National security lies in a vibrant economy

Published March 29, 2021
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the first ever session of the Islamabad Security Dialogue. — APP/File
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the first ever session of the Islamabad Security Dialogue. — APP/File

Notwithstanding some fleeting moments of political triumphs and economic gains for the policymakers, the lack of strategic breakthrough over the past two years plus the political heat generated by multiple crises are together turning out to be a game-changer. And pieced together, the historical baggage inherited by the government is providing backup support for a radical change in national security policy.

The situation, as it is developing, is prompting the government to redesign national security policy with economic progress as its core. It is broadly defined to include human security.

Addressing Islamabad Security Dialogue on March 17, the advisor on commerce and investment Razak Dawood stressed that a strong economy will enhance the country’s power and strengthen national security. Mr Dawood recalled that history has shown that economic backwardness led to social conflicts and political turmoil and this weakened national security.

The New Comprehensive Security Framework evolved jointly by the military and incumbent government is based on three pillars of military, economic and human security. The framework has redefined the frontiers of security to include climate security, food security and economic prosperity.

Development experts recognise that the uneven growth of various sectors of the economy is a major cause of surging inequality in regional development and household incomes

Similarly, consultations for policymaking will be much more broad-based with an intake of diverse views and inputs.

The recently set up National Security Division connects over 100 think-tanks and university departments with policymakers. These entities can send their recommendations directly to the Security Division.

Mr Dawood reminded his audience that the loss of economic security led to the erosion of national sovereignty.

It may be recalled that the decade of development of the 1960s created a strong public perception about gross disparity in regional development and household incomes and led to political turmoil, armed conflict, Indian intervention and the great tragedy of 1971.

National sovereignty can only be strengthened by a policy of self-reliance with a strong focus on citizen’s welfare.

The industrial revolution ushered in the country by former President Mohammad Ayub Khan needed a corresponding updated political system to unite a deeply divided nation.

The national unity was regained when the assembly members elected in free and fair 1970 elections unanimously adopted the 1973 Constitution.

The citizen-based democracy is essential to rebuild a common interest state as opposed to divisive dysfunctional hybrid democracy.

Mr Dawood also made another very pertinent point. He said a nation like Pakistan could not depend on import and trading and the country needed to focus on manufacturing based on technology. And he added that a strong industrial base has to be anchored to agriculture, energy, food and financial security.

Development experts recognise that the uneven growth of various sectors of the economy is a major cause of surging inequality in regional development and household incomes.

Mr Dawood views are somewhat similar to President Biden foreign trade policy inherited from Donald Trump.

Katherine Tai of the United States Trade Representative Office recently told the US Senate that she would protect the rights and interests of the American workers rather than exporters or consumers. That means supporting the domestic manufacturing sector.

In his first major foreign policy speech on March 3, Secretary of State Antony J Blinken said the calculus on free trade has changed. The Biden Administration has put new trade deals on the back burner while focusing on the domestic economy.

Globalisation is now in a transformational phase with enormous international flows of updated information and knowledge, embedded in new technologies, scientific discoveries and innovative ideas to bring about the needed change. International cooperation is now focused on health care as a result of the common threat from coronavirus.

“Pakistan needs to redefine itself and progress towards the modernised economy from where it not seen from the microscope because of what is happening in Afghanistan,” said former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter at the Islamabad Security Dialogue forum. He was giving his views on the future of US-Pakistan relations.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa says we need to ‘put our house in order’. There can be no two opinions about it. We need to develop a sound and effective long-term strategy to put the political economy on an even keel and lower the political temperature to create a conducive environment for the government and business to work in harmony to rebuild Pakistan.

And as it appears, from now on to the end of his tenure, Prime Minister Imran Khan is likely to spend much of his time fighting a battle for survival like all his predecessors did. The crises-triggered political pressure is unlikely to ease as it is further fueled by PTI’s lacklustre performance and hostile and transactional approach to dealing with political rivals.

The new comprehensive security framework is a step in the right direction. But this requires a correction course where a number of official policies and decisions are working at cross purposes.

How can the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) tax-and energy-reforms that are proposed to be enforced through ordinances succeed without national consensus and ownership?

This demonstrates that there is strong opposition within the government as well as from common citizens against IMF policies.

There is a need to review the role of elected representatives and technocrats in policymaking. In a democracy, technocrats are needed to provide policy inputs and not formulate policies unacceptable to elected representatives and the parliament.

It is encouraging that there is a general consensus in the top civil and military leadership that Pakistan’s best defence is as much the prosperity of its people as the integrity of its borders, says well-known defence analyst retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood. He emphasises that this demands a sustained, integrated and comprehensive approach towards security spanning decades.

The quality of life of the common citizens can best be improved by allowing the people to exercise their sovereign right to rule through representatives elected in a free and fair election.

Under representative democracy, the elected members of the National Assembly and Member of the provincial assemblies are duty-bound to implement the policies and programmes approved by the electorate. And they are accountable to voters/active citizenry and no one else. Otherwise, we are left with a lame-duck democracy and aggravating political and economic problems that erode national security.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 29th, 2021

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