Pakistan’s National Security Policy which was officially released on January 14, 2022, starts with this enlightening statement by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran khan: “Bold visions and big ideas lie at the heart of human progress and prosperity; Policies that encapsulate these contribute towards galvanizing national sentiments in line with the vision and goals a nation sets for itself”. PM Khan’s message in itself lays the foundation of a new paradigm shift in the country’s approach to national security by advocating for the inclusion of intrepid visions that link human and national prosperity. The newly- released National Security Policy is considered a one-of-a-kind policy document because it lays out the state’s national security vision and guidelines for achieving the country’s strategic goals. Through this document, Pakistan has articulated a vision to protect its citizens from traditional and non-traditional security threats so as to help promote peace, prosperity, and development both within and without.
NSP: The Novel Aspects
The 48-page policy document not only comprehensively maps the entire spectrum of security threats to the State but also commits to reorienting the focus towards the protection and safety of the citizens. As per the Policy, a “country is as secure as its most vulnerable citizen. The safety, security, dignity, and prosperity of citizens in all their manifestations will remain the ultimate purpose of Pakistan’s national security.” This is something that demonstrates a laudable shift from a traditional approach to an all-embracing, people-centric one. The document also sheds light on how focusing on leveraging Pakistan’s geoeconomic potential would complement its geostrategic advantages. This, according to the Policy, would be undergirded by augmenting the country’s economic security.
Another novel feature of the NSP is that it has addressed the human security dimension, including that of gender security, for the first time. This addition is noteworthy because it had not garnered the attention of Pakistani policymakers in the past. Both of these domains require special attention in Pakistan, particularly after the Covid-19 outbreak, which made the state acknowledge that without ensuring gender security, improving healthcare institutions, and focusing on the needs of the populace, peace would be elusive.
Achieving Economic Security: A Necessity for Pakistan
The new policy aims at achieving self-sufficiency in the economy through ‘sustainable growth, inclusive ‘development, and financial solvency’, however, the existing economic deficit and vulnerabilities in the established system are hampering the expansion of Pakistan’s economy which has resulted in its acquiring external debts and creating energy sector crises. Despite the fact that the present government has identified economic security as a core area of concern that must be addressed by all means, it is still relying heavily on foreign funding/financial aid to stabilize the economy. For instance, the current government has taken 33 billion US dollars’ worth of loans from foreign resources in the past three years. The lenders include foreign banks, states, and International monetary institutions like World Bank. Also, the government negotiated yet another bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Meanwhile the government’s plan to give equal importance to geoeconomics, geo-politics, and geostrategy, and to leverage Pakistan’s strategic location as an economic gateway, is being overshadowed by Afghanistan’s current crises. The Taliban have, so far, not been able to secure all of Afghan territory, making the route insecure for unimpeded trade. Apart from that, the presence of Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), which is a major threat to the Taliban administration, is causing security-related issues in Afghanistan and will most likely continue to do so, impacting economic operations that are only expected to emerge once the state’s territory is stable and free of conflict. Further, Pakistan’s current industrial capability does not allow it to export a substantial number of goods, limiting the economic corridor’s utility for Pakistan because a state cannot survive, let thrive just on transit fee.
The Human Security Dream: Aspirational or Achievable?
Achieving human security is possible only if significant amount of time, an abundance of finances, and a right strategy are geared towards it. Pakistan’s government at the moment lacks the resources necessary to make human security a reality. Although, the government has launched various initiatives, such as the Ehsaas and Sehat Sahulat programs, the main question is whether these will be sustained in the long run. The majority of citizens have been deprived of basic health care in backward areas. Also, existing gender bias in society, lack of access to clean water, and educational crises are on the rise. To address these concerns, the government will need to spend funds, which will necessitate budget cuts in numerous areas like in defense and development. Both are impractical in the long term due to a) cross-border aggression and b) economic growth implications. This predicament is not lost on the government given that the Policy is centered on increasing the resource pie, with a view to meeting a range of security and developmental agendas. So, the success of the human security gambit solely depends on the willingness of successive governments to commit to carrying out a series of structural reforms in governance and economy.
Is Energy Security the Key?
Energy security, which is generally linked with a continuous supply of energy resources at a reasonable price, significantly helps the development of a robust economy and the state’s energy self-sufficiency. The idea of harnessing the energy industry, to propel the country’s economy given in the NSP document is a sound one, but the key question is how far this option can be explored. Pakistan’s energy sector is heavily reliant on foreign energy imports to meet its needs, and the country is currently energy-vulnerable. It must be noted that Pakistan’s primary energy resources are oil and gas. Pakistan’s oil production is 4.3 million metric tons and that meets only up to 20% percent domestic needs, whereas to fulfill the remaining 80% demand, oil is being imported. This is an immense gap that brings many challenges to the fore for Pakistan. In terms of natural gas, the country holds 0.5 percent of the reserves. According to various reports, Pakistan has imported gas in recent years in order to meet demand and supply gaps. In 2019, it imported 11,199.790 cubic meters of gas and there was also an increase in the imports from July-October period during the last fiscal year 2021 that was 8.4 billion dollars.
Pakistan intends to increase energy security in the coming years by increasing renewable energy capacity (hydro and solar) and reducing reliance on hydrocarbon-based energy resources. However, the current government’s actions somehow contradict its words, for it removed a 17 % sales tax exemption on solar power equipment and imposed an additional three percent sales tax on solar-related equipment last month.
Navigating Troubled Waters
There are a number of issues that need to be navigated. Firstly, Pakistan’s efforts to jump on the geoeconomic bandwagon will be impeded by the current power competition between the United States and China. It could, for instance cause problems for Pakistan, primarily because the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the flagship projects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As a result of this, volatility will persist in Pakistan-U.S. relations, and Pakistan’s geoeconomic prosperity will require cordial relations with major powers, including the U.S. The argument is simple: the United States is a superpower with a degree of clout in Central Asia and beyond, which COULD enable Pakistan in utilizing its strategic location as an economic transit route. The government’s proposal appears to be sound on paper, but implementation on the ground could be challenging.
Second, the language of the foreign policy section appears to be similar to the country’s previous articulations. While the sets of foreign policy goals outlined in the Policy are strategic in nature, achieving them would be a tough ask given the very many systemic, regional, and global issues that challenge Pakistan.
Overall, the policymakers’, institutions’, and public sector’s efforts in drafting the first-ever National Security Policy are commendable. It appears that integrating non-traditional dimensions of security with the traditional ones is a wise idea. However, as noted in the foregoing analysis, certain aspects must be thoroughly analyzed and addressed going forward.
Uswa Khan is a Non-Resident Junior Fellow at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR). She is an Erasmus Mundus Scholar currently pursuing her International Master in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies.