Pakistan’s National Security Complexities

The security challenges facing Pakistan are not insular in nature but pertain to a certain geopolitical reality and a worldview birthed of socio-economic circumstances.  This is not well understood especially in the west because it often tries or wants to see Pakistan combating or being required to curb some form of militancy or insecurity emanating from it, with international emphasis focused on curbing terrorism as the primary objective.  However, there is a special set of nuances which need to be introduced; all these issues lending insecurity to Pakistan are complex skeins of intertwined geo-politics, state of society, and level of institutional state development.

As such, state institutions in Pakistan face challenges pretty much like any state which is in the development phase and burdened with onerous issues to tackle on multifarious fronts, with limited capacity to continue tackling huge impediments, all at the same time. Indeed, a state larger than Pakistan would find it onerous to handle issues such as terrorism, extremism and radicalization while grappling with socio-economic realities, hostile neighbors, nascent political structures and a somewhat turbulent strategic atmosphere with neighborly states vying in constant state of tension with each other and with other powers.

Empirically speaking, national security might be defined as protection of core national interests of a state from mainly external, but also internal threats, especially terrorism; this contextualization of security gets much more complicated when there are both.

The factors which encompass this paradigm include but are not limited to physical security, economic prosperity, level of evolution of state and society, transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, age and maturity of political institutions; many other factors play a key role. Even then, there are dissonant paradigms which can branch out and then interact with each other, often in peculiar geopolitical environments which might be unique to a region, and in part dictated by regional environments.

State hostility with neighbors for instance can tangibly and imperceptibly alter the tangled nexus of such overarching security paradigms; in essence, what a state faces, has faced and might continue to face will very much dictate the security choices that particular state might make. This is a global phenomenon and is not limited to Pakistan by any means.

One is not debating the legitimacy or relevancy of this importance placed by Pakistan on this issue, but rather the discourse is about how perception of security varies with how the world sees Kashmir, and how Pakistan sees the world as it sees this problem in the Pakistani context.

One such tangling strand is the issue of Kashmir, in the past a cause of war between India and Pakistan but also a factor that might continue to cause other, seemingly unassociated problems, which are a fallout of such. For instance, perceptions of an ally, a foe or a not ‘very engaged friendly state’ might alter with their disposition to take up the problem of Kashmir for Pakistan, as Kashmir is the lynchpin of national security.

One is not debating the legitimacy or relevancy of this importance placed by Pakistan on this issue, but rather the discourse is about how perception of security varies with how the world sees Kashmir, and how Pakistan sees the world as it sees this problem in the Pakistani context. It will continue to be an issue, and discussion of security without at least tacitly recognizing the sensitivity of the issue for Pakistan will not pay dividends if engagement with Pakistan is to be robustly constructed. One might as well debate about the legitimacy of the Cold War; some may say that this is historical now, but it was real for the generations that lived through it. Pakistan is ‘living through Kashmir’ now, and ignoring this issue is analogous to trying to engage the US and erstwhile USSR at the height of the Cold War, while pretending that the Cold War tensions did not exist, and real progress would be made while skirting around these issues.

Not discussing the aetiology of the issues, the historical distrust of Afghanistan is also not going to go away. Coupled with the fact that Pakistan will continue to hold interests in Afghanistan for its own security, influence of Pakistan can also not be discounted away for that region. Any talks about national security that attempt to essentially arm-twist Pakistan without addressing these issues or at least recognizing them will not really be effective- ‘sanitizing’ these issues have often proved counterproductive for interlocutors of peace in South Asia.

National security doctrines cannot be put in neat little categorized boxes placed in pristine order around some region to give a semblance of peace; these are more like jigsaw puzzles characterized by missing pieces. Security is not just about doing your best for it, but must be comprehended by threshold of states to use physical, socioeconomic, military and other means to serve these goals. Adaptations can occur over time, but unless there is some ‘force majeure’ event like a war, national security interest cannot just go away overnight or be wished away; in case of states these changes of security environment can be measured over years, maybe decades. Any observant analysis of instances where paradigm shifts occur take years of incremental adaptations before there is a perceptible sea change. For example, the threat of actual war after the cold war era was replaced by a need for economic integration in Europe, spurred on by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. All these coalesced over decades.

This type of radical ‘stance shifting’ is not even in place for Pakistan in the short term; Kashmir remains an issue, Afghanistan remains turbulent, India remains hostile, Pakistan sees the US as an ‘on-off’ ally and wary friend, and changes in the Middle East do little to confidently inspire Pakistan beyond what it perceives it can reasonably do; look to maintain military might and hope things get better at home and abroad.

Pakistani experience with sudden geostrategic shifts like the post 9/11 alliances have also not been inspiring; it is still reeling and only now beginning to roll back some of the damage done by groups which emerged out of the various schisms and pursued anti-national policies. These challenges also engage the army on multiple fronts and assign it the job definitions of what could have rested with the Police serves, if the circumstances had allowed. Regional comradely   with China have not been able to impact significantly on this perception of insecurity faced by Pakistan, and since these are clearly issues which face Pakistan and it has often been left to fend for itself, it should not be hard to discern that perception of insecurity from outside have not really improved to significant extents.

Thus, even at a very empirical glance national security is multivariate and complex, and in case of Pakistan, cannot simply be brushed away with the simplistic notion of putting any one factor to rest, at the exclusion of another.

Besides, there are a number of ambiguous threats arising from within and without. This pertains to terrorism and creeping extremism, amorphous threats which essentially pervade society subtly and by subterfuge, and sometimes become so merged in its societal essence that a complete rethink of societal structural relationships is called for. When there is lack of a clearly discernible foe (like in extremism) which to fight or counter, the battle for national security becomes ever more complex, and needs tremendous input from the state apparatus to discernably dislodge.

One of the biggest national uncertainty producer of modern times is  , which is a force multiplier for ambiguity in terms of threats a state faces.   also presents a faceless enemy as it is ideology which has to be countered. Intricacies of these thorny problems could stem from any number of factors; sub-nationalist separatist tendencies, arming of non-state actors by hostile states to resort to violence, suppressed grievances erupting into the same kind of violence, sometimes exacerbated from within or outside, or myriad of other factors all playing into and drawing energy from each other. Terrorism and extremism force a state to face enemies which are not as clearly defined as an outside hostile foe or a clearly defined opponent. This stretches any state’s capacity to the limits, and Pakistan has been grappling with this for decades.

Doubtless there has been a decrease in terrorism, but the fallout emanating from associated extremism might still smolder for years, even more if not addressed strategically and if Pakistan is unaided by and not supported by global powers. No state, however large, is immune to such gigantic challenges from within.

Thus, even at a very empirical glance national security is multivariate and complex, and in case of Pakistan, cannot simply be brushed away with the simplistic notion of putting any one factor to rest, at the exclusion of another. This is what Pakistan is grappling with, and it will take time and needs patience both by Pakistani policy makers and international interest groups to eventually smoothen out.

Khawaja Khalid Farooq

The writer is a former head of National Counter Terrorism Authority Pakistan and Inspector General of Police. He tweets @kkf50.

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