Revisiting our higher defence organisation

While determining the causes of our defeat in 1971, the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission had pointed out lack of inter-services coordination as a major weakness. To address this inadequacy, the structure of our Higher Defensive Organisation (HDO) was revamped in 1976. Its evolution involved complex processes, taking into account numerous variables. Of these, the major ones are prevailing and anticipated geopolitical and strategic environment. The HDO structures need periodic review to keep pace with the dynamics and fluidity of national security challenges. Pakistan is passing through testing times, which demand timely and prudent decisions on national security measures, reflecting unanimity among national institutions, as well as the aspirations of people. Within the military component of leadership, there is a need to further strengthen the elements of unity of command and clarity in its articulation to cut down the reaction time and ensure that the response to any contingency is timely and appropriate. Our HDO in its current form has been problematic, since its inception in 1976. It has failed the nation many times over. Kargil is an ugly example of stampeding the HDO by an erratic Service Chief. Also, the Abbottabad fiasco, PNS Mehran incident and attack on the Salalah border post have exposed its inadequacy. Well-meaning analysts have all along been suggesting a revisit to our HDO. India did this exercise immediately after the Kargil debacle and has instituted a National Task Force to bring its HDO in line with its projected strategic ambitions. In our case, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) is the highest policymaking and direction-giving echelon of HDO, which is presided over by the Prime Minister. The DCC is an agenda-oriented setup that does not have a backup secretariat for a systematic follow-up on its decisions, nor does it venture into futuristic strategy reviews. The Defence Council (DC) is the second tier of HDO, headed by the Defence Minister. However, the Ministers erroneous statements on important national security issues indicate that it is being kept out of the decision making loop. This notion is further reinforced by the fact that the Council rarely meets. Next is the Joint Chiefs of Staff level. Since formation, this institution has been striving to carve a worthwhile niche for itself in the overall national strategic calculus, but has not been able to go beyond a debating club where participants prefer to disagree. Wisdom of the mandate of this echelon was questioned by its first Chairman, General Muhammad Sharif, who proposed to swap it with a potent post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The coups of 1977 and 1999 further weakened this entity because the Chiefs of Army Staff elevated themselves as Head of State and Supreme Commander. The informal power - 'Troika - also does not include the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff. The role of our Joint Staff Headquarters has all along been a source of controversy. It has been widely criticised for its inability to play a positive role, both in the planning of higher direction of war and for its lack of initiative to take the strategic lead. The arguments vary from making the Joint Staff Headquarters an all-powerful institution to its altogether disbandment. While citing the example of India where the three Chiefs rotate as the Committee Chairman, critics question our wisdom about having such a large HQ with at best a 'coordinating role. Pakistan adopted the American model of Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1976, based on Americas National Security Act 1947. The Americans did a massive revamping of their defence structures under the Goldwater-Nichols Act 1986 and further refined them in 2002. However, Pakistan continues to follow the 1947 version of the American model. Pakistans military is organised along lines of command that report to their respective Service Chiefs. These Chiefs, in turn, make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the addition of a fulltime Chairman. Services Chiefs, as well as the Chairman, report to the Defence Minister; all five report to the Supreme Commander as well. This system has led to counterproductive inter-service rivalries. Blame game between the services about some of the incidents, which have occurred during this year, courtesy American aggressive mindset, has once again highlighted this weakness. Against this backdrop, the Goldwater-Nichols Act brought sweeping changes to the way the US security forces were organised. It increased the powers of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and streamlined the military chain of command, which runs from the President through the Secretary of Defence directly to Unified Combatant Commanders, bypassing the Service Chiefs. The Chiefs were assigned an advisory role and their responsibility was confined to training and equipping personnel for the unified combatant commands; they no longer exercise operational control over their forces. Military advice is centralised in the Chairman Joint Chiefs, as opposed to Service Chiefs. He was designated as the principal military adviser to the President, National Security Council and Secretary of Defence. The Act has also brought the Chairman and CDS models quite close to each other. The first successful test of the reforms was the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), where it functioned exactly as planned, allowing the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Norman Schwarzkopf, to exercise full command and control over marine corps, army, air force and navy assets without having to negotiate with the Services Chiefs. It increased the ability of the Chairman to direct overall strategy, but provided greater command authority to "unified" (like CENTCOM) and "specified" (like Transport Command) field commanders. Indeed, the Goldwater-Nichols module changed the way the American services interacted and acted. It would be appropriate to constitute a National Commission to revamp our HDO, while taking into consideration the contemporary practices and our regional compulsions. It needs to graduate from the narrower concept of 'defence to a more comprehensive approach of 'national security. Keeping aside the nomenclature, Pakistan must evolve a lean, effective and responsive HDO. For example, the DCC or its equivalent should be able to meet within one to two hours of the eruption of a national security crisis. The meeting should culminate in spelling out policy direction for the national security apparatus and issuance of a policy statement for public consumption. Its membership should be discreet, limited to Cabinet ministers; the military component should be represented by the Chairman Joint Chiefs, who should be a non-voting member. The DC or its equivalent, too, should be a potent executive organ with adequate supervisory powers over the services through Chairman Joint Chiefs. All military matters must be routed to it through the Chairman. Likewise, the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff or its equivalent needs strengthening to make him the real commander. There is a need to rationalise the articulation of command and redefine the warrant of precedence to do away with multiple reporting channels. Otherwise, intermediary echelons of HDO would remain ineffective in short-term, and would degenerate into dormant entities in long-term perspective. The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

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