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The National Security Discourse

by Ejaz Haider

SS Mirza—AFP

Who’s the boss in Pakistan?

This is not a review of Army chief General Qamar Bajwa’s briefing to the Senate. That will likely need a separate article when the details come out. For now, we know that the in-camera session went longer than the originally planned two hours and the senators, as reported by DG-ISPR, left satisfied.

Bajwa was accompanied by his Directors-General of Military Operations, ISI and ISPR. Apparently, the Army offered to give this briefing on national security (my italics) voluntarily in the wake of criticism from the Senate chairman and questions raised by Senate members.

As a sidenote, let me add that in addition to the senators, the briefing was also attended by Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan, technically the boss not just of the Army chief, but also of the military.

[NB: for “technically”, read: de jure. De facto is of course another matter.]

Let’s try and unpack this, beginning with national security. The accepted definition of national security includes much more than military strategy, what the military’s schools of instruction routinely describe as elements of national power but which, outside of powerpoint presentations, can only be listed by their absence.

Economy, health, education, environment, energy, trade and commerce, human resource, rule of law, et cetera can be listed as constituting elements of national power. This list is neither exhaustive nor in any order of priority. In fact, if we consider this a flowchart and scroll up, we can broadly categorize them under two heads: hard and soft power.

At the top sits the National Security Strategy. Below it, in the hard power category, we list the national military strategy (NMS) and defense R&D and production. Under the NMS, we get multiple operational strategies. These are formulated in light of the broad thrust of the NSS, as also other strategies, including foreign policy. In fact, the security policy is supposed to be a subset of foreign policy, even though we have with remarkable success upended that concept and turned foreign policy into a subset of security policy.

In today’s international order, states try to project their soft power: human resource, knowledge, innovation, the arts, film, human development, rights, etc. Hard power is the terra firma on which they tread, a guarantee against aggression. Spending on hard power depends on where one is located, how many friends one has, how deep the pockets are, how stable the internal affairs.

It is also a function of image. If state X has much to give the world in terms of its soft power, it is secured as much by the world as its own military power, which, as we know, mayn’t be much, as is the case with some of the most powerful states in the world. Even when a state retains its priorities in a classical sense, its military strength (hard power) needs healthy, knowledgable human resource that can innovate, the essential baseline for a robust, growing economy.

In which case, it’s interesting to note that we need the Army chief and his key officers to brief the Senate on national security. Military strategy in line with NSS, yes; operational strategies, yes. But NSS, the concept that subsumes much more than military/operational strategies and involves key members of the cabinet and other elements of national power?

Usually, the National Assembly or Senate standing committees on defense (we don’t have any on intelligence anyway) should summon relevant officers to give testimonies and field questions. Standing committees are where members hone specialized skills. They deal with multiple issues and they do that, through expert testimonies and hearings, to get the information which can then be shared with the larger House.

Could it be that we are confusing the concepts here? That we believe that a kinetic approach is what NSS demands?

The Army chief, we are told, was also to tell the Senate about his military diplomacy. Is this something the other two service chiefs do? It doesn’t seem so. And what about the defense minister? What exactly does (s)he do, given that (s)he is, technically, the boss? Is this military diplomacy in line with the objectives worked out by the foreign minister and his sherpas in the ministry of foreign affairs, or is it being driven in a different lane? Worse, is it driving the foreign policy? How much of the approach (or approaches) to the U.S., Afghanistan and India, to name three countries, is worked out under a comprehensive NSS, debated and discussed by the cabinet’s committee on national security and approved through the imprimatur of the prime minister?

It should be obvious that these and many other questions are crucial not just for an understanding of how the system is working, or who is in the lead, but also whether the major thrust of our policies is kinetic or non-kinetic.

This last bit is terribly important for two reasons.

One, smart states rely, primarily, on non-kinetic, cooperative strategies to tackle problems. In fact, as Charles Glaser argued, “international anarchy does not generate a general tendency toward competitive international strategies; under a wide range of material and information conditions, cooperation is a state’s best option for achieving security.”

Two, if it can be determined that the Army is in the lead, then by the findings of Organization Theory, it will necessarily deal with issues through path dependence and by reifying its worldview. That’s inevitable.

That’s also a major problem because it would preclude the government from debating approaches that might not be in line with the thinking of the Army but which might just be how it should be doing things.

Given Pakistan’s history, we have two problems: an overbearing military and a civilian enclave that, for the most part, is uninitiated in the nuances of security policy and has to rely almost entirely on the military for it.

Theorists of civil-military relations refer to this as the second-generation problem—i.e., while the military might not overtly take over, the civilian enclave remains dependent on it still to help it work out the security sector. This allows the military and the security policy it formulates to continue to dominate the overall policy discourse. Other elements of national power are talked about but play almost no to little role in the country’s foreign policy approaches.

This is of course not the debate you are likely to see on TV.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider 

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1 comment

Srinath December 20, 2017 - 4:30 pm

If the present imbroglio is referred to as second generation problem, it should take some generations to evolve into a polity with civilian leadership truly calling the shots. In this zero-sum game, it takes a leap of hope to imagine that the military will allow the empowerment of the Parliament at their expense. And the USP of the Pakistan Army is its tremendous soft power. The last sentence here bears testimony to this. In the battle for hearts and minds, Rawalpindi seems to be a clear winner which is why Brigade 111 will not be required to do what it did in the past.


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