SHOCKING as it may be, despite the uncontrollable spiral of militant violence threatening to push the country beyond the brink, we do not have a coherent strategy to counter the grave challenges to our security.
The new government now seems to have woken up to the need for devising a new national security policy. But does it have the strategic vision and resolve to formulate an overarching and viable strategy to secure Pakistan against a dangerous mix of internal and external threats?
For long, the national security policy remained the sole domain of the military establishment. The policy, based on a narrow prism of traditional external threat perceptions alone, is no more relevant to the fast-changing domestic security landscape. This approach failed to factor in the various dimensions of the security paradigm. A purely militaristic approach has proved disastrous for internal security.
Many security problems presently confronting the country emanate from that flawed strategic outlook. There hasn’t been any effort to evolve a comprehensive strategy integrating defence, foreign and economic policies.
All of them are important components of national security. Terrorism and militancy have largely been dealt with, in a limited way, as law and order problems.
With the country now confronting multiple challenges of terrorism, violent extremism and low-intensity insurgencies, it has become much more urgent to evolve a holistic, overarching national security strategy.
A review has become necessary as more than external factors the country’s security is now threatened by the prospect of an economic collapse and security meltdown.
Chronic instability has retarded economic growth. In the climate of perpetual domestic turmoil, the writ of the state is fast shrinking.
The government’s control is tenuous over large swathes of the land. Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and economic jugular, has virtually turned into a lawless territory as armed gangs under the patronage of different political parties fight for influence.
Meanwhile, the country has earned the dubious distinction of being the largest incubator of jihadi extremism threatening not only its own security, but also the region’s stability. It has long been the centre of a proxy war between Arab countries and Iran, fuelling sectarian violence.
The state seems to have no control over the massive flow of funds from Middle Eastern countries to radical madressahs in Balochistan.
According to intelligence sources, radical Islamic groups under the patronage of some Arab countries have also been recruiting jihadis to fight alongside the Syrian rebels.
This is a highly dangerous situation undermining national security. These are all symptoms of a state losing control.
It is indeed a positive move by the new government to review the national security strategy and a wise decision to take on board the military leadership to formulate a strategy to confront the new security challenges.
For a policy to be effective, it is imperative for the civilian and military leadership to be on the same page. Unfortunately, such coordination has been missing in the past.
For an effective and coherent policy, however, there’s a need for a clear perception of the challenges and a strategic vision to deal with them.
Unfortunately, both seem to be missing thus far. The government’s narrative on the rising tide of militant violence and religious extremism appears to be confused and flawed. That certainly does not inspire much confidence in the government’s ability to devise a viable security strategy.
There’s been a massive resurgence in violence since the Sharif government took charge some three weeks ago.
The Quetta bus carnage, attack on a hospital, suicide bombings at a funeral in Mardan, killing of Shia worshippers in Peshawar and now the brutal murder of 10 foreign mountaineers in Gilgit-Baltistan indicate the growing reach of the militants and the ineptitude of the state.
An extremely weak response to those gruesome attacks and the killings of innocent people raises serious questions about the government’s resolve to combat terrorism and militancy more effectively.
After the Quetta incident, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s conflicting stance on negotiations with the militants indicates either his lack of understanding about the militant threat to national security or reflects a policy of appeasement.
There seems to be no clarity among officials on the dangerous nexus of various outlawed militant groups, sectarian outfits and their foreign patrons.
Given these ambiguities, there is a danger that the new national security policy, like in the past, may just be reduced to a law and order issue with no connection to economic, defence and foreign policies. One can only hope that the perspective gets clearer during deliberations among the different stakeholders.
The government has set a deadline of June 30 for the formulation of the broad contours of a national security policy. One wonders whether such a short deadline would suffice to get this critical policy ready.
To be a serious effort, it needs to be a much more comprehensive exercise than just aiming for a strategy based on the briefing of intelligence agencies.
There needs to be a much wider discussion on all the components of national security to evolve an integrated strategy. It will be counterproductive to look for piecemeal solutions to complex problems and a mix of internal and external threats. It would be disastrous to deal with those interrelated issues in separate silos.
The imperatives of a comprehensive security policy are to achieve political and economic stability, combat terrorism threats and eliminate extremism while effectively dealing with external challenges.
But that objective cannot be attained without setting up a proper mechanism and a permanent forum to evolve policy and work as a coordinating body. Without that, decisions on national security would remain ad hoc and policy will only be reactive and not go beyond rhetoric.
The writer is an author and journalist.