The PTI government claims to have formulated a National Security Policy after consulting key stakeholders, including hundreds of intellectuals, experts, businessmen, teachers and students. Unfortunately, however, opposition political parties and leaders were kept out of the loop and parliamentarians, even on the treasury benches, were all but ignored. To top it, the policy is classified as “Secret”. We have only been told that “traditional security” is to be buttressed by “human security” by increasing the size of the pie that is to be distributed among these two categories. But not to worry. We already know what our National Security Policy has been for over seven decades and we are not shy of asking how and why the new policy should deviate from established wisdom.
Pakistan’s birth is rooted in the biggest mass migration in world history, unprecedented communal violence, and war over Kashmir. In fact, India’s political leaders wasted no time in loudly proclaiming that the new state of Pakistan would be reabsorbed into India before long. Thus insecurity was built into the genetic structure of the new nation and state and over 70% of the country’s first budget was immediately earmarked for military defense and security. The inherited colonial civil-military bureaucracy – that was more developed, organised and cohesive than the indigenous politicians and political parties – now seized the commanding heights of state and society, centralizing power in Governors-General (Ghulam Mohammad, Khjwaja Nazimuddin) and Presidents (Generals Sikander Mirza and Ayub Khan) and signing strategic defense pacts (CENTO, SEATO, BAGHDAD PACT) with the US (ostensibly against communism but in reality to bolster military defenses against India). Thus was born a National Security State based on three national security pillars: Distrust of, and enmity with, India (“unfinished business of partition” pegged to Kashmir); centralization of power via guided “basic democrats” under General Ayub; and dependence on the US for military and economic aid.
This centralized national security state system broke down in 1971 after the break-up of Pakistan following military defeat, leading to civilian assertion under Z A Bhutto and the first democratic constitution of 1973. But the Empire hit back in 1977 with the imposition of martial law, a presidential non-party system under General Zia ul Haq and return to the American camp in the 1980s. The system received a jolt in 1988 with the unexpected exit of General Zia ul Haq but recouped under President Ghluam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Beg into a hybrid-constitutional system that enabled a strong military nominee or ally as President with the power to dismiss an elected prime minister and parliament (three times in the 1990s). Benazir Bhutto tried to build peace with Rajiv Gandhi but was declared a national security risk and booted out in 1990. The civilian impulse was restrained throughout the 1990s by periodic sackings and rigged elections. It was finally thwarted in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif clutched at bus diplomacy to build “peace” with India and General Musharraf put paid to it by adventuring in Kargil, overthrowing and exiling him, and ruling like a dictator for eight years on the back of billions of dollars in American military and economic aid for abetting its war in Afghanistan. An unexpected mass resistance sparked by a maverick judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, ended his rule and ushered in the civilians again, but not before they paid the price of Benazir Bhutto’s life. Asif Zardari’s term was blackballed by Mumbai and Memogate, including the sacking of his prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani; Nawaz’s rule was undermined by surrogate Dharnas, export of jihadis to India and accusations of sleeping with the enemy, finally coming to an end on the basis of a Joint Investigation Team answering to the brass.
This National Security paradigm was revived with the installation of Imran Khan in 2018 and the incarceration and victimisation of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. But the loss of American goodwill and aid, coupled with the failure of Imran Khan to provide a modicum of governance, has eroded the prospects of economic revival and legitimacy of the hybrid system, discrediting its manufacturers. Meanwhile, the conventional military balance with the old enemy India has fast deteriorated and, faced with the challenge of both legitimacy and feasibility of the hybrid system, the National Security Establishment has been compelled to return to the drawing board and review its National Security Policy.
Perforce, a new National Security Policy has to be fashioned to withstand the loss of American aid and goodwill; to restore representative and credible legitimacy to the political system; and to step back from perennial conflict with India over Kashmir. The trillion dollar question is how. Only a massive transfer of wealth from the super-rich rentier classes to the poor, and a return to a representative civilian system of governance, will stem the rising economic and political discontent and religious militancy that threatens to overwhelm the state; only a prolonged period of peace with India and a profound retreat from militarism will yield the required space in which to accomplish this task. But any overnight attempt to stand the old National Security Policy on its head may unleash a formidable backlash from vested stakeholders among the institutions, groups and classes that have benefited from it for seven decades.
That is why the new National Security Policy is top secret, and jargon and generalities have been profusely sprinkled on its public version to obscure its true content and challenge.