Pakistan’s national security policy is full of wishful thinking, totally out of touch with the reality on the ground
The National Security Policy (NSP) document for the period 2022-2026 released by Pakistan on January 14 reveals very little about how it seeks to achieve the political, economic, social and other goals set out therein. . The document is full of wishful thinking, totally unrelated to the realities on the ground in Pakistan today. Almost everything in it in terms of aspirations cannot be achieved in five years, or for that matter any time in the foreseeable future.
The “idea” of Pakistan will have to change radically to achieve even a fraction of the ambitions set out in the document. It is the “idea” of a country that did not exist before 1947 that is at the origin of the condition of Pakistan today. This “idea” is regressive, with its two pillars of Islamism and hostility towards India.
And this “idea” persists like Imran Khan’s article in The Tribune on January 17, in which he once again describes his concept of Riyasat-i-Madina as the way to the future of Pakistan and unleashes his venom against India. He thinks that the State must not be neutral on good and evil as conceived by religion (the State then becomes a Grand Mufti), and that knowledge must be combined with spiritual transformation (the economy of knowledge of Pakistan will develop in the madrasas of course).
Imran Khan praises China as a country where the rule of law is firmly enforced, unlike India where “apartheid rule of law immediately led to poverty and countless insurgencies attributable to the lack of ‘rule of law’. (That he could hold such obtuse views on the rule of law in China shows glaring political and mental deficiency).
He also indirectly attacks the West, which he says is subverting Pakistan’s values by using Pakistan’s own educational institutions and information channels. His goal for Pakistan is moderate prosperity and consumption, unlike the West. It would seem that Pakistan’s purpose and ambitions, as reflected in Imran Khan’s national security policy and vision, are marked by schizophrenia.
An example of the empty platitudes in the NSP is Imran Khan’s pious assertion in his introductory policy comments that regional peace is based on regional connectivity and shared prosperity. Pakistan nevertheless continues to deny westward connectivity with India in a geopolitical effort to deny us access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It refuses to take serious steps to normalize trade relations with India and grant us MFN treatment.
More than that, in the wider regional context, it has prevented SAFTA from becoming a reality due to bilateral differences with India. The document talks about Pakistan prioritizing national interest over emotive policy-making, while its politics are laced with emotions of hatred towards India and its rulers, which Imran Khan has taken to a new level.
The NSP envisions Pakistan aligning itself with the principles of justice, equality and tolerance. With its judges infected by Islamism, the feudalism that still taints its society and the rampant intolerance towards minorities, especially the Shiites and the Ahmediyas, these objectives are remote. How will external economic dependence decrease, as hoped, with growing dependence on China with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor?
The NSP talks about preserving the Islamic character of Pakistan, which is an understatement for becoming more radical. At the same time, it speaks of a zero tolerance policy towards any group involved in terrorist activities on its soil. This goes against the reality of the protection given to LeT, JeM, long years of relief to Taliban and terrorists tanzeems poised even now in the launch pads across the LoC in Kashmir.
It mentions promoting interfaith harmony and minority rights, which is a dishonest salute to virtue given its persecution of Hindus and Christians and the existence and abuse of blasphemy laws targeting them. His definition of east-west connectivity seems geographically restricted, with east beginning with Pakistan and excluding India.
India’s fixation on Pakistan is well reflected in the NSP. India is accused of ceasefire violations. Reference is made to a regressive and dangerous ideology gripping India (irony coming from an increasingly radicalized Islamic State that breeds and supports terrorist groups).
The prospects of violent conflict would have increased enormously, with the use of force by India as a deliberate political choice not being ruled out. India’s “self-proclaimed role as a so-called internet security provider in the entire Indian Ocean” is dismissed. The strategic balance has been disturbed, according to the document.
India’s hegemonic designs, illegal and unilateral action of August 2019 rejected by the people of J&K, human rights violations, war crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in J&K – are all part of the NSP, which still insists on the right of self-determination for Kashmir in accordance with UNSC resolutions.
Unable to emerge from a groove despite needle wear from repeatedly playing its Kashmir record, the NSP describes a just and peaceful solution to the J&K dispute as the core of the bilateral relationship. The rise of Hindutva-led politics is considered to have an impact on Pakistan’s security. (Naturally, Pakistan’s jihadist policy is not considered to have an impact on India’s security).
The fear of a war without contact is expressed; exception is made to the exception made for India in the non-proliferation rules (no introspection on China’s nuclear collaboration with Pakistan despite the absence of an exception made in its favor by the NSG).
The mention of the employment of terrorists as the preferred political choice of hostile actors and the exploitation of fringe sub-nationalist tendencies by hostile actors can be interpreted as indirect references to India. Interestingly, the NSP notes that 80% of the Indus watershed comes from outside Pakistan, but there is no reference to the Indus Waters Treaty issues that Pakistan raises.
The NSP includes relations with the United States in the chapter on links with other countries. A far cry from the days when Pakistan relied on three Ases – Allah, the army and America. Now the three Aces appear to be Allah, Army and Angst!
He says defiantly that Pakistan will not be a “follower of the camp”, according of course to the camp. Not much is said about China, surprisingly, despite its growing reliance on it. Ties with Russia will be “reinvented”, emphasizing energy, defense cooperation and investment. There are plans to improve defense cooperation with Turkey.
The NSP as published is heavily redacted, which is why it reads like a compilation of desirable solutions to existing problems, ones that would look good on paper and chart an agenda for reform, whether achievable or not without a complete overhaul of the country’s governance.
What does citizen-centric NSP mean in a country where civil-military relations remain strained, democracy is fragile, sectarian terrorism tarnishes the social landscape, the government and military are forced to bow to the street force of extremist religious groups, the northwest some parts of the country are not fully colonized, ethnic groups are revolting, the public education system is poorly functioning, religious education breeds misfits, etc. The public document recognizes that the NSP exercise is ambitious and that the gap between ambition and reality must be closed.
The NSP says specific details and analysis of the security landscape, priority actions and implementation framework are not in the public document. If “economic security is at the heart” of the NSP, it is unclear why this part of the agenda has not been elaborated in the public document and the practical solutions offered rather than simply stating everything that needs to be done in theory.
One should not be impressed by claims that Pakistan has moved from geopolitics to geoeconomics, as some in our think tank and media circles are inclined to believe them. It is possible that some soul-searching is going on in Pakistani circles about the state of the country. But what the Pakistani establishment can realistically do to change the course of Pakistan’s internal and external policies without a radical shift in mindset and internal power balance is hard to imagine.
Judging by the animosity against India that emerges from the public document, it would be foolish to believe that the confidential document will contain a constructive approach towards India. Without this, no real course correction of Pakistan’s national security policy will be possible and we in India should beware of the 89% of the iceberg that we do not see.
The author is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He served as India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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