Ever since one can remember, National Security (NS) was never a military only conception. Our instructor at the National Defence College in the 1980s told us that the National Security Policy (NSP) was built upon three pillars: domestic, foreign and military. And that the latter two were more or less a projection of a country’s internal strength. Those were also the days when this institution used to present an NSP paper at the end of every academic year. Always present was the country’s top leadership – civil and military. Zia, as the president and the army chief, regularly attended. Except when the presenters pleaded that he restore undiluted democracy in the country, he would write a letter of commendation to the college. Once when the group went overboard with the mantra that a democratic system must be allowed to mature without military’s interference (yes, it was permissible within the four walls of the college), he cautioned that many a madcap was reformed after a brief sojourn in Siberia.
Indeed, no one had any illusions about the fate that awaited such an exercise. Some recipients, primarily ministries and service headquarters, buried the document in their archives; others with a healthy disrespect for any written work, burned it with other trash. Of course, one understood why our recommendations had no chance to see the light of the day. These were too uncomfortable for the establishment.
All like us who were tasked to advise how the people of Pakistan could develop a stake in the country, may have reached an office where staff cars, drivers, and on occasions even the military police kept them at a safe distance from the hoi polloi, deep down we were aware that ours was an oligarchy, and the masses were getting a raw deal. Of course, we would talk about the importance of education, but also knew that all the known ills in the country – corruption, inefficiency, nepotism, et al – were the exclusive domain of the product of elite colleges and universities.
We were also told by a galaxy of guest speakers that the state of Pakistan may be living on borrowed money, the country was kept afloat by the black, underground, or whatever else the non-state economy was called. Besides much else, it generated employment and fed the teeming millions by keeping itself out of the state’s stranglehold. God forbid if it was brought in the tax net and thus became part of the (inefficient) official sector, it would be milked dry by the revenue collectors – with the state getting none the richer, but the poor starving to death. We still had to recommend that the unregistered enterprises should be mainstreamed and documented.
What raised eyebrows and even some shock waves, were the measures suggested to cut down perks, privileges, and protocol. Depending upon who was presenting the budget proposals, a military man would defend the defence expenditure with his heart and soul, with an eye on the next rank; but a smart civilian would add a caveat: “take all the money you want, but spend it to sharpen your teeth, and not to fatten your tail”.
Helping the Kashmiris win the right to decide their fate was placed at a pedestal higher than the policy – in the National Aims and Objectives. Some other sublime desires were also there: creating a just order; infusing a spirit of enquiry; and working for an enlightened society. The measures to realise them were left to the operational organs of the state; known for their masterly penchant to befuddle.
On core security matters, the NSPs at times pointed out that the incumbent policy makers and executioners, usually on post for a limited time, may not be aware of the history of the issue, its complexity, and the rationale of decisions taken in the past. (A case in point is the Afghans’ conventional reluctance to recognise the Durand Line as an international frontier, and thus their resistance to demarcate or fence it, which has led to the current standoff on the AfPak border.) It was therefore recommended that the policies and the strategies to implement them were best formulated in consultation with a group of subject specialists. If the opposition too was on board, it would help evolve a national consensus.
Geo-economics was wielded as the magic wand to heal our ills. But since no one could tell how with a narrow base and the propensity of our entrepreneurs to smudge the ledgers, economic weapon could be deployed to promote national power, we could only suggest that the performance of our embassies be judged by the foreign investment they could generate. That we never could provide a sound feasibility report that the poor missions desperately sought, is another matter.
One thing however everyone got right. Decentralisation; government taken to people’s door steps; subsidiarity, the guiding light for sound governance: were our favourite buzz words. Primarily a military institution, the NDC acquired a name for its pioneering work on public administration. Benazir Bhutto in her second incarnation, tasked her special assistance, Kamal Afsar, to get this recipe from the Defence College. Musharraf and his strategic advisor, Tanwir Naqvi – both illustrious alumni of this alma mater – staked all their cards on making Devolution as the panacea for making Pakistan a functional state.
We in fact had convinced ourselves that a structure had to be built from the grassroots. People’s problems were best addressed at the community level, which could also help build a vibrant society. No doubt that the environmental hazards were in the first place the responsibility of the “Mohallah”; the basic brick of the philosophy that helped Uzbeks produce luminaries who laid the foundations of a mighty empire. That the taxes were best collected by the local revenue officials, and then shared according to a mutually agreed formula with the upper echelons, was the plea of every political party when in opposition – not to be touched with a barge pole when in power.
What we always forgot was that the people in high places may delegate heavy lifting to their subordinates, even responsibility, but never the power. The NDC’s recommendation that the politicians aspiring for high offices must be put through the grind of local bodies must have acted as the red rag to our bull-headed decision makers. They would rather ride on tanks into the corridors of power than take the unpaved streets of their constituencies.
No idea what the new people-centric NSP worked out by the present NSA looks like, but considering how passionately our power brokers defend the status quo that works in their favour, the real challenge to get it implemented is if the government could overcome their resistance and shake them out of their comfort zone. The real test of a good policy is that it’s opposed tooth and nail by the elites.