Pakistan’s National Security Policy document is more about power than security

I had penned the following on Saturday, January 22, 2022. The day after, the prime minister began a surreal broadcast by complaining about not being able to speak in parliament.

The recently published National Security Policy of Pakistan (along with its summary) pretends to be technical and apolitical in claiming to put economic resources and their re-distribution at the center of its framework. The reality is that this document’s political character and not-so-trivial implications are better understood if we take into account recent remarks made in two interviews by Mr. Moeed Yusuf, currently national security adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

First, consider the following from the interview with Saleem Safi on Geo News: “We cannot have national security until we have sustained economic growth in the medium and long term. To that end, there are some things… it’s not a matter of this government or that government. This is not a political document.” Consider the connection being made between security and growth. It is very admirable that the document focuses on the security of vulnerable citizens. But the fact of the matter is that insecurity – financial, physical, legal, psychological – is rife in Pakistan. There is a persistent threat of the outbreak of violence anywhere and everywhere. There is very little trustworthy protection and security against those threats, and even lesser recourse to law after the security of citizens has already been violated. The idea that security on the street and in our homes will be improved when we have growth and when we redistribute the gains from that growth is laughable. The lack of security for citizens on the street or in the home is not because we are not rich enough as a country. It is because we as a country are suffering from deep seated socio-political and institutional pathologies.

Also consider the supposedly apolitical character of the document. The fact is that all matters of the economy and policy are political, because they are concerned with the fundamental questions of production, distribution and allocation (especially allocation of human energy or human “resource” as a lot of people are fond of calling it) which are inherently issues of power and hence of politics. What is going to be made, how much and by whom, and to whom is it going to be distributed and how much – these economic questions are really about who wields how much power. And even if Pakistan were to somehow set itself upon a stable growth path, it is not clear why the beneficiaries of growth would give up their advantages in the name of some lofty national agenda unless persuaded to do so. Growth can entrench the status quo as much as it can change it.

Second, consider the following statement from the interview with Peter Dobbie of Al Jazeera English: “Politics is politics. I don’t belong to that world. The opposition will say what it says. This is a document that no Pakistani government, I can guarantee you, will go back on.” This claim was made with supreme confidence. The implication is that this is the agenda set by the country’s traditional security apparatus for anyone who might want to be in government – take it or leave it. No Pakistani government will go back on it because if they have objections, they will not be in government in the first place. If it has a change of heart afterwards, it will not be in government for very long. And the fact that this document was kept partially classified does suggest that this is more a secret agenda and less a public policy document presented by the government of the day in a democratic society.

People who profess to be apolitical or lacking an ideological orientation are either mistakenly fooling themselves or purposefully fooling others. Mr. Yusuf is smart enough to know that this is in fact a political document and that he very much belongs to the world of politics: he is closely tied to the governing party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i Insaaf (PTI), now that he is advising the current prime minister and also speaking on his behalf in public regularly. This document is not so much about a national security dialogue or focusing on the security and welfare of the citizens. It is more about the economic policy and management of the country being subsumed within the traditional security apparatus of the country. That is, it is about who holds power in Pakistan. If this document were really about the welfare and security of the most vulnerable Pakistanis, there would be no need for part of it to be classified. If the current government wishes to bolster its democratic credentials ahead of next year’s general elections, it should share the classified parts of the document with the public. Given the poor track record of this government so far, this is unlikely to happen.