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> PILDAT Panel Discussion on Parliamentary Oversight of Defence in Pakistan

Conducive Conditions in Pakistan for Democratic Oversight of Defence; No coup d'état in sight in Pakistan: Mushahid Hussain

PILDAT Panel Discussion
October 07, 2010

Download Background Paper [PDF]

  • Important strides towards Parliamentary oversight of Defence made by Prime Minister Gilani after Prime Minister Junejo
  • Pakistan needs ‘Real’ Defence Ministers and not ornamental designation without actual authority
  • Parliament needs to develop comprehensive National Security Strategy and National Counter-Terrorism Strategy
  • Parliament’s Will and Commitment of Defence oversight needed with a ‘non-confrontationalist’ approach alongside a strengthened capacity through knowledge-based support
  • Issues should be resolved inside Parliament, not on the Streets
  • Information sharing in the Parliamentary Committee on National Security remains unsatisfactory


Islamabad, October 7: Broad national consensus exists today in Pakistan on the respective roles of different institutions. A strident media and an activist Judiciary have contributed to create a democratic political culture where there is little room for a military role in politics or in governance. Given the consensus achieved in Parliament in areas such as Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment, the National Finance Commission Award, Balochistan and the campaign against terrorism and extremism, the time is right for Parliamentary oversight of the Defence in Pakistan, believed Mr. Mushahid Hussain Sayed who was a keynote speaker at the PILDAT Panel Discussion today on Parliamentary Oversight of Defence in Pakistan.


Mr. Mushahid Hussain Sayed was presenting his analysis based on a paper on the subject authored by him and published under the PILDAT banner. The panellists included Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Defence and Political Analyst, Mr. Haider Abbas Rizvi, MNA, Member Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Ms. Sherry Rehman, MNA; Member Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, MNA, Member National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence; Member Parliamentary Committee on National Security.


Mr. Mushahid Hussain Sayed said that the so-called ‘establishment’ in Pakistan is no longer a monolithic entity as in 2007-2008, the higher Judiciary broke with the Establishment for the first time in Pakistan’s history. He said that only twice in Pakistan’s history Parliament’s hand has been strengthened in conducting defence oversight: first when Prime Minister Junejo authorized the Public Accounts Committee to look into defence projects and now, almost a quarter of a century later, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani took modest steps to institutionalize parliamentary oversight over the defence through strengthening the Public Accounts Committee, convening a high level briefing by the Chief of Army Staff for all the top political leaders and establishing a Parliamentary Committee on National Security. Parliament has only been briefed twice by the ISI Chief once under Prime Minister Junejo that the then-DG ISI Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul was called in for an in-camera briefing before the Parliament and in 2008 when the current DG, ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha briefed the Parliament.


He believed that Parliamentary Committees require a knowledge and research-based support in order to carry out effective oversight though he cvautioned the oversight mechanism need not be shrill but can be carried out in a gradual and non-confrontationist manner. He praised PILDAT for its extensive work on the subject and its commitment to providing forums for dialogue based on research, facts and papers instead of rhetoric. He also praised PILDAT for providing support to Parliament and Parliamentary Committees in an objective and non-partisan manner.


Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi said that in principle everyone agrees that there should be democratic control and oversight of defence in Pakistan but if Parliament and Parliamentary Committees are serious about carrying out effective oversight, they require a firm will as well as a sound knowledge base through research support. “Parliament is the forum where national issues should be resolved, not the streets,” he said, adding that MPs themselves have to understand the centrality of Parliament’s institution before they can strive to make it so. If Parliament is serious and willing to engage in oversight, there are models available such as Indonesia and Turkey where gradual approach has been adopted bearing fruit in those societies, he said.


Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, MNA, said that establishing the Parliamentary Committee on National Security is a good step in the right direction but the sharing of information by the ‘establishment’ in the committee remains unsatisfactory. He said that lack of MPs’ capacity to engage in serious oversight remains a key issue. “Apart from PILDAT, no one else seems to be interested in building the capacities of MPs,” he said, appreciating PILDAT efforts in this as well as other areas of support to Parliament that it has been providing over the years. He lamented that not even a single recommendation out of 14 consensus recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security have been implemented. “Parties only nominate such MPs to Defence Committee who like to travel overseas,” quipped Haider Abbas, adding that if serious work is to be done by Defence Committees, political parties should recall previous members and send their top guns to the Defence Committee to engage in serious oversight.


Ms. Sherry Rehman, MNA, began by acknowledging and praising what she termed a ‘vast body of work’ on civil-military relations and Democratic/Parliamentary Oversight of Defence that has been prepared and made available by PILDAT over the years. She said that the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has to go beyond briefings to produce policy recommendations now. She agreed with earlier panellists that Parliament and MPs lacked research support and knowledge base needed to carry oversight and lamented that Parliamentary committees mostly remain junkets for foreign visits with very little emphasis placed on policy review, oversight and scrutiny in their respective domains. She said that according to newspaper reports based on IMF documents, there is to be an expected 31% increase in defence budget and it is appalling that Parliament is not briefed about it. MPs may also agree to the increase in defence budget but should first be appraised of the need to do so. She believed that more than the hesitation on the part of Military, which one hears is not opposed to greater transparency, it is the lack of initiative by Parliament which does not enquire and ask for details such as the defence budget and other related matters.

Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan, MNA, said that 2 ½ years ago, he would have spoken on the topic with greater fervour and hope but the approach of the current Government in dealing with the defence sector in this period does not leave him very hopeful of the future. He however agreed that gradual steps must be taken by relevant Parliamentary Committees in overseeing defence sector to regain the role and primacy of Parliament under democracy. He believed that military’s business and commercial interests must be overseen and gradually done away with. He believed that Turkey, with its model of a well-functioning democracy and good governance, offers a mature approach of democratic oversight of defence that we can learn from.

In the ensuing discussion, Senator Hasil Bizenjo said that until our political parties defend the Constitution alongside the people, the country will continue to slide downwards.

Mr. Nadeem Afzal Gondal, MNA, Chair of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Railways and Chair National Assembly Standing Committee on Rules and Privileges, said that MPs require honesty and commitment in order to oversee the executive and the defence sector. “If there is will, research orientation can be brought in,” he said, adding that so far the defence sector has been ‘overseeing’ the Parliament and not the other way around.

Dr. Attiya Inayatullah, MNA, said that a system has to be put in place that delivers to the people so that MPs can focus their energies towards their other responsibilities. Parliament has to take initiative in establishing oversight over defence and engage in a meaningful, non-confrontationalist dialogue with the defence establishment. She appreciated what she termed as a ‘thorough’ fact sheet prepared by Mr. Mushahid Hussain Sayed in his paper.

Mr. Tasneem Noorani, former Federal Secretary Defence, said that oversight is not just needed in the abstract but key policy decisions, such as the post 9/11 commitment of Pakistan to the US in war against terrorism, could have been more beneficial and better thought-out had there been a broad-based consultation in a Parliamentary set-up on it. Even today, Parliament has to be on board and provide input to key national policies.

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, former Governor Kyber Pukhtunkhwa, (formerly NWFP), said that he completely underscored the recommendations in Mr. Mushahid Hussain Sayed’s paper. He said he remains intrinsically opposed to the military’s role and intervention in politics and as a young officer in 1977 was extremely upset at the coup by Gen. Ziaul Haq. He, however, believed that the civilian set-up, Parliament and political parties do not have the capability to oversee the defence sector. An initiative has to be taken by Parliament as the Military is unlikely to voluntarily strip itself of its powers. Commending PILDAT’s initiative, he said the country requires a thorough debate, in the media, in the Parliament, and in the society at large on the issue of democratic control and oversight of defence in Pakistan.

Senate Standing Committee on Defence has visited the GHQ and has been briefed by the Chief of Army Staff Gen. Kayani and his team, said Senator Tahir Mash’hadi. He said MPs are not aware of their powers completely and that Parliamentary Committees have extensive powers and authority if exercised. He agreed that a non-confrontationist approach is the way forward for establishing democratic control of defence sector. He appreciated the paper terming it as a great resource and requested PILDAT to make this paper as well as its earlier work on the subject available to a wider section of society including libraries and academic institutions.

Earlier, Ms. Aasiya Riaz, PILDAT Joint Director, welcomed the panellists and participants. She said that PILDAT has been consistently working in the area of Civil Military relations and Democracy in Pakistan since 2004. PILDAT believes that greater Parliamentary oversight of defence, especially defence budget, is the way forward towards strengthening the role of civilian set up in the civil-military equation in Pakistan. She thanked Mr. Mushahid Hussain for authoring the paper on the subject upon PILDAT request and said that we believe that research and analysis and not rhetoric should guide the discourse on this and other key issues in the Parliamentary and democratic domain. She said that the Panel Discussion has been organised to discuss powers available with the Parliament and Parliamentary committees to oversee the defence sector and the reforms required to strengthen the process of oversight – both at the Parliament and at the Executive level.

PILDAT’s published work on the subject of Civil-Military Relations and Democracy / Civilian/Parliamentary Oversight of Defence/Security can be accessed in the Publications section of the PILDAT website by selecting the subject: Civil-Military Relations and Democracy. Some of the recent publications include:


  1. Parliamentary Oversight of Defence in Pakistan: PILDAT Background Paper
  2. Roles and Responsibilities of Ministries of Defence in India and Pakistan: PILDAT Comparative Study
  3. How to Review Defence Budget in Pakistan: PILDAT Background Paper
  4. How to Review Defence Budget (the case of Indian Parliamentary Committee on Defence): PILDAT Background Paper
  5. Parliamentary Oversight of the Defence Sector in India: PILDAT Background Paper
  6. Civil-Military Relations in Indonesia: PILDAT Background Paper
  7. Politics of the Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector in Turkey: PILDAT Background Paper
  8. A Comparative Overview of the Civil-Military Relations around the World: PILDAT Background Paper
  9. Establishing Civil-Democratic Governance of the Defence Sector - Experiences of Transitional Countries: PILDAT Background Pape