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The new national vade mecum

Acknowledging that the “country’s security imperatives in the next decade will be driven by the need to realise its economic potential while ensuring national cohesion, territorial integrity, internal security, and citizen welfare,” the NSP places economic security at the core and seeks to identify some national security objectives as well as priority areas where it wants Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments to invest in the coming years.

In simpler terms, NSP will serve as a vehicle that imparts traction as well as coherence to an overarching national policy which leads to another set of policies – defence, economic, foreign, information and internal security policies. It also identifies many challenges that Pakistan faces, for a change going beyond India, but it does not offer any concrete solution that can help Pakistan to be different from what it has become.

In his address at the launch of the NSP, Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “The concept we have now brought to Pakistan is to make sure of the uplift of the vulnerable segment,” adding the nation will remain insecure if the rich kept becoming richer with no measures in place to protect the downtrodden people from economic meltdown.

Why now?

For a long time, there was a debate in Pakistan that the country lacks a comprehensive national security policy to secure national goals. Often the responses were seen as reactionary, right from joining the US bloc in the wake of the Cold War to joining the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and later participating in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan. Moreover, after suffering chronic financial ill-health and regular bailouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan’s approach now focuses on seeking peace with its neighbours and exploring opportunities to make Pakistan a trade and investment hub.

The primary push behind putting out the NSP seems to be the economic crisis faced by Pakistan, which experts attribute to poor fiscal management. Foreign investors have also been staying away because of the perception that Islamabad has not been tough on militants. In the form of NSP, an attempt has been made to bring traditional and non-traditional strands of security under one umbrella to provide overarching policy guidance.

A look at the policy
The NSP document is meant for a five-year period (2022-26) but it will be reviewed at the end of every year. The full 110-page NSP document will remain classified. However, a shorter nearly 50-page version has been published.

The NSP talks about the national security vision, concept and principles for policy implementation in Section II. This Section follows six thematic sections. Opportunities for national cohesion and policy guidelines are identified in Section III. It is in Section IV that the NSP dilates upon securing Pakistan’s economic future, identifying challenges and opportunities. Section V deals with defence and territorial integrity. Section VI discusses internal security. Major space is devoted to foreign policy in a changing global framework under Section VII. Human security is discussed in the last Section VIII.

In the foreign policy domain, NSP places equal emphasis on political and economic diplomacy, besides listing peace in the region as the top priority. It, moreover, reiterates the commitment to not becoming part of bloc politics.

Meanwhile, the defence part highlights the challenges posed by hybrid war and threats to cyber security in addition to issues pertaining to the conventional capabilities and strategic deterrence. It recommends increasing the size of the resource pie, addressing the external imbalance, and judicious redistribution of wealth.
Thorny topics like accountability, curriculum review, governance challenges, including review of the 18th Constitution Amendment and future status of Gilgit-Baltistan, will be part of the classified portion.

On national security and national cohesion
The NSP in the second section conceptualises the national security policy. It places citizen’s security and dignity at the centre. It envisions Pakistan safeguarding its sovereignty by “ensuring national cohesion and harmony, preserving territorial integrity, enhancing economic independence and ensuring the writ of the state.” Furthermore, the NSP identifies three challenges that Pakistan’s national security face: external imbalance, vertical inequalities and horizontal inequalities. For long-term sustainability, addressing the external imbalance or higher foreign exchange outflow is seen as significant. The vertical inequality manifested in the gap between the rich and the poor is to be addressed by providing direct support to vulnerable citizens. The disparity in the economic development of various regions is seen as a major concern which the sub-nationalist elements exploit “to generate a narrative of grievance based on underdevelopment in their regions.” The horizontal inequalities, or more precisely, the regional aspirations are to be addressed through development packages.

Internal security
The section on internal security talks about issues that have been challenging the writ of the state. Preventing the formation of alternative centres of power and authority and ensuring the writ of the state in all regions of the country is the policy objective underlined in this section.

Though the realisation that terrorism undermines state stability and national harmony seems timely; the solution offered to address them appears hollow and ineffective. The document aims to address the grievances by addressing the structural deficiency and a sense of deprivation in areas of recruitment and by promoting “a pluralistic anti-terror narrative”. At the same time, the document downplays the challenge of sub-national movements by writing them off as “fringe” elements being exploited by “hostile intelligence agencies”. It also sees the socio-economic disparity as an enabling factor for sub-national aspirations and seeks to employ a four-pronged strategy of engagement like distinguishing reconcilables from irreconcilables (most probably in Balochistan), cutting off recruitment, constricting financial sources and pursuing targeted socio-economic policies to address this issue. In order to deal with violent extremist ideologies, the document seeks to promote a “united narrative” and expand de-radicalisation programmes. This indeed is going to be the biggest challenge as mainstreaming people who have been trained along the lines of an extremist ideology for decades is not going to be easy.

Economic security
The 220 million people of Pakistan would have been prosperous and secure if the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) had been $6 trillion; exports $800 billion per annum; foreign exchange reserves $1 trillion and per capita income $30,000. The economic vibrancy of Pakistan would have taken care of its human security predicament by ensuring 100% literacy and the availability of quality healthcare, public transport, housing, clean and safe drinking water. Alas, that is not the case; and despite decades of claims, Pakistan’s economic predicament reflects the degeneration of its national security.

Talking of economic security without striving for good governance and political stability is like putting the cart before the horse and thus, confusing the cause and effect. It has been our dilemma for decades that we have not understood this phenomenon and have kept our priorities wrong.

The India factor
Peace with immediate neighbours and economic diplomacy will be the central theme of the country’s foreign policy in the NSP. As the new national security policy seeks a shift in Pakistan’s approach from geo-strategic to geo-economics, there is a renewed optimism of a possible thaw with India. The document stated that Pakistan wants to “improve relationship with India” and adds that a “just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains at the core of the bilateral relationship”. India gets a dozen mentions in the document, probably more than any other country. With reference to India’s efforts towards nuclear and conventional modernization, the NSP reiterates Pakistan’s resolve to ensure that full spectrum deterrence provides it with the strength to uphold strategic balance in the region at all times. With an eye on India’s investment in a variety of disruptive technologies, the NSP highlights Pakistan’s need to invest in upgrading cyber security for its critical infrastructure, securing its networks to minimize cyber intrusion and surveillance. Hybrid warfare also receives a mention in the NSP, as an area where a whole-of-nation approach is required to neutralize threats. This was demonstrated well by India through its embarrassing attempts to undermine Pakistan’s security and stability, now exposed by the DisinfoLab project as illegitimate and fraudulent.

Ties with China
On China and Pakistan, the document talks about deep-rooted historical ties, shared interests, mutual understanding and strategic convergence. CPEC has been described as one with support across Pakistan and one that can jump-start Pakistan’s economy and domestic growth. “Pakistan will continue to strengthen this relationship across all areas of mutual engagement,” says the NSP. 

Pak-US relations
Whether the US and Pakistan are engaged or estranged, their relations have never been without challenge. In a rare moment, ties are now at a crossroads. Washington does not know where Pakistan figures in its Indo-Pacific strategy. And Pakistan does not know how much space it has for the US in its relations with China. US-China tensions have created a schism in Pakistan’s strategic thinking. Its decision to skip President Biden’s Democracy Summit followed by the offer to be a bridge between the US and China signals Pakistan’s desire to be in both camps but also its uncertainty about Washington’s response.

However, regarding the US, the NSP seems to be an attempt to ignore the current strain in bilateral ties.
The document acknowledges that cooperation between the US and Pakistan has narrowed down to counterterrorism only, and hoped other areas can also be worked on together soon.

The NSP states that Pakistan’s prized geoeconomic location provides north-south and east-west connectivity for South and Central Asia, Middle-East and Africa. It also asserts that “Westward connectivity is also a significant driver for Pakistan’s continued push for regional peace and stability in Afghanistan.” The foreign policy section says this with even more clarity: “Afghanistan’s potential as a gateway for economic connectivity with Central Asian states is a key driver for Pakistan’s support for peace in Afghanistan.”

Other Important Regions
The policy states: “Pakistan continues to pursue mutually beneficial relationships with interested countries. Pakistan’s engagement with Africa, Asia-Pacific, Australia, and Latin America is premised on exploring opportunities for cooperation in bilateral trade, global connectivity, and shared challenges in the global commons including climate change, trade openness, energy security, poverty alleviation, and global security. Pakistan is committed to strengthening its bilateral and multilateral cooperation with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including expanding our trade and economic ties with Association of South East Asian Nations member states and our partners in East Asia. Pakistan also seeks to widen its economic outreach through the ‘Engage Africa’ initiative and build more extensive relationships with countries in Latin America and elsewhere under its economic diplomacy initiative.”

Climate Change
The NSP takes cognizance of Pakistan’s acute vulnerability to the negative effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events which have increased manifold and threaten our water resources thanks to the accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers and climate-sensitive monsoon winds. It highlights the imperative of protecting Pakistan’s transboundary water rights given the fact that 80 percent of the waters in its Indus Basin are carried by rivers originating outside its borders.

The policy calls for mainstreaming climate adaptation and response, particularly in socioeconomically vulnerable regions to steer Pakistan towards climate resilient development; ensure a cohesive national response to the looming water scarcity through improved water storage capacity, sustainable water management, and protecting Pakistan’s transboundary water rights, disaster preparedness, management, and response mechanisms.


The policy document reiterates that Pakistan would ensure its deterrence, defence, space and cyber-security and territorial integrity at all costs. It would defend any sort of aggression through FSD (Full Spectrum Deterrence) that also CMD (Credible Minimum Deterrence) without indulging in any arms race. This robust policy framework talks more openly about both non-conventional and conventional means of deterring the enemy. It emphasizes on promoting positive reality of Pakistan. It reiterates that only vital interest of Pakistan is peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Furthermore, it stresses upon Pakistan’s economic ties and mutual cooperation with the GCC. It also focuses on building stronger relation with US through cooperation in trade, investment, counter-terrorism, intelligence cooperation and security and leaving behind the camp politics.

Overall, it is a very impressive document that covers various aspects of Pakistan’s national security. NSD (National Security Division) should be given the credit for putting something that was understood on a piece of paper in the form of official policy. It would prove to be an engine to move forward and for putting thoughts into action. It would be stimulating to see the operationalization of the policies presented in NSP.

The writer is a member of staff.

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