Pakistan's NSA Nasser Janjua's sudden resignation breeds conspiracy theories, unfounded reports of rift with caretaker PM

The news that Pakistan's National Security Advisor has resigned has created considerable speculation in Pakistan at a time when media, and just about everyone else, is knee-deep in conspiracy theories. Lieutenant-General Nasser Khan Janjua's exit was accompanied by rumours of a run in with the caretaker government, headed by eminent jurist Nasirul Mulk. That the move was sudden was apparent from the fact that the NSA was to chair a Pakistan Afghanistan Track II dialogue the next day, which then had to be cancelled.

If his resignation was unexpected, Janjua's appointment was equally without warning. In October 2015, the then NSA Sartaj Aziz was stripped of the office – though he retained foreign affairs – after 'consultations' between then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his then Army Chief (COAS) Raheel Sharif.

File image of former Pakistan NSA Nasser Khan Janjua. AFP

File image of former Pakistan NSA Nasser Khan Janjua. AFP

At this time, Sharif's rift with the army was yet to come, and the COAS was – particularly in hindsight – a far more balanced professional, who seems to have tried to give the civilian government a chance. Janjua himself came with a wealth of military knowledge and a certain strategic awareness after his stint as the head of the National Defence University.

The National Security Advisor's post and the National Security Council (NSC) itself has waxed and waned depending on the whims of the head of state of the time. President Yahya Khan used it as an advisory forum for himself, at a tumultuous time in Pakistan's history. It was re-established by President Pervez Musharraf in 2004 with the intention of keeping the civilians engaged in his administration, which he did by appointing Tariq Aziz as his NSA.

During his tenure, the NSC was set up under the National Security Act making it a statutory body. Not unnaturally, the PPP did away with the institution after it was swept to power after the assassination of the charismatic Benazir Bhutto. The government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani chose to rather brusquely dismiss Major General Durrani as NSA after he admitted on television that Ajmal Kasab, of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks infamy, 'could be' a Pakistani.

Under Sharif, the revival of the NSC was interesting. Sharif had strongly opposed the setting up such a structure during his earlier term when his army chief merely proposed it. The COAS General K Aramat was subsequently forced out, due to fears that the NSC was envisaged by the army as a tool to keep decision making in its hands.

Ironically, a decade later, Sharif was to use the NSC for the very reverse, in what was clearly an attempt to keep the armed forces engaged in decision making, without actually giving them a veto. Under him, the NSC met fairly and regularly, particularly in the aftermath of any rise in India-Pakistan tensions. In recent months, however, the NSC had become more army-dominated than before, since the chair, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was hardly in a strong position.

Therefore, its decisions included a condemnation of the now 'former' prime minister Sharif in his statements on Pakistan's mishandling of the Mumbai investigation and another which praised the role of China in Pakistan's future.

In recent times, Janjua has been in touch with the Indian NSA Ajit Doval, and with the Indian Deputy NSA Rajinder Khanna at the meeting of NSAs under the rubric of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Thereafter came the not unexpected offer from the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi, to virtually mediate between India and Pakistan, and a harsh Human Rights Report on Kashmir.

At the time of his resignation, therefore, the Pakistan NSA has been fully in line with the army's view of the world and seemed to be in control of the 'civilians'. However, he may have reckoned without the political correctness and accountability that in Pakistan, that can only be expected from a caretaker prime minister and cabinet.

The caretaker prime minister, Mulk, is a person who commands respect in his own right and has no political ambitions at all (he also has no political base). A few days earlier, he had removed PML(N)'s Marvin Memon as the head of the highly influential Benazir Income Support Program – which essentially doles out big bags of money for votes – after there were protests that all cabinet ministers were expected to resign after the end of a government. Since this was a perfectly correct legal point, the prime minister removed her and put the program under a bureaucrat.

The NSA's post, similarly, should have been vacated the moment the government's term ended. The caretaker prime minister, who incidentally has a cabinet consisting of a mere six members, has shown himself even during his short tenure to be impartial in his decisions.

Janjua's resignation should be seen in this light, and not in the framework of conspiracy theories which have little foundation. The general also knows he may well return to his office. After all, the next government is hardly expected to be a paragon of political strength.


Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 14:21 PM

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