Source: Express Tribune

Shahid Alvi

Pakistan’s National Security Policy (NSP) was made public by the government on January 14, 2022 and its public version consists of 48 pages. A part of it, which mostly relates to the implementation strategy, has understandably not been made public. The Policy has been drafted for the next five years and includes long-term and some short-term measures. The Policy has generated discussion in the public domain, which also includes a healthy dose of criticism highlighting its deficiencies and contradictions. Thus, there is a need to examine objections raised by different quarters and assess them from a historical perspective and by looking at ground realities.

There is no doubt that, at this critical juncture of history, Pakistan needed a clear vision of priorities based on a greater civil-military consensus with valid suggestions from an informed section of society. While there are no universal blueprints for its formulation, it is supposed to be a document that does not deviate from the norms, takes stock of sensitivities, is implementable, and provides benchmarks for success. The current NSP, fulfilling these criteria, is not only a reflection of existing documents that were written over the years but also has added many new dimensions on account of the experiences and lessons of major shifts in world affairs after landmark events like the 2008 global recession, 9/11, the current pandemic, and, last but not least, Pakistan’s volatile geostrategic location.

One of the main arguments against the NSP is the confidentiality of its implementation strategy. What the public needs to understand is that the 48-page document is a policy and not a strategy because when an NSP includes the ‘how’ part of any country’s main security objectives, it changes into a ‘national security strategy’, which is a different thing. A quick-fix strategy without a well-calibrated policy at its foundation cannot be considered a workable strategy. Similarly, a policy without delineating how its stated objectives are to be achieved and defined security interests protected, is not a policy. The present document does not deviate from these basic principles as the Policy would be followed by an implementation strategy. Given massive on-ground constraints, it is never easy to produce a document that offers a ready-made solution to all chronic problems and a seamless well-defined strategy that pleases all stakeholders. The overt part of the NSP defines the challenges which could be in the shape of hostile countries, or certain tendencies by non-state actors that require a proper operational plan to minimize harm. Given this, it is not surprising that specific details and analyses of the security landscape, the country’s vital national security interests, priority actions, and an implementation framework have not been included in the public document as such a sensitive operational plan should be disclosed to relevant bodies on a need-to-know basis.

Another meaningless campaign revolves around the NSP’s limited consultation mechanism. This is again a misperception as formulation of an NSP requires a thorough analysis of all threats to state and human security based on the input of all security/relevant government actors, as well as other actors, such as civil society groups. Therefore, the National Security Division (NSD) diligently followed a due process that included the viewpoint of varied interest groups in a time period spreading over years. One problem was that the government’s media team did not publicly share the fact that non-governmental actors, such as political parties, media, women rights’ groups, civil society organizations, academia, and independent technical experts were consulted and only after that they were able to produce a document that establishes the overarching priorities and values. To summarize the formulation process, emerging values, interests, and goals were defined leading to the NSP’s scope and methodology. A process of consultation and national dialogue was adopted, a drafting committee was set up for review and reconciliation with differing views, initial drafts were circulated, and then a final draft was developed for seeking executive approval. As per Federal Information Minister, the NSP, in its final form, was presented in a meeting and all the opposition parties, including the relevant committees, were invited. However, the opposition decided to boycott the meeting. Hence, for all intents and purposes, an effort was made to bring everyone on board since success lies in broad-based consensus.

Some quarters have also pointed out the lack of Parliament’s approval before releasing the document publicly. Going by international best-practices, legal approval of a national security policy by the parliament is not required, however, doing so would have enhanced the document’s legitimacy, especially in a deeply fragmented political system like ours.  Parliamentary approval of a national security policy ensures continuation of strategy with governments changing hands besides raising public awareness about it. The role of parliament, during formulation and implementation, differs from country to country. In some cases, parliaments have the power to make substantive changes, but in others, they just recognize a policy, and in majority cases, they play no role at all. Every country has its own reasons for adopting a particular course in this regard, taking into account the awareness and interest of parliamentarians regarding intricate matters such as threats and risks, principles of good governance, multifaceted economic issues, etc. The government, nonetheless, has ensured that NSP would be brought for discussion in the Parliament.

Another objection points towards the state’s limited resources to achieve the stated aims. In doing so, many analysts point towards the crumbling structure of government departments and fragile economic conditions. Judging by history, these are valid reasons to feel concerned, but maybe the first step in addressing these shortcomings lies in letting the NSP get off the ground. After all, to address the looming dangers, some strategy has to be adopted and when that strategy is being given under the name of NSP , why is it ruffling feathers. In all probability, its implementation would necessitate changes in the legal framework that governs security provision, management, and oversight, which would be a tough beginning. According to the National Security Advisor (NSA), the Policy has laid down an implementation framework with well-defined progress indicators and the NSD has to present progress status to the National Security Council.

It is further reassuring that the implementation strategy would be reviewed constantly and every month a briefing would be given to the highest forum. The implementation process began last month after Cabinet’s approval and that should assuage the concerns of those who doubt its execution. In this regard, a pertinent observation made by the NSA is that one of the key focus areas for policymakers must, therefore, be to bridge the gap between the ambition and reality of attaining comprehensive national security in the shortest possible time period. Ensuring this will be an important benchmark of the Policy’s success.

The NSP places economic security at the core of comprehensive national security which will, in turn, allow greater availability of resources to bolster traditional and human security. The government can rightly take credit that manifestation of strategy in this direction was evidenced in Moody’s current assessment about Pakistan that forecast a decent growth curve despite the problems faced due to the pandemic at the global level. Overtime, sectoral policies of strategic nature will link up with the vision of the NSP to actualize the overall national security outlook and direction chosen by the country’s leadership.

A big plus point in the current NSP is a shared vision for security that is generated between all vital stakeholders as a result of drafting such a policy. The shared vision for security articulated in the NSP will promote consistency in decision-making – the imaginary lack of which is one of the big fears of its critics. Most importantly, this shared vision would help prioritize varied interests and objectives. To ensure continuation, the NSD will review and recommend updates to the Policy on a yearly basis, when a new government is formed, or in case of a major event that has far-reaching implications for Pakistan’s security.

The NSP is a right step taken by the government. National security policies are heavy on government exchequers and costly in terms of managing strategic changes for the security sector that can be unsettling in the short term. Periodic reviews are necessary, especially when the strategic environment changes, or if the current security policy is considered inadequate. In our case, particularly, its success would largely hinge upon the resolve of all stakeholders. The policy must not be treated as a typical five-year plan of a sitting government. The enshrined goal would only be achieved if successive governments wholeheartedly accept it and scrupulously follow it through the decades.

Pakistan was once described as a graveyard of doable unfinished projects. The National Security Policy is a starting point and if the government of the time does not deviate from its basic premise while drafting policies and strategies, there is great hope that, slowly and gradually, Pakistan would be able to chart a stable course and come out of its present abyss.

Air Marshal Shahid Alvi (Retd) is Deputy President, Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Lahore, Pakistan.