The National Security Policy talks about economic growth and development, but the India-centric security obsession will remain its core policy

by Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh

India is surrounded by an unfriendly neighbourhood, thanks primarily to China and Pakistan. Since its inception, Pakistan has followed a revisionist policy as far as India is concerned and its foreign policy has been framed around the perceived existential threat it faces from India.

On 28 December 2021, the Pakistan cabinet approved its first National Security Policy (NSP) document aimed at guiding its defence and foreign policies. Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), said: “It is a truly historic achievement; a citizen-centric comprehensive national security policy with economic security at the core.”

The five-year policy document covering 2022-26 is being flaunted by the government as the first strategy paper of its kind that sets out the state’s national security vision and guidelines for the attainment of those goals. The policy, however, has not been publicly shared yet.

The security policy was unveiled at the 36th NSC meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, with participation from key ministers, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, all Services Chiefs, NSA and senior civil and military officers, according to a press release issued after the meeting.

The NSP-2022-26 was presented for approval by the NSA, who briefed the participants about the salient features of the policy. He highlighted that Pakistan was shifting to a comprehensive national security framework, whereby the ultimate purpose of national security was to ensure safety, security and dignity of citizens of Pakistan. “To ensure this citizen-centric approach to security, the NSP put economic security at the core,” said Moed Yusuf. According to him, a stronger economy would create additional resources that would in turn be judiciously distributed to further bolster military and human security.

A national security document is a vision of a path a nation should take in pursuit of its national objectives. It is, therefore, an outline of the country’s major security concerns and lays down the guidelines for dealing with them which include both external and internal security challenges and its comprehensive national power. To sum up, it is the base document for employing tools of national power in accordance with national policy to achieve its security objectives in accordance with national interests. All strategies flow from it, including the military strategy from which the joint land, air and maritime strategies are derived.

A National Security Policy document thus provides clarity and facilitates a synchronised whole nation approach while dealing with the various security challenges. The policy is devised with the consultation of all stakeholders concerned. A national security strategy has to integrate these components of policy in the focused pursuit of clearly articulated goals and priorities. It has to be more than a sum of the parts and provide an overarching, strategic focus to them.

Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, said the policy was an important milestone in strengthening Pakistan’s national security. “Pakistan’s armed forces will play their due part in achieving the vision laid out in the policy.”

While the policy remains classified, it will no doubt shed light on major issues such as security, foreign relations and economic issues. As far as India is concerned what needs to be seen is the articulation of the Pakistan policy with regard to Kashmir, terrorism, the proxy war, their nuclear policy, relations with China, policies with regard to Afghanistan and as well their relations with other countries in the region and beyond. More importantly, the national objectives would need to be specified, with the capabilities and means required to achieve these.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has remained wedded in the belief that India seeks to divide Pakistan along ethnic lines, and even though there have been repeated attempts by India to rebuild relations, any peaceful initiative has been opposed by the military apparatus — as seen during then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in February 1999 which was followed by Pakistan’s intrusion across the LoC and occupying heights overlooking Kargil; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore in December 2016 which was followed by the Pathankot terrorist attack in January 2016.

While the attack derailed the attempts to engage by both leaders, the attack in Uri later that year and in Pulwama in February 2019 only reinforced the futility of trying to engage with Pakistan while it continued to support terrorist activities and therefore forced a change in India’s policy of strategic restraint by carrying out surgical strikes. There has been no bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers since 2015 as there remains a deeply embedded hostility towards India.

Due to its geostrategic location, Pakistan has always found itself to be at the centre of global geopolitics — be it the Cold War, Afghanistan’s occupation by the erstwhile USSR, and the global war against terrorism. Since its inception, its foreign policy has been largely driven by its security concerns rather than political, economic or social issues. Today, Pakistan is closest to China and this mutual trust emanates as both have a common goal in countering India.

What remains to be seen is that while publicly the National Security Policy talks about economic growth and developmental progress, it is unlikely that these will take precedence over its primary security concern — India — for which it leans heavily towards China. Pivotal equations between India and Pakistan will continue to be dominated by Kashmir, the ongoing proxy war and terrorism; it is unlikely that this prevailing equilibrium is likely to be reset by this classified policy document. The India-centric security obsession will remain the core of this policy.