Pakistan’s National Security Policy: All Rhetoric and No Plan of Action

On 14th January, 2022, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan officially launched Pakistan’s National Security Policy, which they claim to be their first. While it covers 5 years from 2022-2026 under its ambit, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf has stated that the policy had been in the making since 2014. While releasing the public version of the document, which is concise 48-pages short, Imran Khan claimed that the NSP is focused to strengthen the economy of Pakistan and keeps the economic security at the core of the policy.     

Indeed, the NSP offers a sizeable chunk of its pages to strengthening the economy of Pakistan and building on to establish a robust economic security for the country. In fact, in this document, it distinguishes traditional security — primarily defined in terms of defense, sovereignty, and diplomacy — from non-traditional security, which takes a holistic approach and includes human security and the well-being of citizens through economic security. Interestingly, the section dedicated to buttressing Pakistan’s economy, which is titled as Securing Our Economic Future’, seems to be written with the sincerest attempt and captures most of the real aspects of their problems and challenges.  

For instance, the NSP states that it “focuses primarily on reducing three challenges for national security emanating from the economic sphere: external imbalance, vertical inequalities, and horizontal inequalities.” With external imbalance, it meant the imbalance emanating from consistently higher foreign exchange outflows as compared to inflows; and with vertical and horizontal inequalities, it meant socio-economic inequality and disparities in economic development between various regions of the country, respectively.

While it states that “Pakistan’s economic resilience is demonstrated by a positive growth trajectory and vibrant economy despite political uncertainty and security challenges”, it accepts that “with approximately 2 million new entrants to the workforce each year, Pakistan requires consistently high growth to ensure employment opportunities commensurate with their education levels and skills.”

Elaborating more on the economic front, the NSP emphasis on how it seeks to increase the yield and production in the agriculture and industrial sector while also utilizing the tertiary domain of information technology for the growth and development of the country. Interestingly, the NSP mentions information technology, a sector yet at a nascent stage in Pakistan, as a sector that would help augment “Pakistan’s output and open new avenues for exports.”    

Such a prudent audit of its economy and a list of ‘must-haves’ to invigorate its growth stems from a desperate situation that Pakistan currently finds itself in. Pakistan is currently reeling under a huge economic distress and according to The News International, one of the largest English language newspapers in Pakistan, the Imran Khan-led regime ideally requires gross external financing of $51.6 billion within a two-year period (2021-2023) in order to fulfill its needs. This NSP also comes at a time when Pakistan is involved in humiliating negotiations with the IMF for the revival of its stalled $6 billion funding programme. In a recent report by the World Bank, Debt Statistics 2022, it noted that Pakistan has joined the list of top ten nations with the largest foreign debts and  pointed out that Pakistan’s foreign debt increased by 8 per cent. According to an article by Hindustan Times, an another report revealed that in June 2021, the Imran government had borrowed $442 million from the World Bank.

Picture Credit: Reuters

To sum up, the country is struggling with external and current account deficit, depleting foreign reserves, rising inflation and a depreciating currency which, at the time of writing this article, stands at 176.38 PKR to one dollar.

Dr Moonis Ahmar, who wrote an article on NSP in Pakistan’s leading publication The Tribune, paintsa vivid picture of Pakistan’s socio-economic trouble when he says, “Something is clearly wrong with the national security of Pakistan because the literacy ratio of the country is 60%; 25 million children are out of school; cities and towns are inundated with beggars; per capita income is a mere $1,500; GDP has come down to $264 billion; exports are a meagre $25 billion; foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank are just $17 billion while the public debt has ballooned to Rs50 trillion.”  

Therefore, the emphasis on enhancing economic security is so evidently captured in the NSP. It is sad, though, that Pakistan has realized its importance after 7 decades, a lesson which they have learnt the hard way. What is interesting is that the document declares that the government’s NSP is to focus on economic security of the country and transfer the dividends reaped from a strong economy to measures that help strengthen the country’s defence and human security capabilities. This is well encapsulated in the graph as shown below.  

Moving on from economy, the NSP also acts as a doorway to the minds of Pakistan’s current ruling dispensation, especially when they talk about Afghanistan, India and the United States of America. Before the launch of the NSP, it was touted to be the document which bid for peace with India. A Pakistan government official recently told reporters in Islamabad that the country is “not seeking hostility with India for the next 100 years.” However, the NSP doesn’t seem to reiterate that.

While the NSP says, “Pakistan, under its policy of peace at home and abroad, wishes to improve its relationship with India,” however, the peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir remains at the core of their bilateral relations. India has been mentioned a couple of times in the document and all the mentions try to reinforce that India is at the core of all their prevailing issues, from internal instability to economy stagnancy. For instance, they fail at strengthening eastern connectivity due to “India’s regressive approach.” In another mention, the NSP states that towards the immediate east, “bilateral ties have been stymied as a consequence of the unresolved Kashmir dispute and India’s hegemonic designs.” Not just this, the NSP even takes out the space to mention India’s “Hindutva-driven politics’. Let me quote it entirely for your easy reference:  

“The rise of Hindutva-driven politics in India is deeply concerning and impacts Pakistan’s immediate security. The political exploitation of a policy of belligerence towards Pakistan by India’s leadership has led to the threat of military adventurism and non-contact warfare to our immediate east…India is also consistently engaged in an effort to spread disinformation targeting Pakistan. Pakistan continues to believe in resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue; however, recent Indian actions remain significant hurdles in this direction.”

From Pakistan’s National Security Policy (Page 36)

Clearly, the NSP fails to reflect the minds of Pakistan’s ruling dispensation if they are really serious about peace with India. The peaceful resolution with India is mentioned in one line while impediments, challenges and conditions against that peaceful resolution is covered all over. To a certain extent, the NSP maintains the old Pakistani rhetoric on India, only with an added mention on Hindutva.   

While the NSP mentions its policy on Afghanistan, China, India and Iran separately (and in that order), curiously, it keeps two most important country – United States and Saudi Arabia – in another section, named Rest of the World. Pakistanhad longstanding strategic ties with the United States until 2011, when Al-Qaeda terrorist Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan’s Abbottabad, and consequently US-Pakistan relations soured. The NSP captures that Pakistan wish to diversify its relationship with the United States and broadening their “partnership beyond a narrow counter-terrorism focus will be a priority.” Interestingly, Saudi Arabia, which is one of the largest providers of loans and aids to Pakistan is also kept within the not-so-modestly-named section of Rest of the World.     

Their stand on securing their economic future is still reflective of a diligent attempt to chart the challenges that it currently faces in order to safeguard its future. However, its views and vision on everything else largely remains the same, including India, Afghanistan and China.

To conclude, Pakistan’s NSP resembles a long wish-list, must-have and essentials of an ideal republic, which they have come to realize this late. Their take on national cohesion, defence and territorial integrity and internal security is exactly what the stand of Islamabad establishment has been since partition and offers nothing new, or sincere to the table. Their stand on securing their economic future is still reflective of a diligent attempt to chart the challenges that it currently faces in order to safeguard its future. However, its views and vision on everything else largely remains the same, including India, Afghanistan and China.

Despite such a long wish-list and essentials of an ideal republic, the document is blank on the plan of action to accomplish those wishes. For instance, any country believes that consolidating “industry by encouraging scale and value addition will help spur economic growth and exports.” However, how would a debt-ridden and economically stagnated country like Pakistan would encourage industry to scale up is where it gets tricky. Unfortunately, the NSP offers answers to none of these questions. To offer another example, the NSP itself states that “According to estimates, many of the existing jobs in our region will become obsolete in the coming three decades. As labour-intensive work is replaced with automation, the strength of our economy and the livelihoods of our citizens will be linked to Pakistan’s pace of technological adaptation and innovation.” However, how will this country pace towards technological adaptation and innovation is where the NSP is moribund. At where Pakistan stands today, it requires a serious self-reflection. It is Pakistan’s own internal instability, its policy towards providing safe havens to terrorists and their groups, its unstable eastern and western border, corrupt leaders and politicians, religious fanaticism and black and debt-ridden economy which is the reason why most of the leading FMCG, manufacturing and technology giants stay away from investing in Pakistan. NSP needed to offer solutions to build national consensus on resolving the above stated problems. However, all it offers is old rhetoric and no plan of action.

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