It seems there is more scepticism in Pakistani media on the PR skills of Pakistan’s National Security Division than there is among their counterparts across the border. No sooner did Pakistan announce the release of a ‘National Security Policy’ (NSP) last week that Indian media carried headlines on how Pakistan wants “100 years of peace with India”, seeks no more “hostility”, and looks “for normalization of trade and business ties with India.” One outlet even called for “brotherhood to triumph over the intoxication of nationalism.”
No matter how harsh the reality, a section of Indians continues to persist with their utopic dreams of “peace” with a terror-sponsoring failed state that has mastered the art of exploiting its instability.
The central question, however, is how seriously should we take the NSP? It has been published by an administration whose head, prime minister Imran Khan, recently claimed that Pakistan’s economic condition is “better than India’s.” The country is buried under a mountain of external and domestic debt, it is the mothership of global terrorism, a veritable basket case in economic mismanagement where ordinary people bear the cost of the army’s towering geopolitical goals while its civil leadership, which has failed in nearly every parameter, preaches obscurantist Islamist ideology and radicalises own citizens.
But there are more concrete points to be made. The NSP is a political orphan. Though it has reportedly taken seven years to formulate, the document lacks the kind of political proprietorship that lends validity to such a treatise. A contrast can be made with the erstwhile ‘National Action Plan’ that came up as a response to the terrorist attacks in Peshawar on schoolchildren in 2014.
That document, which aimed at mitigating the internal and external threats faced by Pakistan, had the authorship of the Nawaz Sharif government and “remained significant because it had emerged from a cross-party and civil-military consensus, however fleeting that turned out to be,” points out TCA Raghavan, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. In contrast, the NSP is “almost an academic or think tank output rather than a purposeful government statement of intent and policy,” writes the ambassador in The Telegraph.
And this isn’t a solely Indian view. That the document — only 50-odd pages of 100 pages have been declassified — is essentially a military discourse bereft of any civilian buy-in, is an argument that has been made by Pakistani commentators as well. Tariq Aqil points out in Friday Times, a Pakistani weekly, that “this important national policy was not discussed in National Assembly or the Senate. The opposition was not taken on board, and no input was sought from any academics, researchers, scholars, or think tanks. It was kept under wraps as a closely guarded secret under the usual guise of national security.” Abbas Nasir, the former editor of Dawn, writes that “it is no more than a plethora of platitudes and will be a non-starter.”
A ’national security policy’ that bypasses the civilian leadership and democratic processes, howsoever fragile, and lacks even a rudimentary roadmap to attain the lofty objectives that have been set, is a non-serious document that deserves to be taken with scepticism.
The lack of participatory process and absence of consensus-building exercise also places the document at odds with its grand ambitions such as redefining Pakistan’s ‘national security’ and shifting it from the domain of security and geostrategy to geo-economic integration (the fingerprint of army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is evident) — what the document calls ”citizen-centric approach to national security” that realises the “symbiotic relationship between economic, human, and traditional security” as “imperative for Pakistan’s long-term development.”
While such a shift is welcome and long overdue, since the document is more of an academic exercise it doesn’t specify how it plans to attain the “vision” of keeping “economic security at the core”, and “judiciously transfer the dividends of a strong economy” to strengthen “defence and human security”. It doesn’t elaborate on how to gather the necessary resources.
This is puzzling because Pakistan is going through heavy government debt, mounting inflation, sky-high fuel prices and stringent conditionalities to access IMF funds. It is evident, therefore, that Pakistan understands the imperatives of such a shift but is unwilling to pay the costs involved and has nothing to say on the difficult choices that must be made, including reducing the oversized role of army in its polity.
What, then, is the point of this elaborate academic exercise? The primary goal of Pakistan’s new NSP is perception management. While the prospect of a dangerous nuclear-armed state collapsing in a heap keeps the West wide awake at night, in reality, Pakistan has managed to exploit its anemic state and inherent instability quite well by mastering the art of victimhood.
That game, however, seems to be up. Among the many repercussions that followed the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, two important ones are the lessening of its salience to the US and a belated clarity in Washington on why the US lost as the dubious role played by Pakistan in that defeat becomes clearer. This has real-time consequences for Pakistan. As American lawmakers accuse Pakistan of “double-dealing” and “unraveling its aims” in Afghanistan, the Joe Biden administration has promised to “reassess” its ties amid calls for “strategic downgrade.”
Since the country lives and dies on ‘optics’, it will hurt Pakistan that it is facing a serious problem of optics in the West. Its ‘reputation’ of being a global headache continues unabated. It manages to court a steady stream of negative headlines. An ongoing trial in the UK is hearing sensational charges of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI promising £100,000 to a British-Pakistan hitman to bump off an exiled Pakistani blogger based in The Netherlands. According to the BBC, “31-year-old Muhammad Gohir Khan was hired as a ‘hitman’ by figures said to be based in Pakistan” to murder Ahmad Waqass Goraya in Rotterdam who “had set up a blog on Facebook making fun of the Pakistani military and detailing alleged human rights violations” and is a known critic of Pakistan’s military establishment. The development has also received wide coverage in Pakistan with The Dawn detailing how the jury was given details of how this “alleged plot was hatched and funds transferred to finalise the deal.”
Last weekend, a 44-year-old British-Pakistani named Malik Faisal Akram took four Jews hostages in a synagogue in Texas, demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a US-based Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year prison sentence in Texas for attempting to kill FBI agents and soldiers at an Afghan police compound in 2008 and for plotting bio-terror attacks on US soil.
Siddiqui, also known as ‘Lady Al-Qaeda’ for connections with the terrorist organization, has been at the centre of a sustained demand by Muslim civil society organisations and the state of Pakistan to release her from American custody. The convicted terrorist was part of a bargain offer by Islamabad which wanted to buy her freedom in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Media reports point out that in 2018, the Pakistani senate unanimously passed a resolution to take up the matter of Siddiqui’s release with the US, referring to her as the “daughter of the nation” and Imran Khan’s PTI party in its campaign to bring back Siddiqui called her one of Pakistan’s “biggest assets”.
When a convicted terrorist who has a history of antisemitic behavior is considered a ‘state asset’, it goes to show how Islamist jihad remains the fulcrum of Pakistan’s state ideology and the salience of terror as Pakistan’s foreign policy tool. As the link between the state of Pakistan and the Texas hostage incident becomes evident, calls are being raised anew for Pakistan to be declared a ‘state sponsor of terror.’
As Michael Rubin, senior fellow of Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute writes, “Pakistan’s embrace of Aafia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Pakistani government continues to let those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks—terrorist attacks which killed Americans—roam free. Pakistan’s intelligence service knowingly provided Al Qaeda leader Usama Bin Laden with safe haven. And, while the Biden administration discusses the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as if it occurred in a vacuum, the reality is that the Taliban’s rampage through Afghanistan this summer was effectively a Pakistani invasion.”
This barrage of bad news comes at a time when the ‘war on terror’ coalition support funds from the US has totally dried up. While the tap ran dry during the Donald Trump era, Biden has decided to continue with that policy. Since Pakistan now finds it increasingly difficult to access funds to get by, its economy has crash-landed. It seeks a $6 billion lifeline from the IMF even under conditions that it considers to be onerous, such is the pressure on its economy. Imran’s public support is fast eroding. Inflation surged 9.2 percent in October from the year before and food-price inflation has shot up by 17 percent year over year, reports New York Times, citing government data.
Pakistan may be a de facto Chinese colony, but it still gazes to the West, and its powerful military-intelligence establishment would like nothing more than to repair its erstwhile cozy relationship with the US. The NSP makes this urge quite clear. “We seek to diversify this relationship through mutually beneficial engagements. Communicating Pakistan’s concerns to policymakers in Washington while seeking to broaden our partnership beyond a narrow counter-terrorism focus will be a priority.” It is no less ironic for a country that is still a major non-NATO ally, proclaim that it doesn’t “subscribe to camp politics”. It is obvious that Pakistan’s military wants America to resume its patronage, even though the prime minister has made US-bashing part of his daily routine. At the UNGA last year, Imran had blamed the US for being “ungrateful” and accused it of “double standards”.
In this context, the NSP seeks to paint Pakistan as a state that recognizes its foibles of the past and is ready to address them. It also portrays Pakistan as a “peace-loving” nation that has been a victim of Indian aggression and regional circumstances beyond its control. This victimhood narrative and a self-projection of a troubled nation that intends to correct past mistakes are aimed at a western audience. Pakistan is saying that it understands the folly of overt securitization of the state and wants to give precedence to the economy as the cornerstone of state-building, but in absence of any concrete measures or even guidelines to achieve these objectives, it is little more than yet another Pakistani attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the West.
In India, there is little of note beyond what Pakistan has said or done in the last few decades. It promises to maintain the same policy when it comes to Kashmir, and there is nothing in the document to show that it won’t continue with its policy of exporting terror. As Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), former Commander of Army’s Srinagar Corps, writes in Chankaya Forum, the NSP “spells no departure from the policy actively adopted over the last 33 years with no window of opportunity to exploit the current ceasefire. Probably the over 100-page classified part of the NSP will contain more detail on J&K and how Pakistan proposes to take forward the conflict.”
In the few words that it spares for India in the declassified section, its claim that the “Hindutva” ideology is “impacting its immediate security” is interesting. Several conclusions may be drawn. One, India’s attempt to diplomatically isolate Pakistan is working, and that explains NSP’s elaborate attempt at victimhood. Two, long been vilified as a global front of jihadi terrorism, Pakistan seeks to bring charges of ideological aggression against India instead and tap into the narrative of global Islamophobia. Three, these frequent rants against “Hindutva” are also aimed at Muslims in India, seeking to provoke them and trigger political instability.
As a narrative-building exercise, which is what Pakistan has always been good at, the NSP does its job. It can’t be taken seriously though.