Ironically, while Pakistan claims that it does not want war with India and seeks resolution of outstanding issues, its narrative for India has not altered in any form. Though the security policy talks about facilitating peace and stability in the region, it was only two months ago that Pakistan had declined India’s invitation to attend the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue to discuss Afghanistan. China had also skipped that meeting.

Pakistan’s first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) was unveiled by Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 14. The public version of the NSP puts “economic security at the core of comprehensive national security” and aims to enhance the economic outreach for Pakistan. It is intended to be an umbrella document providing a guideline for the future growth and development of the country, specifically for the next five years (2022-26). The NSP has apparently been in the making for seven years and was started in 2014 under the then National Security Adviser (NSA), Sartaj Aziz. The document has generated ample speculation and curiosity in India.

While an official document of this nature has been announced for the first time in Pakistan, there have been attempts in the recent past aiming at national growth emphasising geo-economics and connectivity which seems to be a buzz phrase now in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Army Chief formulated the ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ in two phases, one in 2018 and the second in 2021. The Bajwa Doctrine 2.0, articulated on March 18, 2021, during the Islamabad Security Dialogue, had a short expiry date and nothing concrete was heard regarding the execution of the Army Chief’s vision.

The NSP talks about the government’s vision, “which believes that the security of Pakistan rests in the security of its citizens. This citizen-centric approach to national security prioritises national cohesion and the prosperity of people.” The policy brings in a much-needed national initiative accelerated by Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf, aiming for a growth-driven policy for the country. Pakistan has been facing critical internal and external challenges and a revised narrative is expected to bring hope to the populace which is angry and disappointed with Imran Khan for failing to fulfil his election promises of ‘Naya Pakistan’, and are struggling to deal with the high inflation rate and rising consumer prices.

Islamabad’s pressures have been mounting. Pakistan’s worsening economic crisis projects alarming figures and the country seems to be in the position of a chronic borrower as it gets ready to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a review. The IMF loans do fuel more resentment and anger given the strict conditionalities attached to the IMF loan, which demand a raise in taxation and reduction in subsidies. The much applauded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is moving at a dimmer pace (than planned) and the anti-state and anti-China protests are getting traction in Gwadar — a jewel in the CPEC crown. The peaceful and non-violent civil rights movement driven by the popular Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) — FATA merged with KPK in 2018 — alleges serious human rights violations and alienation by the state authorities against the Pashtuns, who comprise the largest minority making up 15-20 per cent of Pakistan’s population. The Pashtuns have been protesting against the targeted killings, encounter killings, forceful disappearances, arrests and harassment at the multiple check posts in the region. Ironically, the PTI government has been keen to liberally negotiate with the deadly terrorist organisation Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — with the help of the Afghan Taliban — responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the 2014 Peshawar school massacre. On the other hand, the state sees the ethnic loyalties (Pashtun movement) as a challenge to Islamic unity of the country and tags the PTM supporters as traitors and foreign agents.

On the international front, even though Imran Khan and his cabinet try hard to sustain the conventional narrative of victimhood, Pakistan’s image and credibility has taken a significant beating in recent time, given its support to the Taliban takeover in Kabul and the unending Afghan miseries. The Afghan Taliban, although dependent on Rawalpindi for support, have fiercely combated the fencing of the contested Durand Line by Pakistan and have refused to recognise it as an international border. Pakistan has also not been able to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to exclude it from the grey list and have failed to implement the action points. While Pakistan is extremely confident of the fatherly support from of its all-weather friend China, the current status of its relationship with the United States is not comforting. India’s growing strategic cooperation with Washington is adding to Islamabad’s (and Beijing’s) discomfort. Whether Pakistan likes it or not, its relationship with the US, which in the past got it much-needed strategic dividends, now seems to be restricted to counter terrorism.

With respect to India, the document attempts to open channels of dialogue with India and puts across that Pakistan would want to resolve all disputes with India, and Jammu and Kashmir is at the core of the bilateral relationship. But the NSP blames India for having hegemonic designs, raising the threat of military adventurism, arms build-up, expansion of nuclear triad, regressive and dangerous ideology, introducing destabilising technologies (which) disturb the strategic balance in the region, and spreading disinformation against Pakistan. Ironically, while Pakistan claims that it does not want war with India and seeks resolution of outstanding issues, its narrative for India has not altered in any form. Although the NSP talks about facilitating peace and stability in the region, two months back, Pakistan declined India’s invitation to attend the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue to discuss Afghanistan on November 10, 2021. China, which sees India-Pakistan hostility to its strategic advantage, also skipped the meeting. Pakistan took over a month to respond to New Delhi’s proposal of sending wheat to Afghanistan. Pakistan’s use of terror has been a deterrent in any dialogue or resolution so far. India’s position — talks and terror cannot go together — has been pretty firm post the Pathankot terror attack on January 2, 2016.

While overall, the NSP appears to be a step in a positive direction, the execution is not known and would demand a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s thinking and approach. Pakistan’s strategic calculus which relies on terrorism as a foreign policy tool will have to be altered. A citizen-centric “Comprehensive National Security” framework would imply prioritising the welfare of its people vis-à-vis a highly militarised political and economic culture which restricts dividends for the masses. Pakistan will have to redefine its national objectives with a reduced obsession for staying at par with India and enhanced focus on building the real strength within. The critical question here is whether Pakistan is ready for a complete policy shift or is the NSP just rhetoric? And if it is ready, will its strategic allies/assets at the domestic level and international level allow such a shift?