News reports from Pakistan suggest that recently retired Lt General Naseer Khan Janjua will be appointed as the National Security Advisor (NSA) to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His appointment would mean that Sartaj Aziz, who is currently the advisor to Pakistan government on national security and foreign affairs would be divested of his charge of national security. Even though Aziz has the status of a cabinet minister — and is technically not the NSA – while Lt General Janjua will have the status of a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office, it is being seen as a one-to-one replacement.
The appointment of Lt General Janjua follows a tradition of the post of NSA being tenanted by a retired military officer in Pakistan. The previous PPP government had Major General (retired) Mahmud Durrani who was sacked after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks for his comments acknowledging that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani citizen. General Tikka Khan held the post of Defence and Security Advisor under the prime ministership of ZA Bhutto in the mid-1970s, while PM Muhammad Khan Junejo had Major General Rao Farman Ali as his NSA from 1985 to 1988.
But Lt General Janjua’s appointment is still different. All the military officials who were earlier appointed as the NSA were confidantes of the PM and his personal choice. This evidently is not the case now. Lt General Janjua seems to be the choice of the military establishment, i.e., army chief General Raheel Sharif being thrust upon PM Nawaz Sharif. This will institutionalize the army’s role in the PMO and serve as a clear check on the civilian government’s role when it comes to matters of national security. It can be safely assumed that Lt General Janjua will not take his orders from the PM but from the GHQ at Rawalpindi.
The civilian government of Nawaz Sharif has been weakened a lot since it gained power with a clear majority in the 2013 parliamentary polls. General Raheel Sharif, who was appointed as the army chief by Nawaz Sharif, has taken a lead in public perception as a bold military leader. This might have been the outcome of an overactive ISPR, Pakistan army’s media wing, but it means that there will be no public opposition to this idea of an extra-constitutional “guiding hand” of the military over the civilian government.
Irrespective of the nature of government, the generals have always had a pre-eminent role in policy making in Pakistan, more so when it comes to policy towards India, US and Afghanistan. It is thus surprising that the army would still want to formally institutionalize a role for itself in the civilian setup of the PMO. Perhaps, it is driven by the fears of proposed NSA level talks between India and Pakistan. The generals at Rawalpindi do not trust Aziz to be a match to the Indian NSA, Ajit Doval. They have thus placed their own man in that position.
How this alters the direction of India-Pakistan engagement is in the realms of the future. But it does open a direct line of communication with the Pakistan Army for India’s PMO, if and when the NSA-level talks happen. And not having to say “Take me to your master” when talking to a Pakistani official is something to be welcomed.