It’s business as usual — or the lack of it—in Pakistan. Weeks after details became known and 12 days after it was formally unveiled, the National Security Policy (NSP) has elicited little debate, and even less enthusiasm, about incorporating geo-economics and human resource development to make the country’s security holistic.
There is no further word from Prime Minister Imran Khan who formally launched it on January 14. He switched the discourse this week, making the American Silicon Valley the model and on other economic issues.
The Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, who has been pushing for the last four years for a shift away from the solely militaristic approach has also been silent.
Even National Security Advisor Moed Yusuf, credited with supervising the final draft, is silent on the civil-military leadership being “on the same page” on the NSP.
There is no word also on promoting closer economic ties with countries in the region, including an ‘adversarial’ India with which there is currently no trade, generally the prisoner to overall bilateral relations.
Some security analysts have cautiously supported the idea. Among them, Ayesha Siddiqa this month said the NSP cannot succeed unless Pakistan effectively conducts its geo-economics “with the larger neighbour.”
Those who have to carry out the ‘action’ — business community, the Chambers of Commerce and the traders who engage in import-export — are awaiting the government to put the document to planning and implementation.
Dawn newspaper (January 24, 2022) that sought to elicit their opinion by way of a follow-up found that the business leaders were asking the government “rather politely” to take “all political parties on board”.
Although the Khan Government claims to have conducted “wide-ranging” discussions, it kept out mainstream opposition and even its allies. The Senate’s Committee on Defence was ‘briefed’, but the opposition boycotted that meeting.
The newspaper said that that welcoming the basic idea, “big businesses in Pakistan believe that placing the economy at the core of the security doctrine can generate the much-needed thrust for growth and sustainable development.”
Dawn further said “the micro-segment, mostly comprising unregistered entities, finds itself too overwhelmed by survival challenges to care about what it considers a remote development with no direct bearing on it or its future.”
The NSP comes when Pakistan is facing one of its worst economic crises, having to seek yet another loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Khan, who delayed it and sought funds from other sources is being called “international beggar” by the opposition.
General Bajwa began the push soon after assuming the command back in 2017. At a seminar jointly organised by the Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR) and the FPCCI in Karachi, he had spoken about setting economic priorities straight and had hammered the need to broaden the tax base, establish fiscal discipline and ensure consistency in economic policies.
In March last year, he addressed the relations with India, saying Pakistan wanted ‘peace’ and “no war for hundred years.”
Taking cue from this, the Commerce Ministry announced select resumption of trade with India. But it was vetoed at the Cabinet meeting that Khan chaired. The government reiterated that resuming economic ties would ‘dilute’ Pakistan’s campaign on the Kashmir issue. The matter rested there, with even the military leadership staying silent on it.
Dealing with India is being spelt very cautiously in Pakistani media as the NSP is debated. In a January 3, 2022 analysis in The Express Tribune, Kamran Yusuf wrote: “The crucial question of course is: can we do trade with India without resolving the longstanding dispute over Kashmir? For the last seven decades, Pakistan has consistently maintained that trade and commercial ties could only happen when the issue of Kashmir is settled.”
He noted that past governments “tried to bring a shift in that approach but were unsuccessful. Those who staunchly opposed trade ties with India believe that if Pakistan starts trading with India like any other country, its stance on Kashmir would be weakened.”
“But the counter-view,” he argued, “is that increased trade and commercial ties may create inter-dependencies, perhaps leading to the resolution of disputes.
“Proponents of that approach cite the example of India-China rivalry. The two countries are engaged in territorial disputes over which there have been bloody exchanges at the border in the last couple of years, yet the bilateral trade figure between them is astonishing, having touched a record $114 billion this year. This burgeoning trade between the two Asian countries will prevent an all-out war since the stakes are too high,” Yusuf wrote.
“Can Pakistan also think on these lines? Certainly, it is not going to be an easy proposition but that’s what the new security policy must focus on — finding answers to difficult questions. Else, it will be an exercise in futility,” Kamran Yusuf wrote.
He has lobbed the ball in the court of Pakistan’s civil-military leadership. They are yet to play it.