PM Imran Khan released Pakistan’s new “National Security Policy” on Jan 14, 2022. Ever since it has led to an interesting and, at times, fulminating debate. While tv media have quickly discussed and dismissed it like all other political news overtaken the next day by new and more juicy developments or statements, print media continues to ponder and debate. And that is what was also desired by those who had put it forward.
Dr. Moeed Yousuaf, Pakistan’s young NSA, was clear that this document is not the final word on the subject but the beginning of a process which will spark debate, reflection, and feedback and that all criticism is welcome. Most conversations, however – thanks to the influence of the opposition driven tv media – remained focused on highlighting the lack of political consensus building on the NSP.
Anchors, columnists, and opposition leaders spent energy pointing out that NSP has neither been debated nor approved by the parliament. This jugglery of words missed the point that it was not a new law but a policy developed by an executive, and it can be implemented.
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Despite the shallowness of the usual debate, there were exceptions. One such was the well-thought-out article written by Gen. Tariq Khan -ex-Head of Pakistan’s Central command – which we have produced in these pages. General agreed that Pakistan needed a National Security Policy (NSP) and that it was a good initiative, but then he criticized the nature of the document that was produced by the government.
He thought that “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.”
He argued that NSP lacked any practical manifestation or a defined course of action, and it leaves one with the impression that it is a position, “with prejudice towards none and malice to no one and that it was constructed to please everyone and annoy nobody.” He then argues that “this 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.”
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Many others have wondered if NSP is a marketing ploy to please Washington and New Delhi through Washington, sending the message that we are transforming ourselves. From a national security state, we are now determined to become a geostrategic force in the region that seeks good relations with all through trade and commerce – including India.
Most Indian media has interpreted it this way, and even Gen. Tariq hinted that the search for better relations with India sounds very confusing. Merely emphasizing the desire for better relations creates the impression as if we were doing something that was displeasing India and will henceforth not be doing that.
This altogether misses the complexity of Pakistani challenge with India – that is increasingly drifting towards religious fundamentalism, further confounding the traditional disputes around Kashmir.
But defenders of the NSP argue, like Dr. Rabia Akhtar, in Atlantic Monthly, that “this is first time any NSP in Pakistan has taken a comprehensive approach to security, anchoring its drift in human security to achieve economic security. Whether it is about securing a citizen’s constitutional privileges, or about protecting a regular Pakistani from all forms of extremism, crime, terrorism, and violence–including war–the new NSP has it covered.”
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She also points out that this is the “first time in the history of Pakistan that gender security has found its place in the NSP document aiming to protect the citizens of Pakistan from structural violence, including inequality in workplaces and gender-based violence. These are not minor successes for a country which has been focused, for the past seven decades, on defining national security primarily in terms of territorial security and through the lens of traditional security, battling internal and external threats.”
Others – familiar with the institutional debates, for instance, at National Defence University (NDU) and Command and Staff College Quetta – argue that NSP is not the brain wave of any government. And that this was long in the making. They point out that a holistic concept of national security that sees the physical and mental well-being of the individual as the basis of national security was long being debated.
The idea was growing that no state can be secure if its citizens do not have security of health, job, education, water and food, and other basic amenities of life. They describe NSP as the outcome of series of discussions between key institutions and a product of diverse inputs from several departments – both civil and military.
Through NSP, Pakistan has thus signed a new social contract with its citizens. Ehsaas program being offered by the PTI government is one such social protection program that aims to meet the needs of the citizens of Pakistan. The emphasis comes on fundamental human rights.
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Challenge, however, is that Pakistan remains poor, and with challenges of globalization, trade competition, and North-South issues its economy has suffered a downward drift in the last quarter-century, thus making things more difficult for the common man. The way forward will be wealth creation and its equitable distribution through improved governance, rule of law, and other policy changes.
NSP thus becomes a powerful statement of new priorities; it cannot offer solutions, but it points a direction. And the debate it has started may end up generating newer ideas. Global Village Space is committed to this debate ever since the appearance of NSP in January. We will continue to solicit and publish opinions and analysis from thought leaders to spark ideas debate.