National Security Council | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 13, 2008

Strategically Speaking

National Security Council

NATIONAL Security Council (NSC) is in the news again. In Bangladesh it is hardly possible to talk about NSC without it being seen as a mechanism for providing a role to the military in the governance of the country.
It is difficult to take issue with those that are motivated by the perception that the NSC is but a ploy to ensure a perpetual say of the armed forces in the politics of the country, given the history of the country's political past, where military rule was interspersed with democratic politics in brief, and regrettably, less than fully rewarding interregnums. By the same token it is hardly possible to talk about security without giving the impression of something very ominous related with the word.
Security is related to human safety; and, in spite of the changed sensitivity that scholars and practitioners ascribe to the subject, it is hardly possible to convince many that security under the changed concept has only a fractional bearing with the military. And under the changed concept, the primary focus must be put on the individual, without whose wellbeing the structure of the state will remain weak and continue to be so till such time all the threats to human security are identified and policies formulated to tackle those. Without assured human security, all the talk about the security of the state rings hollow.
Our politics did not deliver the benefits that we expected from the democratic dispensation either, and some extraordinary developments, with the armed forces acting as the deus ex machina (unlikely agent), prevented the country from going over the precipice, but only just.
However, an unlikely agent (which the military is) can save the situation once: it cannot be expected to do so every time there is a political faux pas, to put if mildly, to step in. If a situation has been retrieved through an unconventional arrangement, any proposal, even though motivated by an honest desire to prevent repetition of the same situation, that might carry the impression of formalising the role of that "unlikely agent" in the country's future political process, must be avoided.
And however virtuous and innocuous the proposed arrangement might be, it must be done in a transparent manner that would engender confidence rather than cause apprehension in the minds of the people.
The idea of NSC is not new, but the fact that the concept is being resuscitated, during such a time when the extraordinary nature of the situation demands that extraneous issues do not clutter the agenda of the caretaker government, has caused quite a stir amongst various sections of the society, cutting across party lines among the politicians and the media and the civil society. The misperception has been further reinforced by comments of a section of our civil society, which include some scholars, in various forums, propagating the idea, in an oblique manner though, of participation of the armed forces in the management of politics in the country.
There are certain issues in respect to the NSC that need to be addressed on an urgent basis. And there are misperceptions regarding it that must be cleared in order that the proposal is acceptable, most of all to those whose interest it is meant to serve -- the people.
Admittedly, very little is known of either the structure or the terms of reference of the proposed council. And, therefore, it is well nigh impossible to make an intelligent examination of the proposals. And that is what begs the question. If there are misperceptions about it, quite a bit of it is due to the government's predilection for maintaining a hush-hush attitude on the matter.
Interestingly, this is perhaps the only issue about which no definitive comment has been made by any of the advisors as yet. All that we know about it is that a draft has been prepared, and is being scrutinised.
At this point it may be worth focusing on some of the apprehensions expressed regarding the NSC.
The primary objection of many is that the council may be predominated by one particular agency over the others and that it would, not merely by implication but also substantively, formalise the suggestion of a permanent military role through the NSC, in the country's politics. Without going into the justification of such a view, let it be said that such a perception stems primarily from a lack of detailed knowledge as regards the make up of the council and its tasks.
Apprehension about the intention behind forming such a council has been further reinforced by such propositions as, "somonnito netritto" (a poor translation of which is joint/coordinated leadership). And, apart from the political realm, they also contend that leadership should also be provided in other spheres of national activities too, an arrangement that would be infused, if one has understood their premise correctly, through the mechanism of the NSC.
Because "politicians do not understand everything, they are ignorant on matters of important national issues" there must be an alternative source of leadership, that will be infused extraneously.
The task of the National Security Council is not to provide alternative leadership. While one would agree that politicians do not know everything, is there any mortal who can lay claim to omniscience? And those who talk about alternative forms of leadership in politics have a different idea of politics and leadership.
All such apprehension must be dispelled. Honest intentions, if not accompanied by transparent action would defeat the purpose itself. However, the issue of the National Security Council is too important to be glossed over. It would be ill-advised to carry it through with haste, without involving the people: in other words the politicians who represent the people, must be involved in its formation.
Without going into the argument of whether NSC is at all necessary for us, the issue here is whether it is absolutely necessary for the caretaker government, which has its plate full as it is, to have another issue on its agenda that has all the recipe for a new controversy, particularly because of the way it has gone about it.
One would think not. It would be in the fitness of things to avoid anything that is likely to detract the unmitigated attention of the current regime from its only primary task -- to hold a free fair and acceptable election -- and create the ground for the handover of power to the people's representatives.
NSC has relevance to Bangladesh now, and will continue to have in future. But it should be the people's representatives, who provide the overall leadership to the nation, that should decide on how best to go about it.

Brig. Gen. (retd.) Shahedul Anam Khan is Editor, Defence & Strategic affairs, The Daily Star.

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