Pakistan’s publication of its National Security Policy (NSP) last week is aimed at using this post-Afghanistan juncture to rehabilitate its image and provide some wind in the sails of the beleaguered Imran Khan government.
In a TV programme, the noted Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi has termed it “an undergraduate’s term paper” but since it bears the imprimatur of the government of Pakistan, we cannot but treat it seriously.
India Still Does Not Have a National Security Policy
In all fairness, we must, at least, give Yusuf and his team a 'B plus' for effort. The result is that the Pakistan government have provided a public document which is “people centric”—and accepts that it is partly “aspirational”. There are a lot of things unsaid, and lot said for effect in the document, there are also contradictions galore. But this is par for the course for public documents governments put out.
In India, the National Security Advisory Board has been drafting an NSS for more than a decade, but none of their iterations have seen the light of the day, since they must first be approved by the NSA and then the Union Cabinet Committee on Security. Unlike Pakistan or the US, India’s National Security Advisers have been practitioners who probably don’t put too much reliance on what often appears to them as an academic exercise.
But India would benefit from an NSS, which can be divided into classified and unclassified versions. Such a document, which has a “whole of the government” approach, is able to pin down the sprawling system, comprising of the Union government and the states, with their attendant bureaucracies and security machinery all into one page and provide guidance on priorities and allocation of resources.
What is Pakistan Trying to Signal?
Pakistan is usually known for its strong position on what is called “traditional security”—guns, tanks and those things. But the strong men of Rawalpindi don’t put things down on paper, especially for the public. Even so, a written document has the value of signaling—to actual and potential adversaries, as well as the state’s own citizens.
So, what is it that Pakistan is trying to signal?
For one, definitely, that it has a coherent government which is concerned not only with traditional security issues, but that the well being of its citizens is its foremost concern, and so, “economic security” is at the core its security policy.
This is a bit like “motherhood and apple pie”. Which government of a poor country will not, at least publicly, affirm that economy is the key to its security ?
There is clear value in the NSP’s acknowledgement of the vertical and horizontal inequalities of the Pakistani society and the importance of sustained and high economic growth. It emphasizes the importance of supplementing Pakistan’s well-known “geo-strategic focus” with “an added emphasis on geo-economics.” Connectivity north, south, westwards is underlined, because “eastward connectivity is held hostage to India’s regressive approach.”
Projecting Pakistan as Diverse, Cohesive & 'Normal'
Second, that the Punjabi core of the state is actually comfortable with the country’s diversity. Hence, a section on “national cohesion” and importance of reinforcing “our coherent national identity based on the principle of unity in diversity. “
There is an emphasis in the document on how it was drafted through wide ranging consultations involving federal ministries, as well as chief ministers and governments of Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the military and the civil society.
Third, that Pakistan is a “normal” nation, and therefore, the NSP has stressed the importance of its economic and human security-centric perspective to “reverse any unfair negativity attached to its image due to sustained disinformation and influence operations by adversaries.” All the bad things said about Pakistan are disinformation that needs to be countered.
India Looms Large Over Pakistan's Concerns
India is there all over the Pakistani concerns on defence and territorial integrity. So, “Special attention” is needed to “manage lingering border disputes” especially along the LoC and the “working boundary” in Jammu. That, “with a regressive and dangerous ideology gripping the collective conscience in our immediate neighbourhood”, the danger of war remains.
India is, again, elliptically referred to when it comes to the Indian Ocean Region where “the self professed role of any one country as the so-called net security provider” would be a negative development.
Even in the nuclear weapons arena, where according to analysts Pakistan has the clear edge in terms of numbers, the NSP sees the threat from “the expansion of India’s nuclear triad, open ended statements on nuclear policy and investments in and introduction of destabilizing technologies” which would impact the strategic balance in the region.
As it is the external context of Pakistan’s foreign policy is shaped by the need for a “just and peaceful resolution” of the dispute and this remains “a vital national security interest for Pakistan.” Needless to say, Pakistan would continue to offer “Moral, diplomatic, political and legal support to the people of Kashmir”.
Now the rise of “Hindutva-driven politics” have raised concerns over the “political exploitation of a policy of belligerence toward Pakistan by India’s leadership.”
Yet, NSP says Pakistan “wishes to improve its relationship with India,” without really spelling out its policy goals here. But if ties with India cannot be set right, it also undermines Pakistan’s ability to make economy the centerpiece of its NSP. That is what the document seems to be saying.
Pakistan's Hypocrisy About Terrorism Remains Intact
As for internal security, the NSP lists terrorism where despite Pakistan’s “zero tolerance for any groups involved in terrorist activities on its soil” the threat remains. Of course, there is no concern about groups who are involved in terror activities on the soil of other countries !
Other internal threats listed arise from “violent sub-nationalism”, “extremism and sectarianism” and “narcotics and organised crime.”
The bottom line seems to be that the effort is all about the importance of stressing “Pakistan’s positive reality”, counter negative images and “reflect Pakistan’s reality as a responsible state that offers an economic hub for regional and global activity while striving for peace within and beyond its borders.”
In conclusion, the NSP says Pakistan would seek to “reposition itself at the crucible of history” by becoming a cutting edge economic power which is able to promote human welfare and a military that will preserve peace and stability in the region.
This could be well about Pakistan trying to discover its new geopolitical sweet spot and that the United States, which does not figure too significantly in the document itself, is encouraging Islamabad along this course.
Some Pakistani critics have joked that it is about expanding the economic pie so that the Army is not forced to offer up any of its share to the Pakistani people.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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