Overview of Pakistan’s national security policy

By Salma Shaheen

Pakistan’s first National Security Policy 2022-26 (hereafter the Policy), in many ways like defence white papers or national security policies of other nuclear-armed states, identifies threats, challenges and opportunities offered by rapidly changing regional and global politics and outs forward approaches to bolster country’s comprehensive national security. The Policy, undoubtedly, is an emboldening step towards ownership and formalization of Pakistan’s security policymaking yet it has inherent dichotomies and ambiguities about proactive foreign policy, enlarging national resources pie, welfare and military modernisation that require further elaboration.

The Policy emphasizes, like Britain’s Integrated Review, upon pursuing a proactive, forward-looking and confident foreign policy behaviour. In context of Britain, this foreign policy behaviour envisages a Global Britain with a desire to move forward firmly after the Brexit in a world of technological advancements and burgeoning alliances and partnerships across the globe. In case of Pakistan, the Policy demonstrates a social construction of transformed self-perception of Pakistan. The stress on “a proactive, forward-looking approach for Pakistan’s policy makers” instead of “a static or reactive outlook” suggests a consensus view that Pakistan and its people are better placed geo-strategically to play a role in regional and international politics. This perception of geography and eagerness to pursue proactive foreign policy denote Pakistan’s aspirations to search for a role in regional and international politics. These aspirations could be based on the role Pakistan played in Afghanistan, Middle East politics in recent past. However, for this proaction to materialise Pakistan does require potential for agenda setting and facilitation of regional politics and global politics to achieve that agenda. The tilt of global politics towards Info-Pacific region is critical for Pakistan’s foreign policy proaction. 

Besides positive tone of moving towards proaction, the document appears confusing when it states that Pakistan should unapologetically pursue its foreign policy. What does unapologetic mean in the context of this Policy document? How has Pakistan conducted foreign policy in past Apologetically? And why? What lessons Pakistan learnt that led its decision-makers to now promote unapologetic foreign policy behaviour and conduct? Even in context of proaction, whilst keeping in view Policy’s aim of proactive identification and capitalisation of opportunities and mitigation of threats emanating from fluid global and fast-changing geo-political realities, Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir is incomprehensible. Moreover, the Policy’s guideline to maintain secure air and sea, and to manage instead of resolving border disputes tends to demonstrate limitations of proaction at regional level.

The Policy puts forth the idea of expanding national resource pie in order to provide a bigger slice for defence is dichotomous. Let’s deconstruct this! For instance, the Policy places human security at its centre that the policymakers aimed to achieve through “sustainable and inclusive economic growth”. The Policy claims to move away from the conventional “guns vs butter” debate by building a symbiotic relationship between economic growth, traditional and non-traditional security. On one hand, this does set a transformation of Pakistani state where economic growth and competition are envisaged as solution to traditional and non-traditional security challenges. This economic growth could directly encourage and ensure citizens’ livelihood but, on the other hand, the overwhelming idea one can grasp from reading the document is that a “sustainable and inclusive economic growth” is eyed at expanding the national resource pie in order to devote bigger chunks to different aspects of security. The Policy envisages a positive relationship between defence spending and economic growth but doesn’t talk about how this national resource pie will be sliced and how these slices will be distributed among different elements of national power. With increase in national resource pie, what will be ratio of defence and welfare spending? An increase in welfare of people implies increase in demand for defence, which in turn require more resources to defence. However, the welfare:defence spending ratio will determine whether or not Pakistan’s national security policy has successfully avoided “guns vs butter” tradeoff. Moreover, an increase in economic activity is deemed as raising citizens’ living standards and improving their wellbeing but the document doesn’t explicate to achieve higher economic growth without sustainable depletion of natural resources and degradation of environment.

The Policy asserts establishment of a welfare system to uphold the wellbeing of Pakistani citizens is an encouraging idea as it would build a positive image of Pakistan and establish domestic stability and social cohesion as an insurance against any social revolution. This could help Pakistan survive through tough periods and build a positive image of Pakistan. Additionally, the Policy develops a link between welfare and national security. Any welfare programme or a reform that can ensure human security would benefit military infrastructure and manpower as well. However, the modernization and optimization of force structure could impact social cohesion. Military manpower and infrastructure brings society and economy closer to defence, therefore, if optimization of force structure implies reduction in military manpower then it could challenge social cohesion whereas incorporation of technological advancements into defence could bring society and economy closer to defense through technological R&D.

Another policy guideline to “deter war through all elements of national power” tends to broaden the scope of deterrence and implies resilience at societal, economic, political and military realms to support such an all-encompassing and broad scope of deterrence. To support of this scope, the Policy aims at modernisation of armed forces without engaging in an arms race, which appears unsettled proposition. In simple terms, additional resources for defence suggests increase in defence spending that in turn could embroil Pakistan into military competitive acquisitions and arms race. The Policy envisions a modernized and optimal force structure. On positive side, the financial burden of military modernisation on exchequer can be met through increase in national resource pie. Besides accumulating additional resources for defence, the cost of incorporation of advanced technologies in military could be offset by commensurate reduction in military manpower and infrastructure (weapons and equipment). In this way, Pakistan could thrive on modernisation and optimisation of its force structure.

The proposition of integrating defence capabilities into country’s economic and societal capacities to maximise national power, akin to British Integrated Operating Concept, is advantageous in terms of optimisation of national resources and promoting social conhesion. More so, a resolve for investment in R&D in emerging technologies set in the Policy demonstrates clear understanding, like other nuclear-armed states, of challenges of future societies and economies. However, states such as Japan are struggling to gear national effort to prepare themselves for future characterised with emerging technologies.

The Policy foresees an omnipresent character of country’s national security that requires resilient economy and society, thus reflecting policymakers’ understanding about the threats and challenges of rapidly changing global security landscape including rise of new partnerships and alliances, consequences of global pandemic, technological transformations. This changing landscape undoubtedly requires national security debates and discourse across the globe undergoing transformation in terms of integration of civilian and military spheres. For instance, the Biden Administration is aiming at integration of the National Security Council with other departments including the National Economic Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council. Therefore, a holistic conception and approach of national security is the new global trend and Pakistan’s National Security Policy manifests this trend. Nonetheless, the ideas and propositions set out in the document are in need of further articulation.

Salma Shaheen is a London-based academic.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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