Source: Dawn

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

In his 2011 book entitled ‘Pakistan: A Personal History’, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan writes that, by “restoring the trust of the people in public institutions, we can harness their potential and mobilize them for a better tomorrow.” More than a decade after writing this and three years into his premiership, he unveiled the country’s first-ever security policy. Entitled ‘National Security Policy of Pakistan 2022-2026’, its  48-page public version features a message from PM Khan, in which he reiterates how critical  strengthening institutions, rule of law, transparency, accountability, and openness are to achieving the vast potential of the citizens of Pakistan. This statement and the remainder of the message outline how the government wants to recalibrate relations between the state and citizens. The message, which constitutes the Policy’s preamble, not only underscores what is critical to enhancing Pakistan’s overall security but also, by extension, acknowledges the pitfalls of refusing to change the dynamics of citizen-state relations.  Further, the message and the Policy look at every citizen of the country as an asset that must be secured, empowered, and facilitated. While the Policy is being criticized for being generic, vague, and aspirational, it is being welcomed with cautious optimism, especially because of the capricious trajectory of Pakistani politics. While it is indeed important to not look at the Policy as the be-all and the end-all of a directional, monumental change in Pakistan, it is essential to see it as a lucid and resolute statement of intent, one that clearly articulates what path the country should tread going forward. There are three reasons why this Policy opens up, for Pakistan, a new strategic pathway.

First, the Policy taking the broadest possible view of national security has strategic repercussions. As per the Policy, Pakistan’s ultimate goal is to ensure the safety, security, dignity, and prosperity” of its people. These end-goals are all-encompassing given that they permeate across diverse sets of domains. This, coupled with the realization that both threats and opportunities supplement each other, means that Pakistani policymakers are cognizant of the fact that security cannot be enhanced by focusing on just one of its very many dimensions. What’s more, the Policy has not only prepared  an elaborate list of traditional and non-traditional threats that the country faces but also terms the expansion of the resource pie as critical to mitigating them. From committing to strengthening national cohesion and unity to highlighting gender security as an important plank, the Policy has it all. With aspects like health, food, and water security feeding into each other, it is all the more important to place them under an overarching framework. By expanding the ambit of national security, the government, in effect, has attached a degree of urgency to the need for dealing with these issues. One of the corollaries would be this: if, let’s say, Pakistani women are not protected from violence, they cannot contribute towards the progress of the country, something that would only exacerbate Pakistan’s security woes. Further, linking the need to focus on geoeconomics to Pakistan’s geostrategic relevance, the Policy gives the country an important strategic prescription: comprehensively bolster the security of Pakistanis, with a view to making the country formidable enough to respond positively to the shifting sands of regional and global politics. This, in and of itself, implies that Pakistan would stand to lose immensely if it refuses to adopt a holistic approach towards augmenting security.

Second, the Policy fittingly identifies some strategic concerns that must be addressed. A focus on eradicating both horizontal and vertical inequalities is emblematic of the strategic outlook governing the Policy. Moreover, that the Policy stresses the need for creating a technology-driven ecosystem of learning is reflective of an understanding of strategically-transformational interventions. The Policy is clear in stating that, Pakistan must jump on the technology bandwagon. This line of thinking is as strategic as they come, primarily because technology lies at the heart of Pakistan’s geoeconomic gambit. For instance, the prospect of Pakistan becoming an export-led economic power will increase only if it is able to produce value-added products. Further, Pakistan’s ability to strengthen traditional and non-traditional security will improve only if manages to integrate emerging technologies in its repertoire.

 Third, a renewed commitment to improving governance, foisting the rule of law, and presenting institutions for accountability has two concomitant  strategic implications for Pakistan. First, with the document available to publics around the world  and up for debate, a common citizen of Pakistan now has a reference point to hold successive governments to account. If the initial response to the Policy is anything to go by, one can expect that the public will be better prepared to pressure the government to implement it going forward. Also, the in-built, inherent accountability mechanism in the Policy will, by and large, keep governments committed to implementing most of it. All this, it must be stated, is likely to alter the terms of the contract between the citizens and the state. As a result, while a new party in government can certainly review, amend, and realign the Policy in its accordance with its manifesto, it would find it hard tinker with the core principles undergirding the document. That attenuating the role of the citizen-centric component of the Policy will be politically costly is one of the reasons that will compel future governments to build upon this framework. This augurs well for the country which has suffered due to bad governance, misallocation and wastage of resources, and a sheer of accountability.  Second, internationally, too, Pakistan can project itself as a democratic country, one that is fully committed to looking after its people. This could help change the country’s image, something that, in and of itself, bring many a strategic advantage to the fore for Pakistan.

Thus, as aforementioned, the Policy communicates to domestic and international audiences where Pakistan wants to head going forward. In doing so, the country’s policymakers admit that, as of now, Pakistan is nowhere near the goalpost. This, in essence, puts the responsibility of ensuring the Policy’s implementation on the state. Notwithstanding the intricate set of challenges attached to it, the process of implementation must be robust and smooth. Absent making concerted efforts aimed at executing and implementing the Policy, Pakistan will not be able to secure itself from multifarious threats. Besides, it will be ill-prepared and ill-equipped to respond to the demands of a fast-changing world. The choice is only Pakistan’s.  

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is Associate Editor, Pakistan Politico.