Going beyond the expected message to India, with emphasis on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan’s National Security Policy (NSP) announced on January 14, 2022 seems a signal to the Western nations that while their monetary assistance is welcome, they should expect no military/logistic favours or any ‘strategic’ concessions.
Prime Minister Imran Khan who unveiled the 50-page public version of the 110-page document (the latter remains classified), makes it clear that Pakistan was not ready to allow military bases. He was reiterating the resolve announced last year when the United States seriously sought military base facilities for evacuating from Afghanistan and monitoring the new Taliban regime.
“Communicating Pakistan’s concerns to policy makers in Washington while seeking to broaden our partnership beyond a narrow counter-terrorism focus will be a priority,” it states.
This goes against the very basis, even the grain of Pakistan that was conceived as part of the “camp politics” as it existed post-World War 2. Pakistan happily sought to be incorporated into now-defunct CENTO and SEATO that were built as bulwark against the then Soviet Union and the newly-formed communist China. Its military and nuclear might was built with Western help, till it partly switched over to China.
That Pakistan now wants to stay out of ‘blocs’ comes when it perceives itself firmly and cozily with China, which is the new pole of this century’s bloc-politics, with the United States forming the other end with its allies in Europe and in Asia.
The current US-China tussle for dominance, both global and regional, places Pakistan close to China – except that Pakistan is currently seeking yet another tranche of loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is dependent upon the World Bank as well.
In essence, the NSP spells out in soft, ‘strategic’ language what successive Pakistani civilian leaders, Imran Khan in particular, engage in, an anti-West diatribe to play to the popular gallery, especially the Muslim clergy and the conservative sections of the society. Within this falls the alleged Western societies’ nursing of Islamophobia.
Hence, the bold declaration in the NSP that Pakistan wants to switch, or balance its emphasis on geo-politics with geo-economics may have relevance in the region, but it cannot help it escape the obligations that the Western monetary assistance is bound to entail.
Equally, the world community, and not just any ‘bloc’, requires it to behave ‘responsibly’ on two other key fronts – nuclear proliferation and elimination of terrorism from its soil and body politic. On both counts, it remains under watch. Unable or unwilling to fulfil all the stipulations on curbing money-laundering and flow of funds into fomenting terrorism, Pakistan remains on the ‘grey’ list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The NSP document as also the prime minister, have lamented that Pakistan needed to have inclusive growth, but “compulsions to acquire loans from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put the national economy at risk”. But it will be a very long time, assuming it has begun to work, right away, on its plans announced on January 14 to free itself from dependence on foreign assistance.
Khan as also his critics have regretted that national security has only military dimensions and overlooked all others like economics and improving human development indicators. Institutions other than the military were neglected or completely overlooked.
“A weak economy dependent on foreign assistance has left the country’s sovereignty extremely vulnerable. With little investment in people, the country is at the lowest rung of all human development indicators. We may boast of being a nuclear power and one of the strongest regional military forces, yet the country remains insecure with growing internal instability both on the political and economic fronts,” Zahid Hussain wrote in Dawn (January 12, 2022).
However, even this NSP, unveiled by the prime minister, does not take other sections along, away from the National Assembly which is the right place for unveiling a national document. The opposition was not consulted and boycotted the meeting where lawmakers were briefed.
Shorn of rhetoric and lofty declarations, the five-year NSP remains India-centric and what its own critics call, ‘obsession’ with the Kashmir issue. Thus India finds mention 16 times with Jammu and Kashmir at the “core”. “A just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains at the core of our bilateral relationship,” the NSP says.
This may appeal to the military mentors who are supposedly on the “same page” as the civilian leadership on the policy, and also reassure the domestic audiences that are fed on this narrative for over seven decades. But it marks no departure when a document enunciating long-term national plans engages in criticism of the way India is being currently governed, casting aspersion on its leadership and its institutions.
This makes the NSP a tub-thumping exercise, no different from what its political and military leaders and Foreign Office statements put out day after day. Unsurprisingly, there is no reaction from India. The talk of Pakistan emphasising geo-economics more than geo-politics was begun last year by the Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Soon enough, the Commerce Ministry put out plans to resume, albeit selectively, trade with India. Within two days, the Khan-presided Cabinet meeting annulled that decision. India accorded “most favoured nation” concessions to Pakistan when the trade existed, a gesture that Pakistan has refused to return.
Bajwa’s counsel finds some reflection in the NSP when, as the prime minister says, Pakistan wants “100 years of peace” and eschewing of war. It also talks of resort by the state actors to use non-state actors. Underlining that “extremism and radicalisation” on the basis of ethnicity or religion “pose a challenge to our society”, it states that the “exploitation and manipulation of ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines through violent extremist ideologies” cannot be allowed.
Compared to India, how do other countries figure in the NSP? The US and China get little mention considering their key importance in any of Pakistan’s scheme of things. The space to West Asia and the Gulf where millions of Pakistanis are employed is limited, Turkey find only one-line mention, like Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s highest shrines that exercises huge influence in Pakistan’s affairs. This only reflects larger-than-life impact of India in Pakistan’s plans, be on geo-politics or geo-economics. (Ends)