Dr Tehmina Aslam Ranjha
A mob ready to lynch anyone and burn the victim’s corpse on mere allegations of blasphemy offers a matching insuperable threat to internal security
On 27 December, 2021, at the occasion of the 36th meeting of the National Security Council headed by the Prime Minister, members of the council approved the first National Security Policy (NSP) 2022-26, presented by National Security Advisor Dr Moeed Yusuf, who also announced that the document was a product of consultative efforts that had been done earnestly with both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders since 2014, after the establishment of the National Security Division (NSD).
As per the news, the NSP was designed to “leverage the symbiotic relationship between human security, economic security and military security with the prosperity and safety of citizens as its principal focus.” Though the public version of the document is yet to be released, the news offers a three-pronged insight into the NSP.
First, the NSP is citizen-oriented. The foremost idea embedded in the policy is to shift Pakistan’s focus from an individualised sector-based agenda to a comprehensive national security framework the ultimate objective of which is to ensure the safety and security of citizens. The policy has acknowledged that without the economic prosperity of a common citizen, the country’s security cannot yield the desired fruit. This is why the policy promotes a citizen-centric approach to security in general, with economic security at the core.
The policy is unique in the sense that it treasures Pakistan’s citizens, the safety, security, dignity, welfare and prosperity of whom is considered vital to and inextricably linked to the country’s security. Interestingly, the policy has been rolled out at a time when the country is beset with economic hurdles to the smooth running of its affairs. Inflation is soaring, prices are skyrocketing, and savings are plummeting. The prevalent economic slump is the first major challenge to the policy the moment the policy starts seeing daylight. With distressed and disgruntled citizenry, the NSP evades its mainstay.
Second, the NSP emphasises economy, or in a broader way, geo-economics. Certainly, a robust economy is required to generate additional resources which could be doled out to the masses equally and judicially to embolden human and military security. Further, it is expected that prioritising economic security would expand the national resource share for greater investments in human and military security.
Since 1991, Pakistan has taken about three decades to value the relevance of geo-economics substituting geo-politics. In the past, Pakistan overemphasised its geo-strategic position more in terms of geo-politics than geo-economics. One of the drawbacks to such an approach had been to Pakistan, which never considered seriously any prospects to enter into trade with neighbouring countries, especially India. Though constrained by the South Asian Preferential Trade Arrangement of 1993 and the South Asian Free Trade Area (an agreement reached in Islamabad on 6 January 2004) at the platform of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Pakistan remained reluctant to open its trade with India. Nevertheless, transnational projects such as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor have made Pakistan realise the untapped potential for using its geo-strategy under the rubric of geo-economics. The related challenges are that Pakistan’s economy is still short of being export-oriented and that Pakistan is disinclined to do trade in the region.
One of the major objections to the 18th Constitutional Amendment is that the share of the Centre has been decreasing, thereby putting the Centre under pressure to service debt, bear the expanses of the armed forces and meet the expenditures of the capital, Islamabad. One solution was sought in reversing the amendment by either judicial activation or incumbent parliament. Neither of them could work. The second solution lies in expanding the national resource base to generate a bigger economy that could sustain the ever-growing expenses of the four provinces and dwindling but otherwise vital expenses of the Center. The NSP seems to be a step in this direction.
Third, the NSP policy elucidates a framework to handle external and internal security challenges. External adversaries, such as India, may offer a threat, as India is bent on mimicking the US in adopting the strategy of pre-emptive strikes. Nevertheless, external foes are known but internal detractors are amorphously rearing their heads in several forms.
One can take refuge in the argument that internal threat is vaguely posed by amorphous groups resorting to the menace of terrorism. Nevertheless, the challenge is that religious extremists are in abundance inside the country. Mainstreaming religious elements, who are inclined to enter politics, might be one strategy, but this strategy is flawed with the weaponization of politics. The NSP is silent on this aspect. Moreover, it is not only the Taliban-type militia that poses a threat to internal security, the mob ready to lynch anyone and burn the victim’s corpse on mere allegations of blasphemy also offers a matching insuperable threat to internal security. The NSP keeps mum on this facet too. The added problem emanates from the unchecked population growth rate, which has been around two per cent in Pakistan, compared to around one per cent population growth rate of Bangladesh in 2020-21. The untoward consequences of overpopulation are both fathomable and foreseeable. The NSP stands short of addressing this feature as well.
At the meeting, though the NSD was tasked to review the progress on the policy every year to keep the policy updated as per the emerging global environment, it is yet to be seen if the policy is merely to do window dressing of issues or reach the core of the problems such as illiteracy, poverty, extremism and overpopulation ravaging the country. Similarly, at the meeting, members from the opposition parties remained conspicuous by their absence.
This is where the problem lies: any next government comprising today’s opposition parties may put a damper on all the excitement invoked in redirecting Pakistan. It would have been both expedient and propitious if the government had taken the opposition into confidence and persuaded it to send its representative to the meeting – to envision the new bright future of Pakistan together.