ISLAMABAD: The Defense Committee of the Cabinet remained dormant and underutilized by Pakistan’s coalition government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from 2008 to 2013, a report said here on Monday.
In its report on the performance of the Defense Committee of the Cabinet, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) analyses that keeping with its past trend of being reactive rather than proactive, the Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) met only thrice in 2012-13.
A look at the five-year performance of the DCC shows that despite serious internal and external security challenges facing Pakistan, the DCC met on an average only a little more than twice in a year from March 2008 to March 2013.
The DCC held one meeting in 2008-09, two meetings in 2009-10, one meeting in 2010-11, five meetings in 2011-12 and three meetings in 2012-13. Under the premiership of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the DCC met only once.
The DCC is the highest body in the country in which top civil and military leadership sits together to discuss important issues of defense and national security. It signifies the supremacy of elected civilian leaders in interpreting national interests and in laying down the broad parameters of defense and foreign policy.
For the highest decision-making body on defense, the DCC has remained largely dormant and underutilized throughout the past five years, the PILDAT report notes. One of the major weaknesses of the DCC has been the lack of a dedicated permanent secretariat of the DCC. Its reactive posture and too only for selective incidents does not indicate an effective role of the DCC, it opines.
Three meetings of the DCC were held during the one-year period between March 2012 and March 2013 and all of the meetings focused on one issue: Reopening the Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) for Afghanistan-bound NATO supplies which were shut down in response to NATO’s unilateral attacks on Pakistani check posts at Salala in November 2011.
The GLOCs were reopened nearly eight months after their suspension. This was the first time in five-year history of the PPP-led coalition government that important decisions of closure of NATO supply and its resumption were made in the DCC. July 3, 2012 marked the third and the last meeting of the DCC in the last year of the PPP government in which decision to reopen the GLOCs was made after the United States conveyed that it was “sorry” for the Salala incident.
The DCC, however, failed to meet in response to major incidents including a high-profile security breach in which militants infiltrated into Minhas Airbase at Kamra on August 16, 2012 as well as an attack on Peshawar airport on December 15, 2012.
Reportedly, Pakistan’s defense installations have been attacked 16 times since 2009. Militants attacked across the country at will and despite their increasing ease and efficiency to target defense installations in addition to civilian sites, the DCC failed to develop and approve a national security strategy in five years since March 2008.
The PILDAT, together with its Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations, reiterated the following recommendations to the government, Parliament and leadership of major political parties for strengthening the DCC:
- A periodicity must be set for the meetings of the committee. Minimum essential periodicity should be once in every two months. It is preferable, though, to meet every month. Similar bodies in other countries meet on a weekly basis and meetings are chaired by the prime ministers.
- The DCC must have an independent and dedicated secretariat under the office of the prime minister as pledged in the charter of democracy.
- Appointment of a full-time civilian national security advisor by the prime minister could be useful to coordinate national security-related functions in the Prime Minister Secretariat and establish its coordination with other security agencies within the government. The secretariat of the DCC must be placed under the civilian national security advisor.
- A dedicated think tank comprising eminent national security experts from the field of defense and national security must be set up to support the work of the committee. A multi-tier approach may also be useful to include private sector in the consultative process.
- Apart from an Eminent Persons Council, there should be another Support Council coordinated by the national security advisor comprising the services chiefs, the foreign secretary, the defense secretary, the cabinet secretary, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the finance secretary. The Eminent Persons Council should also be coordinated by the national security advisor to ensure that the two councils work in tandem with each other.
- The proposed secretariat of the DCC would also set up a coordination and oversight mechanism for the intelligence agencies in the country.
- As is the practice with cabinet committees, apart from cabinet ministers of finance, defense, foreign affairs and interior, etc, as members of the DCC, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, services chiefs and heads of civil and military intelligence agencies should only attend the meetings of the DCC upon invitation.
- The DCC must set a periodicity to conduct a defense and security review based on a national security strategy.
As general election is schedule to be held in May 2013, the PILDAT recommends that the activation of the DCC, assisted by a permanent and dedicated secretariat, should be one of the first agenda items of the elected government that will take charge after the election. In view of the complex internal and external threats faced by Pakistan, it is imperative that policies and decisions relating to these are arrived at based on research-based deliberations, it adds.