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The Real Threat to Pakistan’s National Security – Part 2

Author Profile: Syed Aseem Ul Islam is PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, specializing in adaptive and model-predictive flight control systems. He received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, and his master’s degree in flight dynamics and control from the University of Michigan.

In part-one we discussed the policy level decisions needed to course correct Pakistan’s defence industry and make it a profitable sector that benefits the economically and financially benefits the state. These policy level decisions require bold leadership to make long-term plans that are above political bickering. Furthermore, these policies require long-term commitment if they are to have any chance of success.

Part-two will present a medium term, and perhaps more pressing, administrative policy plan that can rescue Pakistan’s deteriorating R&D capacity. Where part-one presented a roadmap for the establishment of new companies over decades, this article will present a roadmap for overhauling the administration of Pakistan’s extensive, existing network of military and strategic state-owned enterprises (MS-SOE). The final and third part will focus on measures that can act as “force multipliers” for R&D capability.

In no small part due to the veil of secrecy surrounding MS-SOE’s, little or no information is known to the Pakistani public, whose money is used to run these organizations. The public only learns of the successful tests of systems. However, it will not shock the reader to know that MS-SOE’s suffer from many of the same issues as other SOE’s in Pakistan (such as the infamous Pakistan International Airlines).

The systemic issues that have plagued other organizations in Pakistan are doubly true for MS-SOE’s because of the lack of oversight, and this is having some dramatic effects on the capabilities of these organizations for R&D in the military sphere. In part-one we have discussed why the loss of this R&D base is a threat to national security and why this R&D capacity is crucial for Pakistan in the coming years.

Unfortunately, as the need is becoming more crucial, Pakistan is actually losing this capacity. This article will attempt to analyze the reasons for this decline and suggest short-term solutions that should be implemented to dramatically increase the R&D productivity of Pakistani MS-SOE’s.

The Chairmen

Many issues start at the top and who leads these vital organizations is very important.

Firstly, leading an R&D organization is a specialized role that requires a deep appreciation of research, engineering, and real-world constraints. In other words, experience from managing other organizations or commanding military formations is irrelevant for someone who is to lead an R&D organization.

However, it is common knowledge that most (if not all) R&D organizations are headed by serving or retired military officers (perhaps with engineering degrees). It cannot be emphasized enough that an R&D organization is not a military unit and cannot be lead that way. Unfortunately, due to the nature of their training and their life-long careers, that is exactly how these military officers operate.

The idea of following all orders given by superiors is antithetical to the idea of research; research requires creative, lateral, and free thinking. Researchers work best when they can propose some directions of their own work. Researchers rarely do well under situations where a superior that does not appreciate technical nuances gives orders to “go and conduct research.” However, this is not a recommendation for preventing military officers from heading military R&D organizations.

The second, and perhaps more important, issue is “parachuted management,” which describes many of these military organizational heads. Like any good organization, its employees need to know that if they work hard and work well, they can rise to the top and lead to the organization. However, if the employees know that no matter what, the top position is reserved for a certain class of people, then employee morale (and R&D output) plummets dramatically. In a certain MS-SOE a life-long researcher, who had sacrificed a lucrative foreign-career to work for Pakistan’s defence and who was slated to be appointed chairman, was sidelined and a serving Major General from Pakistan Army Corp of Engineers with a bachelor’s degree was appointed as chairman instead. This life-long researcher resigned in protest, and many junior officers who had worked under this person also left the organization. This is a very direct and massive loss of talent which is, unfortunately, common in Pakistan because of the parachuting in of top management.

Thirdly, becoming a researcher is an arduous process that requires the hard work of many years, and therefore, a researcher cannot conduct good research in an environment where they are answerable to people less qualified and technically less sound than them. That is, an engineer with a bachelor’s degree and no research experience should not and cannot order around PhD’s with decades of research experience on what to conduct research on and how to do it. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in a lot of Pakistan’s MS-SOE’s.

How to Appoint a Chairman


  1. The head of an MS-SOE needs to have served at least 15 years in the organization they are heading. This can be a civilian or a military officer. This ensures that only people that have truly invested time and effort into research and programs in the organization can lead it.
  2. A civilian officer should have an equal opportunity to head the organization as a military officer. There should be no discrimination based on whether a person wears a uniform. As long as the person is technically sound, has relevant experience in the organization, they can lead it.
  3. The head of the organization should be chosen from a list of members (a designation in research organizations directly under the head) of the organization. This also ensures that the leadership of these organization is brought up organically.


The “Bloody Civilian” and Secrecy

It is an unfortunate reality of Pakistan’s R&D setup that most research is conducted by civilians, and yet they are looked at with suspicion by the military management of the MS-SOE’s. All civilian researchers sign the same oath to secrecy as military officers and live under strict, and sometimes strenuous, security measures, and yet they are viewed with suspicion. This demoralizes a researcher’s mindset.

It is perhaps due to Pakistan’s circumstances that its various intelligence, counterintelligence, and security departments are often roadblocks to the progress of R&D. There is no debate that secrecy is important in these areas, however, secrecy of research needs to be handled by subject-matter experts (SME) that understand the nuances of what is sensitive and what is not.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, an unnecessary atmosphere of blanket suffocating secrecy is enforced by non-technical intelligence officers who do not understand the research they are protecting. This is frustrating on two counts for researchers: one, they are constantly hounded by intelligence officers for research activities that pose no threat to secrecy, and two, they are prevented from accessing and utilizing outside resources for research that could greatly enhance the speed of local R&D. An iron curtain overmanned by non-technical military officers stifling research is functionally overkill.

Another negative side effect of overzealous secrecy is that it stifles the private sector. All over the world the private sector works under secrecy laws, but somehow, the Pakistani security establishment basically thinks private Pakistani companies are manned by traitors unless proven otherwise. This attitude towards private enterprise needs to change. The intelligence services and ministry of defence need to work with the private sector to facilitate their inclusion into the military supply chain, as opposed to their blanket exclusion in the name of security.

Yet another negative effect of secrecy is the prevention of international collaboration. There are many technologies that are developed by Pakistani MS-SOE’s that could be of interest to allies. Pakistan could trade its know-how for critical IP in other areas. However, nobody but a select few know the existence of these technologies, which nips international collaboration in the bud. Turkey presents a contrasting example where their organizations and setups are advertised, and foreign collaborations are common. Nobody believes that Turkey is being cavalier with its military secrets; they are just much smarter than Pakistan on how to manage them.


  1. Military rank should play no role in the hierarchy of research organizations where military officers may be involved. The organizations’ internal rank system is the only one that matters within the organization.
  2. Include technical experts in security departments so that inefficient and blanket secrecy curtains that stifle research are not enforced.
  3. Identify and mitigate security risks based on technically sound risks, as opposed to blanket bans of all flow of information. This is harder to implement, but better for research.
  4. The security departments should liaison with private sector and international partners to facilitate some level of exchange. This should be done by identifying low-risk (based off technology sensitivity) areas of cooperation and framing guidelines for cooperation.
  5. Make the process of obtaining no-objection certificates for technology development by private companies extremely streamlined with the bodies issuing these managed by technical experts as opposed to security officers.


The Inefficiencies of Compartmentalization

Yet another side effect of overzealous secrecy is the over-compartmentalization of research. A single organization does not support or benefit other organizations due to their secretive natures. Furthermore, even within organizations, some departments are often unaware of work being done in other departments. Not surprisingly, this results in massive inefficiencies and must be eliminated. All these organizations exist for Pakistan and must serve Pakistan.

MS-SOE’s justify massive over-staffing due to the need to over-compartmentalize, and as a result, there is a ludicrous amount of duplication of effort. Allowing the researchers to communicate more freely with each other will increase the pace of technological advancement many folds. This flow of information can be managed. However, it is criminally wasteful for a country to do identical research in two or three places for no good reason.

Furthermore, MS-SOE’s are given very large goals that require each organization to create their own departments. For example, at least four MS-SOE’s in Pakistan have the capability to design and produce ballistic missiles. At least two MS-SOE’s design and produce cruise missiles. There is bound to be massive duplication of effort. Would it not make sense for each MS-SOE to specialize into domains instead of creating entire systems on their own?


  1. As a policy, Pakistan should encourage organizations to specialize rather than pushing its organizations to create entire systems. For example, instead of asking two different organizations to develop all the infrastructure to produce cruise missiles, task one organization with the development of flight control systems and another with propulsion systems and vehicle design. This will increase efficiency and enforce cooperation, as opposed to competition.
  2. Allow free exchange of ideas within an organization for all officers (perhaps barring technicians for security reasons). This will ensure there is little or no duplication of effort, and any similar research thrusts can be collaborative in nature.
  3. Promote inter-organization collaboration by requiring monthly meetings of liaisons, and allowing meetings between officers of different organizations, which can be approved by deputy chief manager-level officers.


Part-two focused primarily on the administrative changes that are long overdue in MS-SOE’s and have the potential of dramatically turning around Pakistan’s R&D capabilities. In particular, the leadership of these organizations needs to be organically cultivated, instead of parachuted from above. The veil and excuse of secrecy should not be used so aggressively that it stifles significant R&D capability. Finally, there should be better integration between the various MS-SOE’s and within their constituent departments.

These administrative changes will be difficult to implement but are long overdue since the way things are currently operating is leading to massive hemorrhaging of Pakistan’s vital R&D capability. The final and third part of this series of articles will focus on managing research, particularly within MS-SOE’s, and how Pakistan’s R&D capabilities can be revitalized while utilizing existing resources more efficiently.

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