After much ballyhoo and fanfare, Pakistan’s ‘first-ever’ National Security Policy (NSP) is finally out. It is quite telling that for the last 75 years, the country existed without a national security policy, yet survived four wars with India, sanctions by the US in the 1990s in the wake of nuclear tests, war on terror and associate ‘double games’, and several economic meltdowns. The unclassified part of the NSP spread over a 62-page document enunciates the national security framework, delineates principles of its implementation, gives policy guidelines for bolstering national cohesion, securing the country’s economic future, ensuring its defence, territorial integrity, and internal security, alongside giving guiding principles for foreign policy in the changing world and human security.
A slightly deeper look into this jargon-laced document soaked in rhetoric, and the way it has been developed, would be enough to decipher the undertones and hidden meanings of ostensibly altruistic claims like ‘peace’, ‘geo-economics’, and ‘whole-of-government approach. The policy claims to have been a result of consensus with ‘all stakeholders’, but strangely enough, our refined National Security Advisor and his Division do not consider parliament a part of the ‘all stakeholders’ rubric.
In a recent TV interview, NSA Moeed Yusuf clarified that the policy was briefed about in a meeting of the National Security Committee of the parliament. One source close to him and to the security establishment that Friday Times spoke to went on to undermine parliament’s role by saying that policy formulation, especially the one pertaining to national security, is a prerogative of the executive branch in the entire democratic world. Technically, it indeed is the case. But parliamentary democracy stands on the unwritten understanding that the executive branch will always be answerable to the parliament and that no policy, no law will be made without addressing the concerns of the minority, i.e., the political entities not part of the government. In civilized democracies, this is ensured by not only allowing the parliament to debate and discuss every aspect of the government’s decisions but also by incorporating the conclusions of those discussions. Especially when it is about a policy as important as national security, that too, when it is being formed first time in history as has been variously claimed.
Contrary to the propagated ‘paradigm shift’ claims, NSP does not offer any earth-shaking change in the existing course of action, be it foreign or internal security policies. Assertions like geo-economic rather than geo-strategic being the new mainstay of national security do not hold any ground when the same document demands additional resources for the ‘non-traditional’ security, that would have a ‘symbiotic relationship’ with traditional security. Meaning thereby, whatever exists beyond the traditional security, i.e. military and defence production constitutes ‘non-traditional’ security and must aim to contribute to the former.
Nothing that this policy contains would affect the way Pakistan deals with the world. Not with Afghanistan, not with India, not with the USA and the West. If it is any indication of priorities, counting the times some words are used in this document might give some hints. In descending order: word ‘trade’ is used 19 times, peace 18 times, terrorism 17, India 12, extremism 7, progress 5 times, rule of law 5, China 4 times, human rights 3, America twice, CPEC twice, and Taliban zero. Just a side note, the word ‘democracy’ and ‘parliament’ aren’t mentioned even once, and ‘democratic’ is mentioned thrice — once while talking about continuity of the policy that “should be ensured through democratic processes”; then in the section on National Cohesion while talking about unity and stability through strong federation.
It is interesting that the authors of this document plan to ensure the continuity of this policy through the ‘democratic process’, but don’t deem it fit to get the policy approved by the same process, i.e., through the parliament. Yet, the document claims to have been formed following a democratic consultative process. Contradiction? Or just a case of different dictionaries? By ‘democratic process’, it appears, the authors do not mean parliament, but a supra-parliamentary structure that has ‘all stakeholders’, which might not include political parties represented in the parliament.
That gives an appropriate segue to other hard-to-ignore contradictions in the document, and between the claims made in the document and repeatedly made statements by officials and media proxies of the military establishment. NSP promises to ensure a strong federation through democratic strengthening and consensus on issues of national importance. Though, not just the Army Chief in a couple of off-the-record media briefings, but also many federal ministers and former military officials pretending to be experts-of-everything on prime-time daily circus on TV, have made clear their contempt for hard-earned parliamentary consensus on devolution of power and resources to federating units through 18th Constitutional Amendment. Not only that, retired generals have become increasingly vocal in the past few weeks to not only repeal this amendment but also to replace the current federal scheme with a presidential system.
Secondly, NSP makes tall claims about strengthening the rule of law, ensuring fundamental freedoms, equality for all citizens, and ‘unity through diversity’, but in the same breath, it gaslights the genuine grievances and concerns of ethnic and religious minorities by reducing them to ‘sub-national narratives’ that, the document speculates, are supported by foreign powers and hostile agencies. It talks about ‘national cohesion’ 12 times in the document, but in practice, the Baloch, the Sindhis, the Pashtuns have been termed traitors by officials whenever they give even the slightest hint of resistance against oppressive policies and rights violations especially in the military-operated regions.
Contrary to these fancy claims about rule of law, no civilian government, let alone this half-khaki hybrid regime, has been able to reign in the intelligence agencies who are accused of committing crimes against citizens. So much so that despite a couple of decades and thousands of cases from all over the country especially from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, nothing could be done to end impunity around enforced disappearances. Despite military officials admitting in the Supreme Court of the existence of internment camps and dozens of deaths of ‘missing persons’ in these camps, no charge could ever be filed, no consequences could ever be brought to the perpetrators. NSP doesn’t even touch this monstrosity.
The most dangerous aspect of this document is an emphasis on ‘hybrid warfare’ coupled with “foster(ing) patriotism and social cohesion through national values…” In simple words, it means greater control over media and civil society, further shrinking of civic space and stifling the dissent, more poisoning of young minds through curricula stuffing with hyper-nationalism in the name of ideology, culture, religion, and patriotism. All will be fair in the name of national security.
An elephant in the room, however, that NSP completely forgets about is civil-military relations. In Pakistan, CMR is usually mistaken for personal relations between the premier and the Army Chief. Or military officials’ overall opinion of a civilian government. It is very rare that CMR is seen as the military’s subservience to the constitution, law of land, and domestic law enforcement machinery. All of that is conspicuous by absence from this document.
This document is an important manifestation of how the national security elite in Pakistan plans to not only control the distribution of resources, but also to consolidate power over every aspect of the country’s governance, every organ of the state, and even the civil society. The document promises to review the progress on NSP annually or when a new government is formed. This progress entails a ‘whole-of-government’ approach. Meaning thereby, not only that we should anticipate a far more powerful and expanded national security bureaucracy in the making, but also the fact that all other organs of the state under all the future governments will be answerable and accountable to this newly envisioned national security superstructure. Very promising job opportunities might be in the offing for ‘security experts’ who will contribute to all fields including but not limited to education, telecommunication, development, media, civil society, etc. because everything will now be viewed from a national security lens.
That’s what the NSP really tells. Penny for your guess on who has consolidated their control over all the civilian governments to come. There might not be a need to rig elections or make king’s parties anymore. All parties will have to become king’s parties.