LAST month the civil and military leadership approved what is being described as the country’s first integrated National Security Policy. The document that is yet to be made public reportedly sets overarching priorities for state and human security. A comprehensive policy beyond traditional military security was long overdue.
It’s indeed a positive development that the civil and military leadership has agreed to redefine the state security paradigm. But the real issue is to build a broader national consensus on a strategy to implement the policy. It’s not only important to get it approved by parliament but to also encourage a public debate on the policy. It should not be seen as a policy of a particular government but of the state. One would only know the contours of the NSP once it’s made public.
For almost seven decades since its inception, Pakistan has remained a national security state defined exclusively by its military defence. There has not been any concept of human security. It’s geostrategic situation and the country’s involvement in regional conflicts strengthened the military dimension of state security at the cost of security of the population.
Consequently, the country is left far behind in all aspects of human security. A weak economy dependent on foreign assistance has left the country’s sovereignty extremely vulnerable. With little investment in people, the country is at the lowest rung of all human development indicators. We may boast of being a nuclear power and one of the strongest regional military forces, yet the country remains insecure with growing internal instability both on the political and economic fronts.
Most important is the political will to take the hard decisions needed to change policy direction.
We are unable to feed and provide employment to an increasing population. The swelling ranks of uneducated youth with bleak future prospects have rendered the situation untenable. The rise of violent religious extremism poses a bigger threat to the country’s security than any external force. All that has lent greater urgency to the need for redefining our security paradigm and priorities. But it requires more than earnest proclamations.
Most important is the political will to take the hard decisions needed to change the entire policy direction and build a national understanding of the internal and external security threats, and formulate a strategy that would guide the state in providing human security. A national security policy should reflect not only the point of view of the current government and a few state institutions, but also other sections of the society through public consultation.
It requires a thorough analysis of all threats to state and human security based on the input of all security-relevant government agencies and civil society groups in order to set realistic goals for the state to achieve over a specific period of time. A shared vision of national security would provide consistency in decision-making and setting the right priorities.
It was under the former PML-N government in 2014 when work began on an integrated national security policy. Over the next three years some progress was made in shaping an outline. But there was still no clarity on the broader concept of national security. The current policy has been prepared by the National Security Division.
It is claimed that the NSP covers all aspects of internal and external security and outlines “the challenges and opportunities facing Pakistan in the coming years”. Economic security and national cohesion are assigned top priorities.
While the national security adviser maintains that the document has been prepared with the consultation of stakeholders in different fields, no political party — not even the PTI’s allies, let alone those in the opposition — has been consulted. It is not enough to say that the military leadership is on board. The parliamentary committee on national security was briefed on the policy just before it was presented for approval by the national security committee. The opposition members boycotted the briefing.
It was the primary responsibility of the prime minister to develop a political consensus on the extremely important national policy. There is still time to introduce it in parliament for debate in order to fashion a truly national policy. Lack of consensus will make it extremely difficult for the state to achieve the objectives underscored in the document.
Indeed, the country’s security does depend on economic security. But the main issue is whether the government has a clear strategy to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency. For that the country needs an economic charter for long-term planning. It would not be possible without a national consensus. Given the existing political polarisation and weakened democratic institutions in the country, it would be hard to develop a long-term strategy for sustainable economic development. Structural reforms are required to achieve macroeconomic stability. For that it is imperative to have the main political forces on board. But the government’s confrontationist policy remains the biggest stumbling block in achieving that objective.
National security is directly linked to governance, transparency and rule of law. A failed system and political instability remain major problems for effective implementation of the target set in the NSP. Some of the policies of the PTI government are inconsistent with the measures needed for internal security. The government’s own policy of encouraging religiosity and appeasement of extremist, faith-based groups would undermine any effort to deal with violent extremism, a phenomenon that poses the most serious threat to national security.
Moreover, a confused and chaotic foreign policy has complicated Pakistan’s external security challenges amid fast-changing regional geopolitical developments. The exit of the United States and return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan have compounded our external security concerns. Yet there is no clarity in our foreign policy on how to deal with the emerging challenges.
Most importantly, we need political stability to ensure the country’s security. It’s imperative to have a consultative national security policymaking process and initiate a national dialogue involving different professional and civil society groups. Such public discussions would help achieve consensus on the core values of state security provision, management and oversight. A transparent and participatory approach would enhance public confidence. It remains to be seen whether the government has the political will to bring about a fundamental shift in the national security paradigm.
The writer is the author of No-Win War — The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022