The National Security Policy 2022-2026 centres on my government’s vision, which believes that the security of Pakistan rests in the security of its citizens. This citizen-centric approach to national security prioritises national cohesion and the prosperity of people, while guaranteeing fundamental rights and social justice without discrimination. Realising the symbiotic relationship between economic, human, and traditional security is now imperative for Pakistan’s long-term development. Domestic stability and regional peace based on mutual co-existence, regional connectivity, and shared prosperity are essential prerequisites to optimising national security. Moreover, to achieve the vast potential of our citizens, it is necessary to promote delivery-based good governance through strengthening of institutions, rule of law, transparency, accountability, and openness.
His national security adviser adds, “[R]ather than being set in an archaic guns versus butter debate, our national security thinking seeks to identify means of expanding economic resources such that Pakistan can simultaneously strengthen its traditional and non-traditional security. The most prudent approach is to keep economic security at the core, and judiciously transfer the dividends of a strong economy to further strengthen our defence and human security.”
Then comes a caveat, “the National Security Policy is aspirational in some respects.” That’s the understatement of the decade. The policy is aspirational in all respects.
The document is the culmination of a seven-year consultative process and it reflects the ideas from 120 experts and 500 specialists and civil society members. All that hard work should have yielded a work of erudite scholarship, not a document that contains just about every platitude and cliché in the English language. It is suffused with banalities and generalizations such as the following:
Pakistan will become an “Islamic welfare state.” How will that state of bliss come about?
“External Imbalance.” The document hits at export promotion. But how exactly will Pakistan turn into an Asian tiger?
“Fiscal Management.” The ratio of taxes to GDP has been stagnant for decades. Will agricultural income be taxed? Will compliance be enforced?
“Vertical Inequalities.” How will the gap between the rich and the poor will be narrowed?
“Horizontal Inequalities.” How will the gap between provinces will be narrowed?
“Energy Security.” How will the circular debt that has bedeviled the energy sector be eliminated? specifics.
“Education, Technology and Innovation.” Artificial intelligence, data science and quantum computing, the ultimate buzzwords of this decade, are cited. How they will be harnessed is left to the imagination of the reader.
Extremism and terrorism will be checked. How will the divisive forces that hold the nation in their sway be tamed?
The document reiterates Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir, overlooking the fact that it remains in Indian hands, despite numerous wars. Indophobia has been the bane of Pakistan’s economic, social and cultural development. The vituperative language in the policy does not seem to suggest that will change.
How will the whole nation unite behind a policy that is vague and based entirely on aspirations that have never been realized the country’s 74-year history?
With a regressive and dangerous ideology gripping the collective conscience in our immediate neighbourhood, the prospects of violent conflict have grown immensely. The possibility of use of force by the adversary as a deliberate policy choice cannot be ruled out. Pakistan is committed to defending its territorial integrity in response to any military misadventure. Requisite conventional capabilities will be ensured through astute investment in constant modernisation of our armed forces without embroiling in any arms race. In addition, indigenisation of defence production, increased capabilities in network centricity, battlefield awareness, electronic warfare capabilities, and other force multipliers will be prioritised.
How will this Utopia be realized? Gains from economic security will allow additional resources to be allocated for ensuring credibility of defence by acquiring capabilities in keeping with an expanding threat spectrum. The document simply wishes away the inevitable tradeoff between guns and butter.
Nuclear deterrence occupies a critical role in the security calculus of South Asia. Pakistan’s nuclear capability deters war through full spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence in concert with our conventional military capabilities and all elements of national power. The expansion of India’s nuclear triad, open-ended statements on nuclear policy, and investments in and introduction of destabilising technologies disturb the strategic balance in the region. Pakistan’s deterrence regime is vital for and aimed at regional peace.
Then comes the punch line.
Pakistan aims to advance its vital national security interests through a whole-of-nation approach that synergises collective efforts towards the attainment of a prosperous and secure country that is at peace with itself and others.
How will the whole nation unite behind a policy that is vague, poorly documented, and based entirely on aspirations that have never been realized the country’s 74-year history?
The document is surprisingly silent on Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan. Perhaps that is not surprising since Imran Khan could not help himself in commending the takeover, saying that the Afghan people had “broken the shackles of slavery.”
In 1979, Michael Howard published his article, “The Forgotten Dimensions of Strategy.” I did not comprehend its full import until two decades later, when General Pervez Musharraf launched his futile attack on Indian positions in Kargil. The mission failed militarily and also drew widespread international condemnation.
Then I understood what Sir Michael had meant when he wrote that we need to pay attention to the non-military dimensions of strategy. I cited his article in my 2003 book, “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.” A decade later, the Abbottabad Commission on Osama bin Laden cited my book.
This national security policy document refuses to recognize that trade-offs between military spending and spending on the non-military dimensions of strategy. In Pollyannish fashion, it wishes them away. It does not provide any specifics on how the non-military dimensions will be strengthened. It does not recognize the hard reality that defense spending has to be reduced to free-up resources for the other dimensions.
Pakistan has made barely any economic progress during Imran Khan’s tenure, as documented in detail by Professor Atif Mian. Why should we expect a miracle to occur during his last two years?
The reader who was expecting the document to be based on a critical analysis of the past and a thoughtful analysis of the future will be disappointed. The National Security Policy reads like a book of prayers.
Sadly, little has changed in Pakistan’s strategic thinking under Imran Khan. Like many analysts, I did not expect it to change. We all know where the power resides. Stephen Cohen put it best when he said the army is the largest political party in Pakistan.