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National security: disastrous policymaking

Input will dictate output – almost always. So what is the input that is going into our national security and foreign policymaking that has produced such a bungled output? Let’s review the last ten days of May.

First, Mullah Mansour’s May 22 death by a US drone in Baluchistan. A combination of silence and confusion from Pakistani officials followed the death. A string of incredible statements on the drone attack, on the identity of Mullah Mansur, on who issued a Pakistani passport to him and on conducting DNA tests all culminated in the May 28 statement by the Pakistani state, finally confirming it was him. The world had meanwhile confirmed his identity, and the Taliban had already buried him and chosen a new leader! Behind the scenes there was no clarity and agreement between the civilians and the army on how to proceed.

Then there was the May 23 news of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s anger over the manner in which Angoor Ada was returned to Afghanistan. The May 21 move of the army chief personally being involved in settling the matter that had earlier led to the closure of the Torkham border crossing was undoubtedly an excellent one.

However, in a letter to the prime minister the interior minister complained that the decision regarding Angoor Ada was taken without his ministry’s input although his ministry was principally responsible for border management. He is now awaiting the prime minister’s return to get an answer.

The deal, though, has been done and the Afghans have their territory back; and army sources insist the prime minister was informed. Some facts still remain unclear, however.

Then there was the May 26 embarrassment created by the home minister while announcing that Pakistani security forces had nabbed six Afghan intelligence agents from Afghan refugee camps. During a press conference Sarfraz Bugti, the home minister of Balochistan, gave an extremely offensive policy statement in which he threatened the Afghan refugees. In effect, this was an anti-Pakistan statement for the way it eroded the already minimal goodwill we have with the Afghan refugees who Pakistan has painstakingly hosted for over three decades.

Bugti was later strongly contradicted by two federal ministers publicly. However, while he withdrew his foul words, he did say in his defence that since the IG of the Frontier Corps was sitting beside him while he made the statement, the policy thrust of what he said was correct. Three days later, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch categorically contradicted the home minister. Baloch said that Pakistan made a commitment to the world community in 2012 that only voluntary Afghan refugee repatriation will take place and that the Pakistani government will not force Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan.

Before this round of damaging and embarrassing policy mishaps there was the more damaging tweet affair that erupted while the Iranian president was in Pakistan. The same day the unprecedented happened when the Ministry of Interior – violating all rules of business – directly addressed a letter to the Iranian ambassador, by-passing the Foreign Office. Earlier, we had the case of the Indian spy, Kulbhushan Yadav. In both the Iranian and Indian spy cases policy confusion and internal institutional differences played out in the public space.

These policy mishaps raise many uneasy questions: why does Pakistan not have full-time defence and foreign ministers? Why are regular meetings of the cabinet not held? And why has the National Security Committee not met more than once in the last 18 months? Why does the prime minister not consider it important to convene a meeting on India for example to comprehensively discuss all important issues related to Pakistan’s relations with India – ranging from Pathankot to Samjhota, to trade issues, Kashmir’s status, temperature around the LoC, to the resumption of foreign-secretary talks, Yadav matters etc?

Why is the prime minister averse to institutional policymaking? Why is the prime minister often more comfortable inviting the army chief and sitting with him in a two chairs-around-a-small-table arrangement instead of a proper meeting room where the prime minister chairs brain-storming meetings with the Foreign Office, the army chief, intel chiefs and the interior minister etc – who all give their own professional input into the issues under discussion? Why are ideas like sending a goodwill mission to Afghanistan or Iran not comprehensively discussed within the policymaking mechanism of the National Security Committee? The list of questions can be unending given the state of policymaking and its subsequent results.

The prime minister needs to understand that managing the country’s national security and foreign policy with just good intentions and indeed even friendly moves towards neighbours won’t deliver the right results. There are players, de jure and de facto, in the policymaking and policy implementation pack who need to be engaged on a regular basis within the institutional frameworks that exist.

That alone is the way forward on formulating policies that will help Pakistan ensure sustained improvement in its relations with neighbours, which is critical to achieve the goals of regional connectivity and comprehensive security. There have been some rare occasions when the prime minister had detailed and candid sessions with the army chief on India and Afghanistan. However, the required regularity and institutional mechanisms are missing.

Equally, this competent approach to a regular institutionalised approach to policymaking will help address the chronic issue of military dominance of security and foreign policy (especially since the days of Gen Zia). Experience has shown that this chronic problem has, with CIA’s facilitation in the 1980s, resulted largely in the militarisation of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. This problem, having been perpetuated by both the barrel of the gun and the incompetence of elected leaders, cannot be wished away by backroom chats with foreign leaders, local journalists or solo generals.

The ‘business of the state’ is serious business, more so in Pakistan in which individual decisions and clique proclivities – aided by external benefactors – have been the way of those who have run this business of the state. The bitter yield of those ways is upon us now. Luckily all stakeholders, civilian and military, in Pakistan’s foreign and security policy making pack correctly read this bitter yield. However, all stakeholders are not on the same page on what Pakistan’s response must be.

While everyone’s public and private mantra remains that friendly relations with all our neighbors are an essential, the devil is in the critical details. To agree on the nuts and bolts of policy, of its implementation and projection, PM-led policy formulation with the input of all stakeholders is urgently and critically required.

Pakistan now appears to be in a difficult space with its major neighbors. Given its location, Pakistan is the natural pivot in this emerging regional web of cooperation. And yet in recent months our pivotal position is moving us towards turbulence and antagonism. The way out of this uneasy situation primarily lies within – not outside. And the onus to lead the way is on the elected leadership.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: nasimzehra@gmail.com Twitter: @nasimzehra

Nasim Zehra, "National security: disastrous policymaking," The News. 2016-06-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Drone attack , Security forces , Taliban , Leadership , Journalists , Mullah Mansour , Chaudhry Nisar , Torkham , Afghanistan , CIA

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