Pakistan and its Comprehensive National Security Concept

Carved out of the British Raj’s “Jewel in the Crown” (Indian sub-continent) in 1947, Pakistan was founded in a highly volatile and unpredictable environment. The uncertainty of the circumstances at the time had a profound and long-lasting impact on the thinking and threat perception of Pakistan’s leadership.. Consequently, this resulted in traditional security taking centre stage in Pakistan’s policy discourses where every matter is viewed from the security prism while restricting manoeuvrability between policy options and proactive actions.

Furthermore, with passing decades, owing to the “prevailing circumstances” and absence of any political institutions that can train strong visionary leadership in Pakistan, successive generations of policy elite and decision-makers were created in Pakistan who were innately insecure, with security (traditional) a cornerstone of their political idiosyncrasy. This preoccupation with the traditional aspect of security led to the blatant neglect of other facets of the term, such as human security, economic security, food security, and environmental protection, to name a few. As a result, this neglect has cost Pakistan more than any traditional security threat ever could.

However, regardless of being a security state, Pakistan never had a national security policy that could act as a guiding document, highlighting Pakistan’s overall security vision, priorities, vital interests, & guiding principles. Meaning the security of the country was being conducted on an ad-hoc basis and driven by a selected few institutions where a small cohort of individuals was deciding upon matters of national security.

This policy comes at a time when the incumbent government has declared to subject the focus of the country from a path of geostrategy to the one of geoeconomy.

Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan, the main stakeholders in the national security of the country, were left out of this decision-making process. When in actuality, they were the ones who were and are bearing the brunt of it all.

Nevertheless, Pakistan now has a National Security Policy (NSP), which was recently launched by the Prime Minister of Pakistan in a ceremony on 14 January 2022. The document is celebrated as Pakistan’s first-ever national security policy formulated for the next five years (2022-2026). This policy comes at a time when the incumbent government has declared to subject the focus of the country from a path of geostrategy to the one of geoeconomy.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the entire 62 pages booklet, as it would consume a lot of space and time, besides taking the conversation in a completely different direction, it is, however, crucial to discuss the significant sections/parts of the policy document and pragmatically analyse them.

As a disclaimer, it is important to mention here that this is not in any way a bashful commentary on the NSP. A lot has been published in this regard that has justly or otherwise taken the policy apart and criticised every section of the document. It is, however, a pragmatic assessment of the NSP that I have attempted to carry out to the best of my ability.

It is encouraging to note that as opposed to General Musharraf’s “Sab Se Pehlay Pakistan” (Pakistan First) slogan, this NSP has focused (in theory at least) on the safety, security, dignity and prosperity of Pakistanis (the people for whom this country was created for in the first place), by articulating a citizen-centric “Comprehensive National Security Framework”.

Personally, it is distasteful for me to be critical of the NSP from the onset. However, given the past experiences with policies and initiatives in Pakistan, one cannot help but be highly apprehensive. The NSP offers nothing new that the leadership and the people of Pakistan are not aware of already.

The foreign policy and defence capability goals practically remain the same. India continues to be the most significant threat to Pakistan’s national security as it is factored in multiple segments throughout the NSP document. Resultantly, Jammu & Kashmir is the cornerstone of peace with the East (India) and, as expected (with good reason), a vital national security interest.

The new things that I noticed during my reading of the NSP were terminologies like the “social contract” and “economic diplomacy”. This does not mean that one should be surprised that these terminologies made it to the NSP. Still, it is encouraging to see that this government at least acknowledges the fact that it has a responsibility towards the governed that needs to be fulfilled and that to have good (let alone strategic) relations with other states, a country needs to have strong, diversified economic/commercial exchanges with other countries on a regular basis as well.

The issue has been that these documents, laws, initiatives and policies, after being launched, hardly see the light of day when a new or a different government assumes charge.

These two terminologies stood out the most (for me) because genuine execution and the manifestation of the social contract and economic diplomacy will address most of Pakistan’s “comprehensive national security issues”, such as issues of national cohesion, securitisation of the country’s economic future, internal security, and threats to its defence and territorial integrity from menaces emanating from “hybrid warfare” so to speak.

Although, Pakistan has always had bold visions and big ideas. The problem has always been with the materialisation, realisation, and implementation of those ideas and visions into reality. There has never been any scarcity of policies, laws, initiatives or conceptual documents. The issue has been that these documents, laws, initiatives and policies, after being launched, hardly see the light of day when a new or a different government assumes charge. Furthermore, the NSP aims to undertake tasks that are humongous in magnitude. This automatically implies that once again, the leadership has ignored the immense gap that exists between the country’s will and its capacity to execute such plans.

What Pakistan needs is pragmatic introspection which will give its decision-makers an accurate assessment of its capacity. And at the cost of sounding cliche, Pakistan needs internal balancing, which entails good governance, the rule of law, strong institutions, economic reforms, investment in indigenous R&D, the establishment of an industrial base, political stability, security and most importantly, provision of basic utilities and human rights.

Unless and until Pakistan is at peace with itself, Pakistan can never have the power for external balancing. And it is guaranteed that once internal balancing is achieved, even to some extent, most of Pakistan’s external problems will dissipate naturally.

As a Pakistani, it is indeed a matter of pride that the country finally has its first NSP in black and white (on paper), and I pray that it also gets vetted by the National Assembly of Pakistan and receives the legal status that it deserves. Not because it would simply grace the shelves of our libraries and digital archive, but for the reason that this “directional policy document” could provide an impetus for the formulation of the many sectoral policies in the country which have been in considerable disharmony for the last several decades.

It is encouraging to know that the NSP will be subjected to review each year and remain an evolving document. It means that the government will make a genuine effort to see that the policy is implemented properly. Because if not, then this policy will also lose its legitimacy, and such documents any future currency.

NSP’s sanctity and sustainability can only be ensured by its implementation. Mistakes are part and parcel of this endeavour, but implementation should remain constant. Otherwise, the NSP will be nothing more than a compendium of big visions and promises made to the nation, just like the manifestoes of the many political parties in the country.

Taimur Fahad Khan

Taimur Khan is working as a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). His research focuses on non-traditional security issues and foreign policy analysis.

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