The first-ever National Security Policy was unveiled in January 2022. The policy defines the direction the country should take in the years to come. However, it acknowledges that this policy document will continue to evolve taking into consideration emerging challenges and security threats. This policy is said to have taken a citizen-centric approach to national security, thus redefining the term which was traditionally used in relation to military or defence only in the past. The policy also placed a special emphasis on economic security.
Although the first-ever documented national security policy is a commendable milestone, it should not bar us from taking a critical view as the document itself says that it is meant to generate a public debate.
The work on this policy started in 2014 and, according to the document, the policy “has been framed after seven years of diligent and rigorous analysis and consultation.” The question is, does it actually contain new ideas, present new perspectives, explore sensitive questions and fresh approaches to our chronic problems or is it just a vague, verbose and fancy document?
It starts with the message by the prime minister and, as always, he did not hesitate to take credit for a policy that has been under development since 2014. Yes, the same year he was motivating his supporters from the top of a container to attack the Parliament House and capture the PM house. The policy is developed by the state and not dictated by a single man. The credit goes to the state, previous and current governments, intellectuals and many more.
The objectives presented in this policy are impressive, but there is no clear path or direction on how to achieve them. Maybe it’s contained in the classified pages and not unveiled in the public version of the document. The absence of a clear path to achieve its objectives will open the document to individual interpretations.
It talks about economic security and places it as a “core element of national security,” but the policy objective for achieving economic security is full of cliched ideas, such as “enhanced productivity,” “investment,” “savings” and “addressing the external imbalance,” etc. Does it present any new solution to the problems faced by our economy other than the ideas that looked as if they were copied from a high school economic book?
How ironic that the government presenting this “economic security policy” surrendered the economy to IMF, bulldozed a bill through the parliament granting State Bank such autonomy that it jeopardises the very “economic security” which this document is supposed to ensure. The economic mismanagement of this government is such that in the last three years since it has been in power, the Pakistani rupee lost its value close to what was seen after the 1971 war and the secession of Bangladesh.
In the chapter dedicated to internal security, it says “Action against those producing and disseminating hate speech and material will be swift and uncompromising.” Time and again we have seen how the government turned a blind eye to hate speech and surrendered to violent mobs succumbing to their demands. Actions speak louder than words. Maybe this document should have outlined the actions and not just lip-synched to what has been said in the past.
The critical elements in internal security pertain to what Mian Nawaz Sharif had already prescribed, i.e. put our own house in order. Although the policy takes cognizance of this matter, it does so by ignoring the harsh reality and situation on the ground.
Climate change is included in the human security chapter, which is good as it should have been identified as a threat to our national security. But then it merely points to the fact that the country has dedicated the Ministry of Climate Change with its own climate change policy. It does not approach the issue from a security angle. The policy guidelines and objectives regarding climate change are vague and appear to be a play of words rather than addressing a serious issue.
“A Pakistan that is food secure while adopting climate-resilient agriculture,” the section under food security states. The policy objective talks about “high yields,” but we have seen how mismanagement of fertilizer supply by the government forced farmers to stand in line to get even one bag of urea. DAP, the second government-controlled fertilizer, has seen unprecedented price hikes during the tenure of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). The bag which was available for Rs 2500 in 2017 is now being sold at Rs 10,000. So much for achieving “high yields.”
The foreign policy section of the National Security Policy document states that “Pakistan does not subscribe to camp politics.” How practical is this given our geopolitical situation? Relations with the US are, let’s just say, not all that cosy at this moment. The US’s apprehensions on China’s Belt and Road project, of which Pakistan is a major partner through China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), are not a secret. The US is one of the major trade partners of Pakistan contributing to 18 percent of our total trade. Balancing these relations would be difficult and would require sincerity and openness. Another thing is that CPEC is not confined to just economic cooperation. It has cultural, social and other people-to-people contact strategies that should be worked on at the same time as economic aspects.
With regards to India, Pakistan repeats its fundamental stance on Kashmir. The document does show a willingness to normalise ties with India, but then an enabling environment has to come from the east of the border.
The importance of having a documented policy is vital to our progress, national cohesion and clarity of objectives. In reality, this is a policy that promises everything under the sun, but it is tempered with uncertainties and marred by contradictions. This can be mitigated by keeping it true to its word that it is “citizen-centric.” It should have been presented to the highest forum where the citizens of this country are represented. Political parties having representation within and outside the parliament should have been taken on board for a policy that could have a profound impact on the overall outlook, framework and working of the state. Only then could it become a document having clear guidelines with inputs from all segments of society. Let us not make it a hollow document full of fancy terms and wishful ideas but let it be a living guiding document reflecting the aspirations of the people of this country.