Documenting the National Security Policy (NSP) is a welcome step. After all, documenting something helps to know and understand it better, thus making it easier to analyse, discuss and improve. We find that although the language of the National Security Policy document of Pakistan shared publicly is futuristic, implying change, however, it does not claim to be a new or changed policy – and reading it confirms it is not. And though it uses some new terms and phrases to describe things, but reading carefully shows there is neither any change nor any intentions to change. At best, one can see tactical adjustments. Expecting changes in national security policy without a change in the political context or strategic culture is futile.
The document claims to take a ‘Comprehensive Security’ approach. In the 1970s, the term ‘Comprehensive Security’ came as a conceptual response to the changing international system, when mainly due to nuclear weapons, it was realised that direct military conflict was almost impossible, but states’ survival may be threatened by non-military threats. The Soviet collapse, with its military capability intact, underscored this point. It referred to both broadening, meaning inclusion of non-military issues; and deepening, referring to inclusion of domestic concerns in the concept of security. We started hearing of ‘human security’ focusing on the person of individual rather than the geography of the state. Barry Buzan, a British professor, wrote of securitisation — referring to the broadening/expansion of the security through inclusion of governance, economy and socio-economic elements. This meant that in the calculus of state security, one must include much more than tanks, fighter planes and bombs.
The present document on Pakistan’s security policy does indeed talk of all these aspects of ‘Comprehensive Security.’ The problem is it does so without any change in the primacy of traditional security.
Comprehensive Security in democratic states furthers the democratisation of decision-making by increasing the role of non-security segments on security issues, along with political control. Where the security establishment dominates decision-making, like in Pakistan, it expands its control in fields hitherto left to the civilians. The document claims to be result of wide consultations. However, we know political parties or parliament were not a part of this consultation. It was not even presented in the parliament after being written, let alone debated there. The document was authored by the National Security Division after consultations with some independent scholars and civil society members, whose identity is not known. It also claims to have been based on discussions in universities, but mentions only National Defense University (NDU), a fully owned and managed Armed Forces institution.
Maintaining India as the traditional military threat (increased due to Hindutvaisation), even if this approach is correct and justifies military preparedness, requires concrete policy and clear thinking. So, for instance, denying Afghanistan (even under the control of supposedly friendly Taliban) and India to connect through Pakistani territory negates the claimed policy of seeking security in connectivity and can be justified only through a traditional security and geopolitical approach
Due to limitation of space, this essay just gives an overview of the document, with the help of some selected terms and phrases, showing why it fails to be a comprehensive security approach. The document considers traditional military security as the primary concern and thus emphasises it centrality. Rather than treating the non-military elements of security at par with military elements and the need to secure people as being of equal importance, if not more, it treats them as supportive and required for a strong military. It sees them as being required for territorial security from military threats posed by a rising Hindutva-oriented India. There term “cost effective” is used to present the case for military preparedness. There is nothing to show what is meant by “cost effective.” Though there was no need for spelling it out in a policy document, one normally expects that a policy approach based on the concept of ‘Comprehensive Security’ would aim for a “cost effective” defence policy through a balance between what is allocated for military expenses and for human development. The current tilt is heavily towards the military. Future implementations actions (budgets) will tell how much this tilt has been corrected.
The document acknowledges the diversity of Pakistan. However, the policy continues to deal with it as the state of Pakistan has always dealt with it. The same is true of its acknowledgement of the terrorist threat. The words used are to differentiate between “reconcilable and non-reconcilable” along with an “inclusive approach” – which indicates the thinking between the lines .The distinction should be between those who articulate their views on rights and wrongs, present policy alternatives and different strategies for resolution of issues or complain and peacefully protest for/ against what they consider to be just or unjust; and those who use unconstitutional or violent means to further their views or demands. There may be some foreign-backed elements among the later too. However, the terms “irreconcilable” and “reconcilable” imply an insistence on all agreeing to a particular set of state-backed narratives.
The intention to carry out development activities merely so that different ethnicities or people of various geographic areas are not weaponised by foreign agents shows a continuation of the policy framed by a non-democratic, centralising and elitist mindset. This negates the claimed inclusivist approach.
An inclusive approach means including the marginalised in decision-making: and not just on issues concerning them – which should be their exclusive domain – but in decisions concerning collective issues too. The smaller ethnicities are not people of colonies that can be merely accepted as sharing the burdens and bounties of the state. Inclusion does not mean just giving them benefits, but letting them be a part of both good and bad.
In early 2021, a consultative meeting was convened by the office of Moeed Yousuf at the University of Peshawar, for discussing Afghanistan (whether that was part of the National Security Policy consultation was not mentioned). Merely discussing Afghanistan, former FATA, or terrorism with Pashtun academics is not including them in decision-making. Inclusion would require inviting and considering their views on economic policy, broader foreign Policy as well as other common concerns (to set the record straight, this is the approach of the mainstream Pakistani democrats too).
Maintaining India as the traditional military threat (increased due to Hindutvaisation), even if this approach is correct and justifies military preparedness, requires concrete policy and clear thinking. So, for instance, denying Afghanistan (even under the control of supposedly friendly Taliban) and India to connect through Pakistani territory negates the claimed policy of seeking security in connectivity and can be justified only through a traditional security and geopolitical approach. This also continues the old approach of using Pakistan’s location as if it were of geopolitical significance and not as a space of geo-economic significance – or “economic hub” as claimed by the document.
A change of policy only results from change of perceptions. And perceptions change when we reconsider as to whose perceptions matter. Democratic decision-making by including those previously excluded in decision-making enables inputs from the diversity of which all states are made up. This is what truly changes perceptions and thus policies based on them.