The National Security Division, in collaboration with its advisory board, comprising five leading think tanks of the country, held the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue on March 17 and 18, with the aim to “unveil Pakistan’s new strategic direction based on a comprehensive security framework in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of peace, regional connectivity and development partnerships with the world.” The prime minister inaugurated the two-day conference while Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa was the chief guest on the second day. Other federal ministers as well as members of the academia and media also participated. The dialogue brought current and former officials and local and global policy experts under one roof where they debated Pakistan’s critical national security issues, and generated ideas shaping global society and the future of human civilisation.

On March 17-18, the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue was organized by the National Security Division. The Dialogue has been launched with an aim to unveil Pakistan’s new strategic direction based on a comprehensive security framework. While inaugurating this two-day event, PM Khan talked about the concept of national security and said it needs to be more comprehensive. Earlier, there was a concept that national security is just about defence. But this is not true, the premier emphasized, in his keynote address, and clarified that it is about the security of a citizen. “Climate change, food security and economic vulnerability are some of the most challenging impediments to overcoming insecurity across Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan said, is pursuing a national vision focusing on economic prosperity and human welfare. “The security requires that we make the common citizens of Pakistan safe, secure and provide them necessities of life. To ensure a truly secure country, we must make the common citizens of Pakistan secure. National Security today includes many aspects that have been ignored in previous decades, including climate security, food security and economic prosperity,” he added.
PM Khan stressed that economic growth through connectivity requires regional peace, and said, “Pakistan is poised to become the trade and transit hub for the extended region and the economic prosperity cannot be sustained without peace in neighbourhood.” The PM also spoke about the challenges of food security in Pakistan and stressed that this challenge will be given the highest importance now.
Khan said his government has prioritized human welfare through Ehsaas and Panagah programmes. “We have administered the largest cash transfers in Pakistan’s history completely transparently,” he said, adding that the government has successfully managed the Covid-19 pandemic while protecting the poor. “Even the world recognised our success,” he said.
He said Kashmir is the core issue between Pakistan and India and if a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue is found by giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination, it would be beneficial for both countries. He said that India must take the first step and create an enabling environment for moving forward. “India must commit to giving Kashmiris their right to self-determination as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions. I offered dialogue to India when we formed the government but unfortunately India took illegal actions on August 5, 2019,” Khan said.
On Afghanistan, PM Khan said, “Pakistan wishes for a political settlement in Afghanistan that can lead to sustainable peace. Peace in Afghanistan is the key to unlocking the connectivity potential of the region.”
On the second day of the Dialogue, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan’s geo-economic vision is centred around four core pillars: 1) moving towards a lasting and enduring peace within and outside; 2) non-interference of any kind in the internal affairs of our neighbouring and regional countries; 3) boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity; and 4) bringing sustainable development and prosperity through establishment of investment and economic hubs within the region.
“Pakistan has been working towards all four aspects with unity of purpose and synchronisation within the various components of national security,” … “We had realised that unless our own house is in order, nothing good could be expected from outside,” he said.
The army chief said that after stemming the tide of terrorism Pakistan has started working towards sustainable development and improving economic conditions of the underdeveloped areas.
On relation with the western neighbour, which has traditionally defined Pakistan’s security policy, the army chief said stable Indo-Pak relationship was a key to unlocking the untapped potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia.
“This potential, however, has forever remained hostage to disputes and issues between two nuclear neighbours. Kashmir dispute is obviously at the head of this problem,” he added. “It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, process of subcontinental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity. However, we feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward. But for resumption of peace process or meaningful dialogue, our neighbour will have to create conducive environment, particularly in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.
Gen Bajwa told the participants that a responsible and mature behaviour of Pakistan in crisis situation with India manifested the country’s desire to change the narrative of geo-political contestation into geo-economic integration.
On other countries in Pakistan’s neighbourhood, the COAS highlighted Islamabad’s robust role in the current quest for sustained peace process in Afghanistan. He told the participants that Pakistan has invited Afghanistan to join China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and allowing Afghan exports to India.
He also highlighted Pakistan’s efforts aimed at reviving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). He said that an economically interconnected South Asia would be much more suited to the world rather than a war-torn, crisis-ridden and destabilised region.
The speeches made by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff at Islamabad Security Dialogue were curated to impact foreign policy and geopolitical relations. Clearly, the speeches are having the influence intended. The speeches were, not so much internally, but geared to put pressure on international players to pursue the process of conciliation and truth, and it seems that message has been received. On March 17, a day after the Premier’s speech, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations urged Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to raise human rights and democracy issues with Indian leaders during his visit to India.
This is a significant development. Lloyd Austin has considerable influence as the US Defence Secretary, one of the first important US functionaries to visit India for his maiden trip. Any action on his behalf reflects the Biden administration’s new foreign policy. Already, there were hopeful signs that Biden would be more sympathetic to the Kashmir cause—the Biden administration is likely to divert from Trump’s policies, which were friendly with Modi, and the Vice-President’s family has expressed criticism of India’s certain policies.
It is clear that the international community has, undoubtedly, recognised the risk of ignoring India’s expansionist policies, and the effect it has on regional stability. The mood is shifting on Kashmir, which is illegally occupied by India, with there being more appetite towards resolution. We must continue to press this by engaging the international community to inquire more on the Kashmir issue, while at the same time establishing a good communication channel with India.

The writer is a member of staff.

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