Pakistan’s National Security Policy: Old thoughts in new packaging

The NSP tosses a heads-I-win-tail-you-lose option for India; it announces its intent of seeking peace but leaves the onus on India, writes Mahendra Ved for South Asia Monitor 

Mahendra Ved Jan 20, 2022
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Pakistan’s National Security Policy (Photo: VIF)

The timing of Pakistan unveiling its first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) is important. Ridden of an overbearing benefactor called the United States in Afghanistan and an irritating ‘spoiler’ called India, it sees itself playing a larger role in the region. 

It perceives being on the threshold of change because of the immense benefits it hopes to gain from a corridor that connects China with the Arabian Sea via Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (what Pakistan calls 'Azad Kashmir'). As work begins on Phase II of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), this will help connect Pakistan to Central Asia if Taliban-ruled Afghanistan it is promoting remains stable. 

Much as it opposes “camp politics” in the NSP, Pakistan has decisively moved away from the Western camp where it has been since its inception to the ‘camp’ headed by China and Russia. It rides piggyback on them, irrespective of its urgent need for yet another loans from the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tide over its debt servicing obligations and help stabilize a distressed economy. 

West needed, not needed 

The message to the West that it blames for spreading Islamophobia is that their money is needed and is welcome, but not their diktats to “do more” on countering terrorism at home and around it. 

It is another matter, camp-or-no-camp, that Pakistan will continue to be watched on nuclear proliferation and by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on terror funding. 

Having timed the NSP with an eye on the larger world community, Pakistan has no hesitation to make peace overtures to India, the perennial adversary. The NSP goes out of its way to comment on India’s current dispensation and leadership. Pakistan knows well that India would likely scoff at it, or not react at all. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s daily dose of anti-India diatribe ensures this. He himself leads the campaign with expressions that border on the abuse. While the NSP is billed as the outcome of an exercise in which civil and military leadership are “on the same page”, the way he unveiled it on January 14 makes one wonder whether Imran Khan the Prime Minister is “on the same page” with Imran Khan the politician. 

India angle 

The NSP tosses heads-I-win-tail-you-lose for India; it announces its intent of seeking peace, but leaves the onus on India. It puts preconditions that are beyond its domain – like the type of government and the political ideology in present-day India. 

Understandably, for any exercise in Pakistan where India figures, Kashmir has got to be the focus. Section VII in the 50-page document made public, dwelling on foreign policy, identifies a “just and peaceful resolution” of Kashmir dispute “a vital national security interest”. It wishes to “improve relations with India under centrality of Kashmir as core dispute”. 

Although the ‘core’, there isn’t any demand for reversal of the August 5, 2019 changes made by India in the status of Jammu & Kashmir. For anyone in India to think this could be an error or oversight would be downright stupid. There is no change in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. 

Expecting India to undo anything in Kashmir, and putting it as a precondition for improving relations makes the NSP a PR exercise for the world to take note – no more. 

Bajwa doctrine 

The talk of Pakistan emphasizing geoeconomics more than geopolitics was begun in March 2021 by the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qaisar Javed Bajwa. Soon enough, the Commerce Ministry put out plans to resume, albeit selectively, trade with India. Within two days, a Khan-presided cabinet meeting annulled the ministry’s decision. The pressures that could have worked to reverse what is being billed by analyts as the “Bajwa Doctrine” remain unclear. 

For long years now, India has accorded the “Most Favoured Nation” concession to Pakistan when trade existed, a gesture Islamabad has refused to reciprocate. Bilateral trade has been to mutual advantage, but has remained under par considering the huge potential and prisoner to prickly border incidents. 

Gen. Bajwa appeared to break new ground when he talked of the need for geoeconomics. Fine, but let none be misled. The NSP does not claim to replace geopolitics with geoeconomics. It stresses on their complementing roles. The unstated logic is that a stronger economy affords a robust security by allocating more resources to national security and defence. 

Policy or rhetoric? 

With more than a tinge of sarcasm, security analyst and retired Major General Inam Ul Haq, writing in The News International (Jan 15), calls the NSP “an impressive document on paper, fully loaded with jargons and phraseology, that arm-chair intellectuals and foreign educated PhDs are good at churning out”. 

National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf gingerly credits, in passing, that the exercise to draft a security policy began in 2014 when Sartaj Aziz was the NSA in the Nawaz Sharif government. 

For the people of Pakistan, the NSP, shorn of rhetoric, is a monologue – the civil-military establishment talking to itself. A government halfway through its tenure has announced a five-year policy. With or without a nod from the military, the Imran Khan government has made it a partisan exercise. It does not carry along opposition parties, not even allies. It was announced away from the National Assembly. 

It was only presented before the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) that Moeed Yusuf called the "representative body of Parliament". He ignored the fact that the mainstream opposition members had boycotted that meeting. 
 
Any meeting of minds on an important policy move seems remote with the Imran Khan government engaged in cornering mainstream opposition leaders in graft cases. They are pursued by probe agencies while the opposition is considering moving a no-confidence move in the National Assembly. 

A messy story 

Journalist-author Zahid Hussain, writing in Dawn (Jan 12), seeks political will to take the hard decisions needed to change policy direction. Welcoming the first-time focus on the hitherto neglected human development in an otherwise nuclear-weapon state, he points to the ground reality: “We are unable to feed and provide employment to an increasing population. The swelling ranks of uneducated youth with bleak future prospects have rendered the situation untenable. The rise of violent religious extremism poses a bigger threat to the country’s security than any external force.” 

Amidst PM Imran Khan’s repeated calls for making Pakistan “Riyasat-e-Madeena” (ushering an Islamic welfare state), Hussain warns: “The government’s own policy of encouraging religiosity and appeasement of extremist, faith-based groups would undermine any effort to deal with violent extremism, a phenomenon that poses the most serious threat to national security.” 

This is likely to be Pakistan’s Achilles Heel where even China cannot help. A new policy that reiterates the old one that has not worked and needs to be discarded is unlikely to work in a new garb.    

(The writer is a veteran journalist and a commentator on South Asian affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com) 

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