Economic Security is the backbone of National Security and Sovereignty. Without securing the internal and external economic threats, any nation cannot achieve long-term sustainable economic development. It has grave implications for defense and diplomatic policies as well. One of the fundamental reasons behind Pakistan’s volatile economic performance for the last many decades is that we have not been able to develop and implement a strategic economic security framework customized to our socio-economic and geo-political dynamics. This includes identifying main economic threats and putting in place a long-term strategy and action plan with clear milestones to achieve them.
The recently approved National Security Policy rightly puts economic security at the heart of national security and gives a comprehensive overview of economic threats faced by the nation. However, it’s a broad policy-level document (at least the public version) that does not delve into the implementation-related issues of the economic security framework. As rightly pointed out by NSA, the success of NSP would depend upon how effectively it is implemented.
Implementation and Challenges
Economic security management is the most advanced discipline of economic planning and it requires a very high level of political commitment, human resource expertise and project management skills to achieve it. Keeping in the human resource capacity of successive political governments and bureaucracy as well as the general state of the economy, it can be safely assumed that economic security-related matters cannot be handled through a business as usual approach. It would require a paradigm shift in thinking, planning and execution to ensure that the economic security framework envisaged in NSP is fully materialized. Some of the key challenges are as follows:
First of all the country requires a platform where all key stakeholders from government, defense and judiciary can sit together and give their full backing to the projects identified as pivotal for economic security. It would not only create confidence among all the key branches of state but also ensure that these initiatives are smoothly implemented. Every major project requires security, legal protection and consistency of policies. Once all the three pillars of state put their full weight behind any project, it will quite likely succeed in the targeted timeframe as well as give confidence to the business community and bureaucracy alike to operate with peace of mind.
Secondly, the key issue is the availability of qualified human resources within government and bureaucracy who can handle these complex initiatives without disruption and political pressure while remaining focused on their work. The existing set of ministries and departments have a wide range of operational issues to deal with which keeps them bogged down with short-term and ad-hoc management of their affairs. As a result, a number of strategic projects get sidelined or don’t get their due attention.
The third key issue is project coordination and management
Every sizable project in Pakistan requires coordination and approvals from a few dozen government departments at the federal and provincial levels. As a result, despite political will, the progress is mostly slow and painstaking. Cost overruns, bureaucratic red tape and intentional sabotage by vested interest groups are a normal feature of all projects of national importance.
Fourthly, without top-level strategic commitment and monitoring, any substantial project in Pakistan in impossible. Even with the top office commitment, if the implementation is not regularly monitored, the desired results cannot be achieved. It is literally impossible for the top management to monitor the progress of different projects handled by various ministries and departments at the federal and provincial levels and get a consolidated view of how the country is progressing in terms of achieving economic security.
Last and most important is the consistency of the policy framework. Pakistan has a treacherous history of political hatred and leg-pulling. Every successive government either derails the projects announced by the earlier governments or tries to take the credit away even for the good work done by their predecessors. If Pakistan is serious about achieving any semblance of national economic security, we need a consistent and reliable policy framework which is beyond the vagaries of political life and it is safeguarded by all the key pillars of state despite the change in leadership at the top level.
Office of National Economic Security
In order to achieve the above challenges, it is proposed to establish an Office of National Economic Security which directly reports to the Prime Minister. Its Board of Governors should include the PM, COAS, Chief Justice, all provincial chief ministers and NSA. It should be equipped with top-quality human resources derived from the international and local market who clearly understand the country’s needs and dynamics of this particular function.
This office should precisely be mandated with creating an action plan for the implementation of national economic security-related projects and ensuring its timely completion. This office would be the single reference point for all stakeholders from the public and private sector to address all their project-related needs.
An Economic Emergency
Pakistan’s current account deficit was a whopping $9.09 billion for the first six months of fiscal year 2021-22. The trade deficit during the same period was $21.2 billion. These figures are completely unsustainable as they push us deeper into the vicious debt cycle and virtually make us surrender our economic policymaking to international financial institutions.
It generates other geopolitical and diplomatic ramifications as well. In order to avoid this scenario on recurring basis, the government and state institutions need to take up the matter of national economic security on war footing basis and put in place an actionable strategy to make us an economically sovereign and developed nation.
Noaman Abdul Majid is an Economist, Geopolitical Analyst and Social Development Expert. He is the CEO of WIXEMAN GLOBAL, a strategy consulting firm practicing in GCC and Pakistan. He has worked with and advised development finance institutions, public sector entities, high net-worth family offices and non-governmental organizations in many countries on foreign investment, international joint ventures, economic and social development related projects. He is a Fellow Chartered Management Accountant from UK, Fellow Chartered Accountant from Pakistan, a Chartered Islamic Finance Professional from Malaysia and Masters in Economics from Karachi University. He tweets at @NoamanAmajid)
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.