PAKISTAN’S recently launched National Security Policy (NSP) has received both flak and praise. The nature of critique is a reflection of how it is perceived by the reader and his/her interpretation of the conduct of the state in the last 75 years. The fact that Pakistan was unable to sustain its democratic credentials without interruption and build a consistent strategy that links internal security to foreign policy in ways that are mutually complementary, is largely responsible for the mixed response.
The dissonance over excessive securitisation and diluting traditional security also stems from the history of the country’s ties with its eastern and western neighbours as well as the shifting quest for its identity from subcontinental to pan-Arab Muslims.
After losing the eastern wing in 1971, fighting three wars with India, getting embroiled in the Afghan conflict and alternating between civil and military rule, Pakistan seems to have been functioning on an ad hoc basis, hurtling from one crisis management to the next, taking short-term decisions without a long-term view on how to steer the nation forward.
The NSP may appear too ambitious in its content to some and too ambiguous to others but it will afford the administration the opportunity to consider interests, threats and objectives dispassionately, comprehensively and systematically, rather than come up with reactive plans in response to crises. It provides a framework to meet the basic needs and security concerns of citizens and also addresses external and internal threats to the country.
NSP’s challenge will be to match intent with action.
Originally, the concept of national defence worldwide was conceived as protection against military attack and the state’s capacity to defend its borders, but over time it has evolved to include non-military dimensions including social, economic, ecological and democratic security with risk management to ensure cybersecurity, assess influence of MNCs and raise the level of preparedness to reduce transnational causes of insecurity, such as climate change, economic inequality, political inclusion, gender parity and other drivers of vulnerability that undermine interests of citizens, economy and institutions. Governments rely on a range of measures — political, economic and military as well as diplomacy — to safeguard state interest.
To that extent the NSP has covered all aspects comprehensively. It strives for peace and remains prepared for war. It provides a roadmap with a statement of intent on how the country plans to plot its future trajectory towards stabilisation.
However, a policy is as robust or as ineffective depending on the state’s ability to coalesce divergent forces to reach agreement on the fundamentals of strategic direction and core objectives of policy goals. The problem lies not with the policy but with the polity. For any policy to get a buy-in from society and other political stakeholders, it is necessary to have systems and values in place supported by an enabling environment that is receptive to the policy’s guiding principles.
The policy talks about introspection, internal cohesion, external good relations and shifting from geopolitical to geo-economic. This is in line with the lessons learnt and recognition of new threats. An assessment of vulnerability and risk is a sign of strength and not weakness and strategising to improve coping capacity indicates wisdom and foresight. However, if we look at the conditions necessary for taking the policy forward, there are serious structural and political issues that may make the task challenging. Looking back 40 years, the quality of human capital was better, institutional strength and capacity of government service providers was stronger, political agendas were not so polarised and the writ of the state was more effective.
As things stand, the quality of education has declined, institutional capacities have weakened and the state’s writ has eroded to the point of becoming hostage at times to non-state actors. The rhetoric of confrontation and narratives of defiance are used by political parties to assert ultra-nationalism in their bid to prove their patriotic credentials to gain power. National politics has also been overtaken by sub-national politics, and ethnic bonds are creating new identity cohorts with exclusive priorities.
Recent examples of public behaviour also demonstrate a rise in intolerance and reduced social space for women. Presently the realities are at odds with NSP goals. The real challenge will be to match intent with action. This will require willingness to course correct and flexibility to change. As a living document, the NSP will be reviewed periodically but for continuity and meaningful outcome the state will need to take in tandem measures that ensure that the policy goals resonate with the people and it has the mindset support of the majority.
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2022