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: