If you think NSP could be Pakistan’s passport to redemption, you are wrong. Here is why

The NSP document further reveals the sterility of Pakistani thinking on a comprehensive basis. The country will sadly remain in the iron grip of its completely flawed approach to India

Vivek Katju January 19, 2022 11:07:32 IST
If you think NSP could be Pakistan’s passport to redemption, you are wrong. Here is why

File image of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. AP

Seventeen days after its cabinet approved the first-ever comprehensive National Security Policy (NSP), Pakistan issued its public version. The 62-page document begins with a message from Prime Minister Imran Khan. The first sentence of Khan’s message reads: “Bold visions and big ideas lie at the heart of human progress and prosperity.”

In vain, though, would a reader search for either “bold visions” or “big ideas” in any portion of the document. What is found in plenty are fine words encapsulating stagnant visions and stale ideas. Neither has the capacity of transforming Pakistan’s polity, society and economy — the latter has been placed as the “core element” of national security. That in itself is a valid proposition, especially in contemporary times, but can economic progress be ever secured in a society that is growing evermore regressive and a polity that is in the rut of a hard security state that serves, above all, the corporate interests of the generals?

The NSP aspires to make Pakistan a progressive egalitarian Islamic state. The policy guideline it mandates for the country is noteworthy. It is “preservation of the Islamic character as enshrined in the Constitution and our diverse cultural heritage”. It is here that a contradiction arises out of the foundational principle of the country which is the two-nation theory. That theory explicitly rejected the ‘diverse cultural heritage’ of the Indian subcontinent. Historically, India’s cultural heritage arose, in large measure though not exclusively, out of its spiritual diversity. Once the Muslim League held that Hinduism and Islam and the cultures which surrounded them were alien and antagonistic to each other, it necessarily rejected the notion of cultural diversity as is universally understood.

It would appear that for the NSP framers cultural diversity is therefore confined to that which may exist among Muslims in a theocratic Islamic polity. The difficulty is that theocratic polities like Pakistan always drift into ever narrower and sharper versions of the faith which also seek to delineate the ambit of cultural practices. This leads not to cultural diversity but to a struggle for defining true culture. And, such true culture seeks to obliterate historic cultural diversity arising out of language, tradition and the impact of geography and the environment. Indeed, Pakistan’s history itself bears witness for the Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan never considered the Bengalis as either true Muslims or Pakistanis. That inevitably led to the creation of Bangladesh.

As Pakistan cannot jettison its foundational ideology without eroding the very basis of its independent existence, it is in a trap from which it cannot exit. The Pakistani scholar and diplomat Hussain Haqqani has pleaded with his people to turn to territorial nationalism and give up ideological nationalism. That is an impossibility, for it would question the rationale of the state itself. How can Pakistan then successfully change course? That is possible only if it examines the basic postulates of its defence and security policies and the antagonisms which have defined them so far. It is here that the NSP fails entirely.

True, the NSP aspires to reduce inequality, promote science and technology and also give minorities a place under the Pakistani sun. However, for the last to happen, the country would have to come out of the grip of fundamentalism best illustrated by its blasphemy laws. The NSP framers would know this, but it can be categorically asserted that no one in Pakistani public life and certainly no political party or an institution like the Army can ever contemplate diluting its rigours. Pakistani society is therefore condemned to be swayed by the mullahs of different hues and colours who are dragging it forever downwards.

Having placed the economy at the core of the ambition to transform the country, the NSP mandates the pursuit of policies to improve both domestic and external performance. To the former end, it seeks to improve work-force productivity, extend financial services, and make agriculture sustainable. In the latter sphere, it recognises that external imbalances are a perennial issue which can only be addressed through trade, investment and connectivity. It is here that the NSP goes back to Pakistan’s traditional approaches which are inextricably linked to its enmity of India.

In none of the three areas — trade, investment or connectivity — does it even consider linking with India. On trade it looks to markets in Africa, Europe and elsewhere but not the natural market which is next door. In any event Pakistan’s trade is basically dependent on cotton and its products and that is hardly a base to begin with. On connectivity too it is looking westwards and not integrating with South Asia. This dooms the NSP’s economic approach ab initio.

It is in the realm of foreign and defence policies that the NSP remains rooted in Pakistan’s obsessions and does nothing to liberate it from them. The pride of place is given to the ‘Kashmir cause’. This is accompanied by a broadside against India for undertaking “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocidal acts” in Kashmir. This is bad enough but for the resolution of J&K issue, Pakistan can do no better than repeat the tired cliché of “moral, political, diplomatic and legal support” for the “Kashmiri people” to achieve “self-determination” in accordance with the UN resolutions. So long as Pakistan does not become realistic on J&K, it is doomed to going on its present downward trajectory.

Significantly, on India, the NSP reveals Pakistan’s deep hostility as it states that the former has “hegemonic designs”. In this context it would be recalled what Pervez Musharraf soon after taking over as Pakistan’s chief in 1998 had said. Musharraf had asserted that Pakistan’s difficulties with India would not end even if the J&K issue was resolved because India was a hegemonic power. The fact that the NSP has reiterated it confirms the continuity of the Pakistani security and foreign policymaking apparatus’s thinking on India. This is also shown by what is now standard Pakistani criticism — that India, under the Modi government, is impacting more negatively on Pakistan’s security. Great unhappiness has been expressed in India receiving “exceptional” treatment on nuclear issues.

All in all, the NSP document only reveals the sterility of Pakistani thinking on a comprehensive basis. The country deserves better but it will sadly remain in the iron grip of its completely flawed approach to India. The NSP only shows that no redemption is on the horizon.

The writer is a former Indian diplomat who served as India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar, and as secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. Views expressed are personal.

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