist Lt Gen (Retd) M ASAD DURRANI, former

DG ISI and ambassador to Germany makes an eloquent

case for a cohesive approach on national security

Politics in Pakistan is a complex affair. It can be frustrating, disgusting and futile. Or it can be absorbing (it takes most of our time and money), amusing (if you do not mind the cost), and a means to achieve a variety of objectives: status, reputation, money, power, even politics. Over the time it has developed its own character, culture, rules, terminology, and its own set of principles.

One of the first principles of politics is that one must survive. In Pakistan it means that one should be in power. If not, one faces political strangulation, not only at the hands of the state machinery but also because most of our objectives can only be realised when in power. Even the electorate likes to be on the winning side. A vote cast for the party that lost, is considered a wasted’ vote.

Indeed some of the smaller or regional parties have survived in opposition, either because of their good organisation and a committed vote-bank, or because their ends were better served in opposing the government. More importantly though, they were not perceived serious enough a threat to warrant state action’. Rarely has a party flourished by staying for long periods out of power. And that brings us to the second principle.

Politics is the art of the possible. Over here it means, one was to do everything possible to retain power or to grab it. It is a battle for all or nothing. You are not opponents, you are enemies; sworn to each other’s extinction - political or physical. Those in power consider all instruments of state legitimate tools for the perpetuation of their rule. The opposition believes it has limited room for manoeuvre in the assemblies, on the media, in the courts, with the administration and even on ground. It thus finds recourse only in agitational politics.

In the realm of everything possible’ are also included issues of foreign policy, national security, natural disasters, financial scandals, constitutional deadlocks, distribution of power (centre/provinces, president/prime minister) and so on. For our political belligerents these are means only to serve one end; political. If in power, you make mileage out of them. If not, you should use these to run down the government. Principles, legalities or any other implications must not be allowed to come in the way of achieving the ultimate aim. (Maintenance of aim is the first principle of war. And here the military can learn a lesson or two from our politics.)

Well, this is all too familiar, and as our experts on political science tell us, it would go on till the process matured’. We are in fact advised to let it mature naturally (whatever it means), without any interruption in its evolution or forcing the pace.

So we will wait and suffer happily in the knowledge that our leaders are learning. The President (GIK at that time) once remarked that the politicians could learn only at the cost of the nation. We will pay willingly for their education (but very reluctantly for their health). In the process we will also learn to live with less and lower our expectations. Patience is a great virtue and contentment will be rewarded. There is however a ‘minor’ problem.

National security covers a vast canvas and a wide variety of subjects. A country’s financial health, administrative soundness or even social maturity have a bearing on the total security index. But there are certain issues that due to their criticality can be considered our core security interests. Mishandled, these can extract too large a price and that too in terms of national interest or survival. Obviously their exploitation for political gains, or neglect due to political conflicts, can have disastrous implications. Very often these require urgent and competent handling. Let me illustrate.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme has been a delicate and a sensitive issue, supported fortunately by a broad national consensus, but not spared unfortunately from political exploits. Some have blamed the others for being soft, others have claimed ignorance, and many have vied for being its protector and patron. It caused confusion and concern amongst friends, and lent itself to exploitation and blackmail by our antagonists. Though there can be many views on an issue like that, it certainly should have been possible to work out an agreed official line to be followed by the presidents, the prime ministers, important political leaders, service chiefs and foreign secretaries. This would have spared Bartholomew and others the trouble of meeting half a dozen people before identifying the possible Mr Nuke’, assessing the perceptions of the various sharers and contenders of power, and determining areas vulnerable to exploitation.

When Kashmir’s struggle for freedom entered its present phase in January 1990, there was a spate of allegations of inaction, lack of commitment and bungling against the Government and its other agencies. There was a mad rush by individuals, groups and parties for money and weapons. Everyone wanted to get onto the freedom band-wagon, mostly for political or financial gains. This severely impaired our ability to formulate and articulate a sound policy. Both the cause and the people suffered. Kashmir was one issue on which national consensus and the right policy response (even on subject like ‘independent Kashmir’ that have unnecessarily become divisive) was so easy to reach, given the political will.

Pakistan’s experience with the Afghans should have taught us a few things: limits of our influence with them, the Afghans’ ability to play one against the other, and most importantly that it was ultimately the Afghan way that prevailed in that country. On a number of occasions we attempted to force solutions that clearly were aimed at internal political gains. Twice during the past 18 months, the desire to forge a Pakistani solution’- quite evidently for narrow political motives - resulted in confusion, resentment and further polarisation within the Afghans. On one of the occasions we even sought divine sanction, completely oblivious to the fate of the last such agreement that was concluded in Makkah. This approach is obviously neither in Afghanistan’s interest nor in the long run could it help the developments in the Region.

The Ayodhya incident took place in the aftermath of the long march. With major political groups on the war path, the desire to be one up on your opponent cost us an opportunity of a life time. Protection of the minorities and their religious sites is the constitutional obligation of the state. In this particular case it could score for us invaluable points. Besides retaining the high moral ground, and putting the perceptions of extremism (fundamentalism) in the right perspective, we could have blown the Indian facade of secularism. Instead, the Government feeling vulnerable to political exploitation, found it expedient to ride the visible and the vocal public sentiment. Two days of rampage led and supported - we know by whom - got the Indians off the hook. A golden chance was lost.

Early this year when the battle-royal’ was at its peak, and all possible acts of terrorism from New York to Bombay were being debited to our account, no one here was in a position or in charge of working out an appropriate and timely response.

If ever we came to the conclusion that our nuclear, India or Israel policies needed a review or a bold initiative, the main constraint could well be the extent to which certain political or religious elements generated ground pressure against the change. In fact the likely political cost deterred us from even a staff or an in-house review.

Sindh is as much a national security problem as a political one. Unfortunately the political gimmickry prevented a comprehensive approach. Last year’s army action won for us the deserts of Sindh, but the gains were lost in the quagmire of federal politics.

Pakistan’s core security interests have been taken to ransom by our political delinquents. Opportunities are floundered and policy responses remain inadequate. We may have to give more time for the democratic dispensation to deliver, but the world around us is moving at a pace, that if we are not ‘on’ then we are ‘out’. In the post-cold-war era no one is waiting for us, or would bail us out if we got into trouble, or in fact care very much if we were found wanting. Can we think of a remedy?

Vehicles or aircrafts used for training have dual controls to enable the instructor to avert a crash. At the national level, concept of dual control would be unpopular (sentiments against the 8th amendment), and lead to complications like diffusion of responsibility, conflict between the elected representatives and the technocrats, and some others. But there could be no objection to a mechanism that prevented disasters.

The stock reaction in such situations is; we should first try and improve the existing system’. It actually means: ‘let us keep the status-quo’. A system can work only as efficiently as its environments would permit, and that we have already concluded would take some more time to happen. Such institutional improvements can only follow the political process and not precede it. We may have to think of a solution that would work despite the system.

Suppose there was a forum consisting of security experts of the major political parties, foreign office, specialists from the private sector (including universities), and representatives of the armed forces and intelligence agencies. They were tasked to analyse problems and evolve long term and short term policy options. These assessments and options were presented to the chief executive who took decision in consultation with other political leaders, colleagues from the cabinet and the service chiefs. Should be no problem getting this decision implemented, one would have thought! A policy that had the sanction of the government, the opposition, the services, the foreign office and all the others who were relevant to the subject, what could prevent it from smoothly sailing through? We might just be missing the point.

Consensus may mean agreement, it certainly does not mean acceptance. In our case it usually means: we may have agreed for whatever reason, but you have not heard the last from us, not yet in any case’. If anyone relevant to the implementation of the decision consented for tactical reasons, but did not have its heart in it’, the decision would probably never see the light of the day. The all pervasive no-go’ of our machinery might in any case pre-ordain any policy to its doom.

No one ever wins all the battles, and no one ever wins against all the odds. But the stake is worth giving this concept a last desperate chance. Let us create a cell (possibly a nucleus of our original study group), operating from the office of the chief executive (because it must have the necessary clout), and give it override’ powers on matters concerning national security.

Before anyone rejected the concept as ‘wonky’ or ‘weird’, let me quickly add that it was neither new or novel. It has been presented to the government before, and it operates in many other countries, formally or informally, in varied configurations. If it has not been called the ‘National Security Council’ concept, it is simply because in our political terminology it has become analogous to the idea of a super-government, or with continuation of military rule by other means’. (A name like National Security Privatisation Council might sell better.)

One does understand the reluctance of power-managers to share power and credit. Considering the past failures, there might be merit in getting others to share blame. An institution that should be interested in formulation of sound security policies is the one that bears the direct brunt of failed politics - the armed forces. They might therefore like to encourage the others to evolve a better methodology. And the Armed Forces can be very persuasive.

Despite all the conviction, one has no illusion that such ideas and concepts, even better ones, would not make a difference, unless there was sustained interest and pressure. This then is the main idea behind this paper; agitate our minds on our core security interests with a view to finding better policy responses, and to provide some intellectual relief from the political marshland in which we all seem to be sinking. Let only those sink who must.