National Security Policy of Pakistan is oxymoronic – Gen. Tariq Khan

Writer, Gen. Tariq Khan, who retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command laments that in Pakistan, if the ‘security of the people' is the mainstay of the National Security Policy, as is defined on page one of the document, then one should first and foremost examine what is threatening the security of the people.

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The National Security Policy (NSP) is out. Forty-Eight pages of the document were made public. Normally a national policy is a public document and is rarely kept confidential. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies (Who watches the watchers) –Juvenal, Satire VI. Plans to implement a policy, at times may be secret for obvious reasons but the Policies technically cannot be. After all, any national policy is a product – ‘of the people, by the people for the people!’ The philosophy of national security is understood to focus on the preservation of sovereignty, territorial integrity and internal stability with emphasis on the coercive power of the state to implement its Laws, Regulations and Rules.

Thus if a holistic view of national security is taken then it becomes more and more clear that appropriate structures are put in place to manage it. This is essentially the task of the constitution and that too a primary one. However, the only sure way to ensure the protection of one’s citizens from their own governments is to share sovereign authority between national and international levels so that there is a ‘third party over-watch. This may not be practical because sharing of such authority directly impinges on national sovereignty that one is willing to forfeit. Besides, as has been witnessed, such international bodies very quickly get politicized.

Read more: The biggest challenge to National Security Policy

Such parties as the Human Rights Watch or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons become selective in their appraisals and favor some while condemning others. Depending upon funding source, coercion and who is the leadership of these organizations, such organizations lean towards who wields the power. It is why Israel will not be condemned and Kashmir will never warrant the attention that it deserves. So when one talks aligning with international organizations and regulators one is governed by the philosophy that a freedom struggle to one appears to be terrorism to another.

How does one satisfy such dichotomy in political thought and values?

It is such contradictions that must be addressed in any NSP so that a course of action can take the necessary steps needed to cater for such anomalies, especially when no nation lives in isolation.

It is imperative that the definition of National Security be determined from a respective national perspective since it has begun to mean so much and so differently to people that it is now open to interpretation. National Security evolves around sovereignty and autonomous functioning with the focus on protecting the State and its people. However, the concept of sovereignty needs to be rationalized first, since there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. Even the most powerful nations on this earth must depend on something or the other leading to inter-state relations albeit such relations are for specific relative national interests.

Thus Sovereignty becomes a flexible term and is governed by how much a nation is willing to sacrifice in terms of treasure and resource so that its ‘determined’ sovereignty is not compromised. Any study related to National Security emanates from the perceived threat to its ‘determined sovereignty’. This perception is developed on the basis of hypotheses that examines and analyze possibilities and realities. In Pakistan, if the ‘security of the people’ is the mainstay of the National Security Policy, as is defined on page one of the document, then one should first and foremost examine what is threatening the security of the people.

In this vein, if the sitting Parliament cannot pass a simple bill related to the pasteurization of milk resulting in a generation of children suffering from stunted growth, then the threat appears to be the Parliament itself. However, leaving aside the frivolity of the argument, the security of the people in Pakistan is impacted most by a dysfunctional judicial system, by violent extremism, politicized police and by rampant corruption. In other words, our we, our own, greatest enemy? Yet the stated policy provides no direction or measures to correct these matters but instead generalizes its great concern for the People of Pakistan.

If matters continue as they are, how would the people be provided any form of relief at all?

Of course, one needs a National Security Policy and it is good that the Government is thinking along those lines and it is hoped that through the process of developing the Policy we may get one that is right for us. Now, having gone through the policy, we see that 18 pages are dedicated to broad, generic guidelines towards social objectives, the economic policies and another 8 pages towards foreign policymaking these are a total of 26 pages out of a total of 41 with 6 pages dedicated towards premises and conclusions.

This devotes 55% of the substance to mostly administrative matters as a component of whatever has been made public. Given that various nations have produced a national security policy document that integrates matters such as human rights, protection of the people and gender recognition and support, etc., then if their constitution is studied, one would generally find that these matters are either missing or not given the attention they deserve in the constitution. It is why it becomes understandable that countries may want to put them into their respective NSP. However, this may not hold good for Pakistan as well and to juxtapose what others may have done will not serve our purpose.

Read more: How Russia can play an important role in implementing Pakistan’s National Security Policy?

In this vein, what the NSP addresses as the non-traditional elements of national security, focuses more on Human Rights. However, in the case of Pakistan, these are amply covered in the Constitution, Part 2, Chapter 1 from article 7 to article 40. Even preservation of the environment and ecological balance is mentioned clearly in articles 31 and 32. So one fails to come to terms with the need to reproduce these and why are these now duplicated in the NSP.

Has the constitution failed in these matters or were these objectives simply not implemented and if not, what mechanism does the NSP have, that the constitution does not, in which the NSP can ensure implementation while the Constitution could not? Will the NSP supersede the Constitution in general and now be the master document to govern the country? So with these questions in search of an explanation, it appears that most non-traditional matters mentioned in the document are not only superficial but were unnecessary.

The NSP further moves onto the ‘Guns versus Butter’ debate but there has never been such a debate. With defense being a 16% of the overall budget and lurking around 3% of the GDP, has never really triggered such a debate. The defense budget should always be based, first, upon a threat that is analyzed and is prioritized and then a suitable response. However, this is mainly a political decision. The country through this political process decides which threat to handle kinetically, which must be addressed by alliances and what others to be resolved through diplomacy.

It is for the political process then to decide what should be the capacity and capability of the defense systems. For this, the political government is amply assisted and advised by defence experts but in the end the decision is a political one. Thus one is at pain to hear from some uninformed quarter as to why Pakistan does not attack the United States when the United States violates Pakistan’s airspace – simply because one does not have that capability by a conscious decision of the Government.

So there never was a gun versus butter debate nor the need to have one as yet, but the NSP has come out with self-contradicting declarations: the first being, that while ensuring there will be no arms race, the government will endeavor to meet the conventional threat. It would suffice to say that the response is in relevance to the threat and not a policy and as such the ‘arms race’ bit of wisdom is best avoided. The second is, “Pakistan is committed to defending its territorial integrity in response to any military misadventure”.

If there is a specific threat, it should be mentioned – otherwise would be constrained to ask what responses are we putting in place while our border fence is being dismantled in the West? It would be appropriate, that if we wish to talk about commitments, an ‘Act of War’ be defined. After all, what does the NSP consider as an appropriate occasion, for it to respond militarily? This is an important deterrent equation and cannot be kept secret since it invokes a military response and should be visible even to the United Nations. Leaving it open-ended appears that it would be decided based upon the situation and at that time. It makes any commitment towards this end not only questionable but flexible enough for it not to be taken seriously.

Read more: How Indians reacted to Pakistan’s National Security Policy

The third contradiction is searching for a better relationship with India. In the first place, by stating it as such, it is implicit that our relationship was not good as a product of some determined policy in the past whereas this is not true; in the second place, a relationship is always based on a give-and-take basis. Since there is very little one can take from India or expect, the question is, what has Pakistan discovered now that it is willing to give for that better relationship? Kashmir being central to the Indo-Pak situation, how can it be set aside for a better relationship with India until it is resolved?

The document then goes on to explain that Kashmir is of a ‘vital security interest’ as opposed to a ‘political interest’ – if that be true, it should be central to Pakistan’s conventional military paradigm but is instead a foreign policy matter which is promoting this unfulfilled UN Resolution through a better relationship with India. This is a huge contradiction and points towards a confused mind, unsure of itself and what it really wants to state.

The internal threat, probably on a higher priority as it should be is also addressed in the document. However, the recommendations have no practical manifestations and talk of religious scholars calming down a radicalized society. One would think that by now, the government would have learned the hard way that it is these religious scholars themselves who have radicalized society. The issues at hand need to be recognized without apology or some remote justifications: First and foremost, there is a deeply radicalized society. Polarized, divided and disunited in the face of sectarianism, extremism, ethnicity, linguistic variances, provincial partiality and regional separatist movements.

So how should these be addressed? Answers are needed not wishes

Second, the Government is heavily dependent on nepotism, parochialism, lack of merit, capacity and capability and is held hostage by its own preferences. Is there any course of action suggested to handle this? Third and one of the most influential is corruption – it has not even warranted a place in the document. Fourth is the lack of awareness and education which needs to be addressed along international lines and not some obscurant system that the government is trying to introduce. Fifth is the Rule of Law and measures to implement it and of course, the last but not the least is the dysfunctional Judicial system.

Read more: Public version of National Security Policy launched

One could propose some recommendations but that would make the paper unmanageably long. It would suffice to say that the NSP has devoted a lot of space to matters that are already in the constitution and instead of duplicating them should in fact ensure that they are implemented in letter and spirit. As far as the traditional matter related to national security are concerned, it really needs a relook.

Overall, the Policy was more generic with a wish-list hoping that Pakistan’s worries, which are diverse and many, simply evaporate into thin air. It lacked any practical manifestation or a defined course of action. One comes away after reading it: ‘with prejudice towards none and malice to no one, that it was constructed to please everyone and annoy nobody. That has been Pakistan’s basic problem all along – fence-sitting, no clear position or which direction to take and not committing to one thing or the other.


Writer, Gen. Tariq Khan, retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led Frontier Corps to victory against TTP. He has written and lectured extensively on the issues related to Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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