Pakistan’s National Security Policy: Old wine in new bottle or genuine way forward?

Ashok Bhan-

Ashok Bhan

Ashok Bhan is a senior advocate, Supreme Court of India, and a geo-political analyst. The views expressed are his own.

For the first time, Pakistan unveiled its National Security Policy (NSP) recently, putting economic security at the forefront of the vision. Launching the document, Prime Minister Imran Khan said a country without a stable economy cannot be secure. This is exactly what successive Indian prime ministers, be it Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihar Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh, had been trying to convey to Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been more empathetic in taking economic relations between the neighbors forward.

India’s diplomatic community says Pakistan’s NSP is a flawed document drafted to cover up the government’s economic failures. Following are some of the factors fueling this thought:

– Why an NSP at this juncture when Pakistan never bothered for it before? And why its propagation on the pretext of economic security?

– The policy has been smoke-screened as a consensus document, which fools no one following developments in Pakistan as there is no healthy political process in place. The military determines all major policy. So why this sudden display of concern for the citizenry?

– To what extent has the civilian government been consulted? There is no definitive explanation why a nation fixated on the military has shifted to economic security as its core agenda.

That Pakistan’s economy is in a shambles is common knowledge. The Kashmiris have rejected her. They say she has brought death and destruction upon them. Pakistan is being denounced as a villain in the pursuit of peace and development.

Other reasons include pressure from the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) failure. Pakistan’s government had projected the CPEC on a high note to its people, promising employment generation, revival of the economy and revival of projects. The NSP underlines the need to maintain a nuclear deterrence for regional peace. It expresses concern about India’s nuclear triad and ‘open-ended’ statements on nuclear policy and investments in and introduction of destabilizing technologies.

There is a realization in the citizenry and the corridors of power that Pakistan is falling into China’s expansionist trap. Pakistan-China relations began after the Communists took over in 1949. Pakistan was the first country to accept China at the UNO. China reciprocated with consistent support for Pakistan and is the only country helping Pakistan at every forum, whether it is trade, commerce, agriculture or defense. At present it is contributing on a large scale to the country’s energy sector to tackle its problems. Additionally, China is helping Pakistan in defense-related activities. The two governments have agreed to continue to take the lead in providing a strategic framework and institutions of cooperation and guiding and facilitating economic and commercial interaction.

Yet, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, on a state visit to Pakistan, had a strong piece of advice for it. Way back in December 1996 he asked its leaders to “take advantage of the country’s location and learn to keep disputes on the backburner and promote economic relations with neighbors”. Since the Pakistani nation was always in political turbulence, successive military and political leaders never paid heed to such sane advice and kept embers burning as far as India and Afghanistan were concerned. That history haunts Pakistan, both on the ground and at the doctrinal level.

Following the attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan had drafted a ‘National Action Plan’ to combat terrorism. This was intended as a comprehensive strategy to address the internal and external aspects of terrorism that the country confronted. Many felt the gravity of the threat would lead to a new approach to Pakistan’s strategic priorities vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. However, it was not to be. The civil-military consensus was fragile and could not withstand the pressures of the feud between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the army.

While hoping this will not be the case with the NSP, its major weakness is that it has not emerged through inter-party dialogue or Parliament. On India and Jammu & Kashmir, there is largely a restatement of standard Pakistani positions, that while it desires good relations and resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue, Indian actions pose significant hurdles.

The inescapable conclusion is that there continues to be lack of serious thinking in Pakistan on the enormous challenges it faces. The NSP calls for fostering “patriotism and social cohesion through national values and ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic diversity”. Although the document does not detail strategies, these are loaded terms, particularly when rights groups such as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and nationalist political parties are often depicted as “external forces” aiming to disrupt Pakistan.

Paradigm shift

There is a section in the political and military leaderships that believes in enlightened moderation. They believe political deprivation, combined with poverty and illiteracy in Pakistan, has created an explosive brew of extremism and terrorism. They say Pakistani society, and other Muslim societies, must shun extremism and terrorism if they ever hope for emancipation and a release from these conditions. Pakistan should work towards resolution of internal political turbulence and bilateral disputes with its neighbors to bring peace in South Asia that serves the interests of the common people.

Underlining that the paradigmatic shift hinges on economic security through regional connectivity and shared prosperity, the policy looks to address the longstanding higher foreign exchange outflow over inflow through a “dedicated focus” on export-orientated foreign direct investments and remittances.

The document recognizes Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan as a potential gateway for economic connectivity with Central Asian states. With China, it hopes the CPEC will jump-start domestic growth and alleviate poverty. With the U.S., interestingly, it insists Islamabad will not subscribe to “camp politics” yet seeks convergence in trade, investment, energy, security and intelligence cooperation.

The document has been touted as a consensual one, which is a bluff if one follows political and economic developments in Pakistan. There is no definitive and believable statement as to why a military-centric nation, which has been ruled for most of its history by the army, has shifted to economic security as its core policy.

Pakistan’s economy is in shambles. The government had projected the CPEC on a high note to its people, promising employment generation, the revival of the economy, and the revival of projects.

The NSP underlines the need to maintain nuclear deterrence for regional peace. It expresses concern about India’s nuclear triad, ‘open-ended statements on nuclear policy and investments in and introduction of destabilizing technologies’.

While saying that terrorism has become a preferred policy choice for hostile actors, it ignores the use of this tool in fomenting trouble in Kashmir, Punjab and other parts of India. Despite having a poppy-free policy, Pakistani agencies are involved in drug trafficking and the facilitation of narco-terrorism, which have destroyed generations across the globe. While denouncing terrorism in all its forms, the Pakistani establishment needs to dismantle the institutions of terrorism which have spawned on its land.

High cost on the state

According to Christine Fair, pursuing territorial gains in J&K has imposed a high cost on the Pakistani state. It has indirectly affected the security of its citizens and the state’s political stability. The terrorists, trained and supplied by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, have targeted its civilian, military and intelligence institutions. The army has induced a belief in society that it has to finish the “unfinished” process of Partition and merge Jammu & Kashmir with Pakistan.

For strategic depth, Pakistan pursues the political structure developed by the British in the early nineteenth century. The British followed two policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan: the forward policy, or direct military intervention, and the closed border policy, or defending the borders of the British Raj. Pakistan has retained the colonial structure because it provides numerous advantages to its army.

There is also a belief that India opposes Pakistan’s existence. Within the military and elites, there is a conviction that India cannot countenance Pakistan’s existence as a Muslim state and consequently seeks to dominate and destroy it. In 2014, Munir Akram, a former ambassador of Pakistan to the U.N., highlighted this belief. He stated: “India cannot feel free to play a great power role so long as it is strategically tied down in South Asia by Pakistan.” The perception is dubious; however, Pakistan uses force and jihadi terrorism to achieve its strategic objective of weakening India and securing political concessions.

Pakistan’s strategic belief compels it to introduce external actors in the subcontinent. According to Husain Haqqani, a geostrategic analyst, the CPEC is seen as a strategic partnership that could deter India’s designs in Pakistan, and China and Pakistan’s “all-weather” alliance poses a significant geostrategic challenge for India’s rise in the global system.

Unfortunately, trade and economy are the first casualties of worsening relations between Pakistan and India. Prof Charles A Kupchan, the renowned expert on internal affairs, says that only when the geopolitical competition is tamed will economic cooperation make a decisive impact on the establishment of stable peace. Political reconciliation has to come first if societal interactions are to have beneficial geopolitical consequences.

Pakistan’s deep state has successfully played with the minds of its people while getting only a lukewarm response from the international community. Nevertheless, India needs to dissect and dismantle such strategic beliefs and their sources and consequences.

India’s work cut out

It is necessary for India to work covertly on altering Pakistan’s strategic beliefs. For this, India has to stimulate other potential sources of Pakistan’s strategic culture like natural resources and political organization, so that these could replace the persistent epicenter of Pakistan’s strategic culture, the military organization.

The NSP sounds impressive. Although it does not provide practical steps for implementation and is vague in explaining crucial aspects of security, one can only hope the full version of the policy, which Imran Khan’s government has kept confidential, would outline and extend cooperation with neighboring countries and pay heed to what Gujral, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had tried to tell the Pakistani leadership.

The Indian strategic and diplomatic communities believe peace in South Asia is crucial to pursue peace in the world. Persistent Indo-Pak confrontation is a big hindrance to peace and development in South Asia. The continuing hostile relations over more than seven decades and the agenda of wars and proxy war to annex Kashmir are meaningless because neither side is going to negotiate on any alteration on the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir. In today’s enlightened world, military solutions have no relevance; bilateral issues have to be resolved by uninterruptible mutual dialogue. The way forward is always through good diplomacy.

India’s prime minister has said that if Pakistan is sincere in seeking friendly relations with India, she must take concrete steps to dismantle all terrorist structures on her soil and bring to justice those responsible for the Mumbai attack, Kashmir killings and other acts of terror in India.

There has been a policy in India of non-acceptance of redrawing of borders. On the other hand, the Pakistani stand has been non-acceptance of the Line of Control (LoC) as a permanent border between the countries. It is time to turn over a new leaf and create a conducive atmospheric for dialogue, shun rigidity, and work towards some out-of-the-box solutions. In good diplomacy, the most productive way forward is always one-on-one dialogue between the heads of state and between foreign secretaries or NSAs.

The relationship with India will improve only with trust whose deficit is too deep and requires to be filled up by Pakistan with visible goodwill and transparency. Importantly, India’s strike at terror factories must not be construed as military adventurism. Indian actions are consequences of the actions of uncontrolled, unstated and nonstate actors.

Pakistan’s paranoia about India is unfounded. Relations with Pakistan have been defined by Partition in 1947, the Kashmir conundrum and the military conflicts between the neighbors. The relations have been plagued by conflict, hostilities and suspicion despite sharing linguistic, cultural, geographical and economic linkages.

The NSP is yet to demonstrate the importance of good-neighborly relations. Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged that relations between the neighbors would be like the one between the U.S. and Canada. Though the U.S. is much larger in terms of population and economic and military resources, their relationship is lasting because of mutual trust and respect. Here, Pakistan has always pursued a policy of hate, war and antagonism.

Pakistan never realized that as a nation-state it should create its own history and move on. It lived with historical appropriation and distortions of the past. It could acknowledge its Indian heritage as well as Muslim-ness of the majority of its population. Unfortunately, successive Pakistani leaderships and the intelligentsia preferred to build the idea of Pakistan on pillars of Islam and antagonism towards India.

Pakistan has to move the extra mile and stop using terrorist groups as part of its security and foreign policy. It must stop being obsessed with antagonistic ideas. India is not an existential threat. India is a fast-growing economy and a country of vast resources and opportunities, one that believes in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family.