ONE of the PML-N cabinet’s last acts was to approve Pakistan’s new National Internal Security Policy. This document, valid for the 2018-2023 period, replaces the first NISP announced in 2014. It was rendered largely inconsequential by the National Action Plan produced later that year.
Every time I hear of a new visionary policy in Pakistan, what follows is a forced read of a document that reinvents the wheel and spurts lofty ideals in superfluous jargon.
The new NISP has given me pause. At one level, it is no different: its ambit is exceptionally broad, it features a fair share of pie-in-the-sky ideas, and it offers an implementation plan so elaborate that it’s barely digestible. In its analytical framing and description of the problems and buckets of issues that need correction however, it is exceptional. If those entrusted to implement can grasp the depth of the analysis of this document and commit to its vision, they may be on to something.
The new strategy is built around ‘6Rs’ (reorient, reimagine, reconcile, redistribute, regional approach, and recognise). Collectively, they qualify as what Prof Ricardo Hausmann calls ‘binding constraints’ ie, the acutest problems that hold progress back.
The National Internal Security Policy captures key constraints.
For me, this is how Pakistan’s binding constraints stack up:
First, we are now a society where intolerance of diversity has become a fast-spreading cancer. For all the focus on counterterrorism, the success in recent years cannot overshadow the long-term danger of growing intolerance. Such societal mindsets create greater propensity and sympathy for violence. As peacebuilding literature puts it: counterterrorism, at best, ends violence; acceptance of diversity ensures sustainable peace. We are surely in the red on the latter.
Second, elite capture. Today’s Pakistan is of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Laws are often made and implemented selectively to benefit this elite. They also control and curtail wealth redistribution. Such entrenched discrimination is another dynamic linked to systemic breakdowns in many countries. Yes, there isn’t a revolution waiting to happen. And yet, it would be a consequential error to ignore increasing evidence of alienation and suffocation the average citizen feels from a system rigged against them.
Third, mounting international pressures. Two problems stand out. One, the neighbourhood is a mess and the US, India and Afghanistan blame Pakistan for much of it. Thanks to this, Pakistan’s global perception is negative — with all the attendant effects on relations with multilateral lenders, investor confidence, etc. Two, the state seems to be responding with little innovation: the world critiques; Pakistan reacts by hunkering down further.
The way out is to turn Pakistan’s geographical imperative into an opportunity, by acting as a trade and transit hub between South and Central Asia (in addition to China and the rest of the world through CPEC). Doing so is about the only way in the current environment for Pakistan to build leverage and influence over its neighbours, including India and Afghanistan, give a fillip to the economy, reduce the region’s incentives for hard-nosed Machiavellian policies towards each other, and begin to change Pakistan’s international image. Sans this, international pressure will continue, as perhaps will the link between poor neighbourhood ties and violence inside Pakistan that NISP outlines.
Fourth, the public sector is in a shambles. Policymaking capacity across the civilian sphere has eroded over time. Even the basic capacity to conceptualise and think strategically about new challenges and opportunities is almost absent. Moreover, in terms of security-sector challenges, the demands on the state apparatus far outweigh its resources and ability to coordinate coherent responses. The abilities of the criminal justice system are light years away from synching up to the needs. The military has proven it has the hard power to prevent a total breakdown but the deep civil-military disconnect prevents the kind of coordinated response needed to ensure irreversible gains.
Remarkably, NISP’s 6Rs capture each of these constraints aptly: reimagine, reconcile, and redistribute amplify the need to promote greater tolerance in a more equitable society; regional approach talks up the importance of geo-economics; and recognise and reorient point to the urgency of strengthening the public sector. The way forward proposed by NISP is a logical extension of this analysis, and therefore equally apt.
The new NISP has the ingredients to be useful. But its success depends on how seriously those entrusted with its implementation take it. The authors of the policy deserve credit for what they have produced; now the next government(s) — federal and. more importantly, provincial — must make it their own rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel.
The writer is author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018).
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2018