Pakistan’s National Security Policy: Why this will be just another eyewash and not make any reversal of policy direction

Though the National Security Policy claims to have consulted more than ‘120 experts’ and ‘500 specialists’, the National Assembly and Senate were bypassed

Rana Banerji January 28, 2022 07:05:52 IST
Pakistan’s National Security Policy: Why this will be just another eyewash and not make any reversal of policy direction

File image of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Twitter@PTIofficial

Pakistan’s ‘first ever’ National Security Policy (NSP), covering a five-year period from 2022 to 2026, was approved by the Imran Khan cabinet on 28 December 2021 and a ‘sanitised’ version of it was made public on 14 January 2022.

The 48-page document contains eight sections. Section I outlines the policy formulation process. Section II takes up conceptual elements of Pakistan’s national security framework. Six thematic sections follow, listing Pakistan’s desired objectives. Section III examines how ‘National Cohesion’ is to be achieved through the preservation of ideology, ensuring unity and stability, and making public service responsive to citizens’ needs. Section IV focuses on the economy, suggesting that `Economic Future’ could be ‘secured’ through prioritising trade ties, energy, education and human resources. Section V deals with Defence, Territorial Integrity, Space and cyber security. Section VI, on ‘Internal Security’, examines challenges of terrorism, violent sub-nationalisms, extremism and sectarianism. Section VII dwells on ‘Foreign Policy in a Changing World’. Finally, population and migration, health, climate and water, food and gender security are dealt with in Section VIII, titled ‘Human Security’.

Intended to improve Pakistan’s international image, of a security state in the transition towards economic security and human development, it contains several pious hopes and clichéd security jargon which promise progress in the right direction without providing adequate substance on how to reach these goals.

Ostensibly authored by experts of the National Security Division over a seven-year period, its release enables National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf to earn his spurs before his military mentors. Its timing may yet help Prime Minister Imran Khan to counter the perception of a rupture in civil-military relations.

The Bajwa connection

Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa first flagged economic development as the core security issue at the Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD) in March 2021. He had observed then, ‘that the contemporary concept of national security is not only about protecting a country from internal and external threats’ and was ‘not solely a function of armed forces anymore’. ‘A nation at peace and a region in harmony’ were ‘essential prerequisites for attainment of national security’.

Bajwa grudgingly acknowledged that, ‘despite being one of the most impoverished regions of the world, we end up spending a lot of money on our defence, at the expense of human development’. Yet the NSP does not tell us how the ‘three challenges’ identified, those of ‘external imbalance, vertical inequalities, and horizontal inequalities’, are to be reduced. Only a massive transfer of wealth from the rich rentier classes, including both Pakistan’s feudals and Generals could stem rising economic and political discontent. The NSP does not promise either.

Pakistans National Security Policy Why this will be just another eyewash and not make any reversal of policy direction

File image of Pakistan army General Qamar Javed Bajwa. AFP

The potential of ‘stable Indo-Pak relations’, ‘a key to unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia’, was expectedly qualified by Bajwa, to have forever remained hostage to the ‘Kashmir dispute’, without whose resolution through peaceful means, sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment. Bajwa, nevertheless, believed it was ‘time to bury the past and move forward’. It wasn’t clear then, as now, if the collegiate army leadership was on board.

Relations with India

Though wishing to improve relations with India, the NSP talks of ‘India’s hegemonistic designs’, ‘the rise of Hindutva driven politics’ and ‘political exploitation of a policy of belligerence towards Pakistan by India’s leadership’, which ‘has led to the threat of military adventurism and non-contact warfare’. This is not just Moeed Yusuf wanting to prove more loyal than the King but a reiteration of unchanged, age-old mindsets of animosity which have characterised policymaking in Pakistan. There is no evidence in the NSP that any firewalls are being created to prevent a backlash from vested stakeholders in institutions, groups and classes that have benefited from appropriating assets of state over seventy years plus, riding on insecurities against the ‘implacable enemy’ in the East.

Jammu and Kashmir

On Kashmir, standard postulations are repeated. ‘A just and peaceful resolution’ of the ‘dispute’ ‘remains a vital national security interest’, wherein, ‘India’s illegal and unilateral actions of August 2019’ are seen to have been ‘rejected by the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK)’.

Pakistan’s ‘steadfast moral, diplomatic, political, and legal support to the people of Kashmir’ is reiterated, ‘until they achieve their right to self-determination guaranteed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions’.

There is no mention whatsoever, of either Gen Pervez Musharraf’s `Four-point Peace Plan’, or the progress achieved between 2003 and 2007, in de-freezing the logjam under the Track II ‘Lambah-Tariq Aziz’ process.

Nuclear

On nuclear policy, the NSP treads familiar ground, holding that ‘Pakistan’s nuclear capability deters war through full-spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence’. The obsession with ‘India’s nuclear triad, open-ended statements on nuclear policy, and investments in destabilising technologies’ to ‘disturb the strategic balance in the region’ continues.

Terrorism

The NSP claims to pursue ‘a policy of zero-tolerance against any groups involved in terrorism’, yet alleges at the very outset, that ‘fringe violent sub-nationalist tendencies’ have been ‘exploited by hostile intelligence agencies’. There is rather vague talk of ‘a four-pronged policy’ of engagement: ‘separating reconcilables from irreconcilables; cutting off recruitment; constricting financial sources; and pursuing targeted socio-economic policies to address governance-related concerns in regions where violent sub-nationalist elements operate’.

The Pakistani deep state’s investment in Deobandi groups and the army’s strategy of the backing of non-State actors like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, to keep terror brewing in Kashmir are expectedly skirted, while dangers posited by attempted mainstreaming of movements like the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the ‘Punjabi Taliban’, which turned inwards to attack institutions of State, are completely glossed over.

Extremism and sectarianism

Extremism and sectarianism are sought to be tackled by ‘inculcating interfaith and inter-sectarian harmony and societal tolerance in all its forms’, eliciting ‘cooperation of religious scholars from every school of thought’. The promise of ‘swift and uncompromising’ steps against those producing and disseminating hate’ or promoting ‘a united narrative against extremism’ are belied by recent actions on ground, where the military establishment keeps encouraging religiosity and appeases extremist groups for short-term political point scoring.

The NSP flags dangers of ‘hybrid warfare’ and talks of ‘fostering patriotism and social cohesion’, which could provide a handle for greater media censorship.

Opposition/Parliament ignored

Though the NSP claims to have consulted ‘over 120 experts’ and ‘500 specialists’, the National Assembly and Senate were bypassed. There were no discussions on the floor of either legislature nor were Opposition politicians consulted outside. The real need would have been to encourage a public debate and build a broader national consensus on how to implement the strategies outlined.

In any objective scrutiny, these lacunae stand out glaringly and prevent this NSP from being seen as a precursor for substantive change or a genuine reversal of policy direction.

The writer is a former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. Views expressed are personal.

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