Sometimes the distinction between politicians and technocrats is illusory. When a political government has the luxury of bona fide subject matter experts among its ministers, it must place them intelligently to ensure both political legitimacy and efficient governance. The PTI government is a new student of national governance. It has sometimes fumbled in these early days but it seems to be learning the right lessons. On the economic front, the bona fides of its ministers were somewhat limited; inevitably, the recent reshuffle has revealed a cadre of technocrats with few democratic credentials. However, on the internal security front, the government’s recent appointment of Brigadier (R) Ijaz Shah as the Minister of the Interior may prove a masterstroke. Shah is a Member of the National Assembly who contested elections on the PTI ticket from Nankana Sahib, where he ended the erstwhile entrenched political dynasty of the Mansab family.

Critically, aside from being a politician, Brig. (R) Shah is also among the foremost national security experts in the country. He is thus the rare politician who is also a technocrat. A veteran of the 1971 war, a former director of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Punjab, a former Home Secretary of Punjab, and a former head of the Intelligence Bureau, Brigadier Shah’s experience in intelligence and national security was forged in the crucible of post 9/11 Pakistan. This was a period when Pakistan’s alignment with the United States, the war in Afghanistan, and the dismantling of Al-Qaeda and its associated groups created enormous new security threats for Pakistan. Partly to his credit, Pakistan’s economic and human security during that volatile time was, in some ways, better than it is today.

The timing of the appointment, one hopes, is serendipitous. Pakistan today is facing an existential national security threat. As the economy and foreign policy vie for headlines, a many-headed Hydra of armed attacks, foreign-sponsored terrorism, sectarian violence, and organised crime is quietly tightening its grip to suffocate the state. Five years after the massacre of some 150 school children at the Army Public School, Peshawar, and the announcement of a National Action Plan to reassert the writ of the state, there is a new kind of war raging in our borderlands and remote areas.

Indian aerial incursions and shelling across the Line of Control are the grizzly implementation of their “Cold Start” doctrine: conventional attacks that are too short-lived to allow international intervention and too limited to justify a nuclear response. This new form of belligerence shows no signs of abating. It shows every indication of morphing into asymmetric warfare through state-sponsored terrorism. Already, the Indian offensive is being aided by multiplying threats from elsewhere. As of this writing, Baloch insurgents have claimed credit for martyring fourteen security personnel in the sensitive Ormara region.

To speak plainly, the National Action Plan has failed. The primary reason for its failure is the staggering ineptitude of the state organ that was entrusted with implementing it: The Ministry of the Interior. A revival of the Ministry is long overdue.

Insofar as the civilian government had a role in implementing the National Action Plan, that duty fell squarely on the Interior. The PPP government had arguably made an astute choice for Minister of the Interior in Mr Rehman Malik, the former Director General of the FIA. However, the PML-N government’s approach was more perplexing: their first Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was systematically side-lined from the party over much of his tenure; their second, Mr Ahsan Iqbal, was an outstanding business mind and regulator, but a virtual novice on national security. When we couple these curious developments with the neutering of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Sharif government, we begin to glimpse the chasm that had grown between the government’s national interests and its political interests. It should be obvious that the political sabotage of a ministry as critical as the Interior is tantamount to national suicide.

Although the PTI government swept into power with promises of a great national reformation, it too was worryingly lethargic in reviving the Interior. The Ministry initially remained with the Prime Minister, aided by Mr Shehryar Afridi as a Minister of State. It is only with the recent reconstitution of the cabinet that the Interior has been returned to a solid footing under Brigadier (R) Ijaz Ahmed Shah.

Of course, along with political legitimacy comes political point scoring. So it is that for a few mornings now, we have been waking up to full-fledged character assassination; since Brig. Shah is also a politician he has naturally become a target of political vitriol. Truth is often an early victim in such crossfire so that his verifiable record has been swept under a barrage of unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo. All this white noise is predictable; hopefully, it is also inconsequential. The correct record needs to be stated loud and clear. On the terrorism and sectarian violence front, Shah led the first genuine push to deal with the murderous Lashkar e Taiba during his tenure at the Intelligence Bureau. On the organised crime front, he apprehended the largest narcotics operations in Punjab during his service in the Anti-Narcotics Force. For his military and civilian service over the decades, he has been recognised with the Hilal e Imtiaz, the Sitara e Imtiaz, and the Tamgha e Bisalat.

The National Action Plan is admittedly undercooked. It is a set of inspirational statements rather than a roadmap. The first priority of the revitalised Interior must be to build a detailed blueprint for implementing the National Action Plan, with goals, sub-goals, performance indicators, monitoring and evaluation processes, identification and recruitment of assets, and optimisation of existing resources. The devil, as always, is in the details, even if self-serving politicians and commentators prefer to paint their devil’s horns elsewhere.