Security policy impasse

Published December 26, 2021
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

IN Pakistan, the drafting of security policy has largely remained the preserve of national security institutions. The executive and parliament rarely intervene, apparently trusting the wisdom of those at the helm of security affairs. But policies relating to terrorism or security are often presented as the outcome and reflection of national resolve and efforts. Perhaps our definition of inclusivity differs from that of the rest of the world.

Over the past few weeks, reports about three security-related policies have been echoing in the federal capital. The Parliamentary Committee on Nat­ional Security recently arranged a briefing on the newly drafted national security policy and Nat­io­nal Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf presented its key features. During the same week, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority submitted a draft of the national counter violent extremism policy to the interior ministry. Nacta was assigned the task of drafting the policy by a newly established secretariat for the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP). It seems strange that in the presence of Nacta, another parallel authority has been created covertly — one which has a similar purpose but is under a different command.

The National Crisis Management Cell, which was abolished after Nacta’s creation, has been restored and no one knows anything about its purpose. Separately, the establishment of the Intelligence Coordination Committee has also been initiated to oversee the entire security mechanism in the country.

Read: Sialkot through the national security lens

We also know that the 20-point NAP has been revised and shortened to 14 points. While a few clauses have been retained from the original draft, some have been amended, and a couple of new ones have been included in the revised plan. Overall, it looks like a very vague plan and can be interpreted and misused in several ways. For example, the fourth clause talks about acting against the spread of terrorism through media (electronic, print and social), communication and cyber networks. One can imagine how such clauses could be used to further restrict the freedom of the media. Similarly, clause 12 of the revised NAP creates more ambiguity when it mentions legislative/legal oversight for espionage/subversion without providing any context; it could easily be misused against sub-nationalist groups. It is not even clear why the 14th clause was included in the plan. It talks about putting curbs on the increasing trend of illegal spectrums. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is the concerned body and it is already acting against illegal frequency users with the help of the FIA.

Each point of the new NAP deserves scrutiny, but the essence of the original policy has gone.

These are only a few observations. Each point of the new NAP deserves extensive scrutiny, but the essence of the original policy has evaporated. NAP was the only exception in the security-related policymaking on which political parties and parliament were taken on board. But the focus of the revised NAP has reverted to ‘externalising’ internal security threats, where the security apparatus will once again start employing a pre-APS lens to see all security-related problems. In that context, peace talks with the arch enemy, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, should not surprise us anymore, as the new threat perception focuses more on curtailing the terrorists’ external links.

As far as the long-awaited National Security Policy is concerned, at least its key features were revealed by the national security adviser in his briefing to the parliamentary committee. The opposition parties boycotted the session, but even the treasury did not show a keen interest in the briefing. The reason was obvious; the NSP is the result of a bureaucratic exercise, and political parties, civil society and parliament were not taken on board. According to a few media reports quoting participants at the meeting, the NSP offers nothing new, rather it is just a jugglery of words.

The national security adviser had tried to explain that the NSP is designed to leverage the symbiotic relationship between human security, economic security and military security with the prosperity and safety of citizens as its principal focus. Further details are not available. What did he mean by ‘symbiotic relationship’ when human security itself is a comprehensive conceptual paradigm that ranges from economic security to human freedom?

The Human Security Unit of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has given the most agreeable definition of human security — “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms — freedoms that are the essence of life”. The basic principle for the formation of human security policy is that it should be inclusive and participatory. However, to add weight to the new NSP, the national security adviser claimed that apart from feedback consultations on multiple drafts at all state institutions, over 600 academics, analysts and civil society members were consulted. This was a feeble attempt to present the policy formation process as inclusive.

One can imagine the outcome of a 100-minute consultation in a controlled environment, and it can be described as anything but participatory. The mindset behind the policy draft aims at control over resource distribution — something that goes against the fundamentals of human security, a concept that moves away from notions of safety of states from military aggression.

Perhaps, Pakistan needs a human security policy rather than a national security policy. The NSP that has been drafted is already in use but the national security adviser’s office can take credit for documenting existing practices. It does not provide alternatives to existing policies, which can strengthen democracy, develop institutional balances, ensure equitable resource distribution, redefine nationalism, control the extremism phenomenon (that is threatening national sovereignty), review threat perceptions and reassess the state’s relationship with its neighbours and the rest of the world.

Perhaps, Pakistan needs a paradigm shift to bring about a new, progressive and modern society. But how can it be even thought of when state and society have fallen in love with the Taliban?

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021

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