May 23, 2022

In a nutshell: Pakistan’s ‘first’ National Security Policy 2022-2026

By Natasha Shahid

Pakistan released its National Security Policy (NSP) – touted as the country’s ‘first’ ever – towards the end of last year. Approved by the country’s National Security Council (NSC) on December 27, 2021, the document was passed by the Federal Cabinet a day later on December 28, 2021, thereby approving it for imposition countrywide.

The country’s premier launched a public summary of the classified document, spanning a total of 62 pages, on 14th January. The public brief – which includes a message from the Prime Minister, a message from the National Security Advisor, and an executive summary – is a declassified version of the original 100-page document which has not been made public in its entirety. According to the policy’s released version, it summarily redirects the country’s decision-making process from a military-centric approach to a citizen-centric one, at the core of which lies economic and human development and parity.

Despite its name, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s security policy seeks more to secure the country’s economy and citizens than its borders. To quote the released document: with the ‘ultimate purpose’ of ensuring ‘the safety, security, dignity, and prosperity of our people’, ‘the policy places economic security at the core of comprehensive national security, emphasizing a geo-economic vision to supplement the focus on geo-strategy, and recognizes that sustainable and inclusive economic growth is needed to expand our national resource pie.’ (p.vi)

Commenting on the policy at the event of its unveiling, the Prime Minister of the country and PTI chief, Imran Khan stated that, “The policy puts economic security at the core. A stronger economy would create additional resources which would then be distributed to further bolster military and human security.”

Denouncing the ‘traditional’ approach of designing a country’s security policy solely around its military needs, the Prime Minister lauded the NSP as the country’s first ‘consensus document’ – focusing on the fact that it was finalized with consensus from both the civil and military leadership – to define ‘national security in a proper way.’ In sum, the Prime Minister’s speech at the event of the policy’s reveal focused on the need to divert the approach from the ‘one-dimensional’ to the ‘multi-dimensional’, with the former fixating on the military security of the country and the latter concentrating, instead, on a holistic view of the security of the country’s citizens, of which military security is a small part.

The country’s premier further elaborated on how the country’s economic stability plays a divisive role in protecting citizens, suggesting that in the presence of a weak economy, the state is dependent upon external sources of macro-funding, such as the International Monetary Fund, which has been at odds with the country of late. “When you borrow from the IMF,” Khan said, “you have to agree to their conditionalities and that leads to compromise of your security.”

Among the various determinants of national security included in the policy’s abridged document are ‘national cohesion’, ‘securing our economic future’, ‘defence and territorial integrity’, ‘internal security’, and the challenges of ‘foreign policy in a changing world’. The document thereby, indeed, does embody an ‘all-encompassing’ attitude towards ensuring the security of the country and its people across many fronts. The policy is also reportedly said to seek ‘no hostility with India for the next 100 years’, further highlighting the need for a ‘peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue’ – an approach that was later hailed by the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

However, questions have been raised from various corners, firstly on the secrecy surrounding the composition of the policy and, secondly, on its effectiveness and even the need for it.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman brought the government under fire for shrouding the document in mystery and for excluding the opposition from the process of the document’s formulation, asking “What sort of a policy is this that Parliament did not get a chance to debate over? Parliament has not even seen this policy.”

Just a day after the release of the public version of the security policy, Sherry Rehman’s view was reiterated by the chief of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, Fazlur Rehman, who – alleging that the government ‘played games’ with Kashmir through the National Security Policy – added that, “The National Security policy was being formulated, but Parliament was unaware about it.”

The international media, on the other hand, seems to dismiss the policy as superfluous. In talks with the country’s National Security Advisor, Dr Moeed Yusuf, Qatar-based Aljazeera’s Peter Dobbie took a dig at the policy, when suggesting that it is ‘big on large sweeping ideas’ but ‘very, very short on detail’. To this observation, the country’s NSA replied, “Without big ideas – or ‘sweeping ideas’ as you call them – you’re not going to have a direction. We’ve had multiple [sic.] sectoral policies like any other country but we were missing an umbrella which told us, which told our citizens, and which told the world Pakistan’s statement of intent for itself.”

In stating this, the advisor more or less restated the Prime Minister’s message appended to the public version of the policy in which he expresses the belief that, “Bold visions and big ideas lie at the heart of human progress and prosperity.”

Currently, the country – and, indeed, the world – seems to be polarized in their views of the so-called ‘first national security policy document’ which took seven years to formulate. While some celebrate it as the epitome of national advancement and a critical redirection for Pakistan, others dismiss it as a framework ‘full of nothing’. 

Whether one extremity wins over the other, or the ultimate truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes, remains to be seen.

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