Pakistan raised the curtain on the country’s first ever National Security Policy (NSP), duly approved by the National Security Committee and the Federal Cabinet. The NSP has both a people-centric and a geo-economic thrust. It seems to be a continuation and realisation of both Imran Khan and the military establishment’s thrust.
The security policy was unveiled at the 36th National Security Committee meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Imran Khan. The meeting had both political and military representation. Federal Ministers and all Service Chiefs, and Chairmen Joint Chiefs of Staff Committees were amongst the attendees.
The highlight is that it’s pro-people and the consumer of security, as per the salient features of the document, are people and not the state, thus perhaps a huge paradigm shift since the seventies. Pakistan is once again moving away from being an entirely ‘geo-strategic’ and a ‘security’ state to a ‘developmental’ state with due focus on traditional security. The National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf, while commenting on Pakistan’s foreign policy thrust in an interview on electronic media, used the word ‘peace’. Further to this he reiterated Pakistan’s commitment not to get sucked into camp politics.
The argument put forward is that a strong economy is a precursor to create the much-needed additional resources that would in turn be judiciously distributed to further bolster military and human security. It is heartening to note that the policy is not silent on population growth and is cognisant of its impact on all other policies.
Apparently, the policy is not a hurriedly put together document, and has been devised through a whole of government’s efforts over the last seven years. It included extensive consultation among Federal government institutions, provinces, including the governments of Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Over six hundred academics, analysts, and students across Pakistan have been consulted to make the policy process inclusive. Institute of Business Administration (IBA) students were a part of this consultation, which the author facilitated. The private sector was also involved in the consultation. Thus, it will be correct to infer that the document has an element of continuity and is not entirely the present government’s baby, which is a good thing, especially because the launch was boycotted by the opposition.
Pakistan now has a clearly spelled out security vision as a reference point and clear guidelines for foreign, defence, and economic policies. It should aid in better decision-making. The featuring of non-traditional security threats along with traditional security threats and the thrust towards widening of the security paradigm, if not entirely deepening of it where people’s security surpasses all, is encouraging and a step in the right direction.
The focus on balance in foreign policy and avoiding camp politics is also the kind of signalling Pakistan needs to do more strongly now. The perception in the West is that Pakistan is increasingly inching towards China, which is not entirely untrue. However, Pakistan is looking for balance, even if it means tightrope walking, whether it concerns Beijing and Washington or Riyadh and Tehran. Pakistan, in its thrust for geo-economics, has also kept dialogue on the table with India despite theModi government’s unignorable belligerence. It has, on more than one occasion, expressed its openness to talk to India and have functional relations on its eastern borders if India reverses the actions of August 5th, 2019.
The document is also both dynamic and evolving, which will be revised periodically to respond to the changing global environment and remain abreast with new challenges. The timing of this policy is also critical as Pakistan is facing both traditional and non-traditional security threats, and it must respond to both intelligently, to remain viable and thrive.
Pakistan’s geography and demography is very consequential and constantly poses more challenges than opportunities, the situation in Afghanistan being the latest. Pakistan can’t afford to abandon the Afghan people, nor go against the international law, norms, and practices. It is not the nineties; the regional and global security matrix has completely changed. Pakistan can’t take solo initiatives which would have repercussions and consequences it can ill afford.
On the demographic front, it is one of the youngest countries in the world and the second youngest in the South Asian region after Afghanistan. 64 percent of the total population is below the age of 30 while 29 percent is between the ages of 15 and 29 years. Not having a policy for this large chunk of population can be both self-deceiving and self-defeating. Pakistan, hopefully is taking that into consideration with the policy geared towards the betterment of its people.
However, the government should not, and cannot hide behind the opposition boycott at the parliamentary committee level. To ensure ownership and continuity of the National Security Policy, it must go to the parliament for debate. A policy without the input of the legislature in a democratic country is toothless and may fizzle out in time.
Last, but not least, coming out with a strategy paper is only the first, very good step, and the government needs to create ownership of it at all levels and tiers. More importantly, it has to come up with an operationalising strategy. Pakistan’s sovereign space is shrinking largely because of its economic constraints; the policy is cognisant of that. Regaining Pakistan’s sovereign space should be a top priority and the existing political polarisation is now harming the state. All should come together and work on war footing to achieve the same.
Huma Baqai is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi. She is also a reviewer, author, and co-editor of two books.