Threats to National Security

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent scholar and defence analyst, has an excellent piece in PakistanToday that provides important context for the memogate issue as part of a larger struggle for power between elected and unelected institutions. One of the main points of his piece, and one that I believe deserves more attention, is that a myopic fixation on national security can actually undermine the security of the nation.

To begin, let’s consider what Dr Rizvi writes in his opening paragraph:

National security is integral to any state system. Internal and external dimensions of national security are assigned an important place in resource allocation and policy making. However, if the considerations of national security dominate all other concerns and responsibilities of the state, the latter becomes a lopsided entity. Human and societal needs are neglected and the political process becomes distorted. This is more so for states that are in the process of installing and consolidating the democratic political process. Democracy and societal development are stifled if for one reason or another national security becomes the dominant consideration. This benefits non-elected institutions and gives an undue advantage to the security establishment.

For proof of this argument, one only needs to look at the state of Pakistan today. The military has escalated a political controversy over a mysterious memo that, even if someone in the government had anything to do with it, doesn’t violate any laws, into thinly-veiled threats against an elected government, something that is very clearly dealt with in the Constitution. The PM has sacked the Defence Secretary, and suddenly COAS calls an emergency meeting and 111th Brigade has a new commander.

While this may be a new level of tension between the military and civilians, the tension itself is not new. Thanks to Wikileaks, we learned that Gen Kayani had told the Americans in 2009 that he did not approve of the democratically-elected president, and “might, however reluctantly” choose to carry his own coup. Even Mansoor Ijaz, the American businessman who won the military’s affection by accusing the civilians of plotting to replace the brass after years of terming the military as terrorist babysitters, even he told the British media that the military was plotting a coup last year. Add to this the undiluted torrent of media attacks, the Supreme Court demanding that the the government initiate corruption cases against the president even though Article 248 of the Constitution clearly says that, “No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any court during his term of office”. The judiciary has even this week sunk to a new low by questioning the Prime Minister’s religious convictions because the government has not requested that Swiss courts open cases against the president after the Swiss themselves have refused to open any cases against him citing lack of evidence and Constitutional immunity.

This is the context for the past three years of democracy in Pakistan. Since day one, their seems to have been an alliance-of-convenience between the military, the media, the judiciary and the opposition who, each for their own reasons, has seemed bound and determined to prevent the government elected by the people from accomplishing anything. From day one they declared that this government was a failure, and then proceeded to their very best to make sure that came true.

And what is the result? Is Pakistan more secure? Let us set aside the obvious insecurities that we face from banned jihadi militant groups who organize rallies in the streets of Lahore without fear of being approached or apprehended by law enforcement, or from their allies who are busy murdering innocent civilians and Pakistani soldiers.

Let us look for a moment at issues other than national security. National Nutritional Survey 2011 report released today has found that 58 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure. What does that mean?

“Pakistan will lose an entire generation to malnutrition,” said Unicef’s chief field officer Andro Shilakadze. “Children will not receive an education not because there are no schools to attend but because children are low on iodine. If we don’t emphasise and galvanise on this issue [malnutrition] now we will betray our children!”

Another report this week reveals that Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer all over Asia due to which every year 40,000 women die.

And please let’s not forget that we are still living with an education emergency.

But none of these issues that affect the lives of the vast majority of citizens is given much time or thought because every resource is dedicated to questions of national security. Returning to the excellent analysis of Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, he concludes that “the non-elected institutions like the military and the judiciary have caused enough tension in the political system that will hinder the consolidation of elected institutions and processes.”

On the front page of The Nation, two articles appear next to each other. One bears the headline, ’35 killed in Jamrud market blast’. Just above it is an article with the headline, ‘Kayani consults senior military officials’. In any other country, one might expect that the COAS was consulting his officials about the attacks that are killing innocent citizens. But in Pakistan, the COAS is consulting his officials about what to do about the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Taliban continues to attack and children continue to starve. Enough. Army should turn its attention to stopping attacks by militants. Judiciary should start providing justice to the common man. Media should start reporting facts. And the government should be allowed to do the work the people elected them to do. Only then will be truly be secure.

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