Pakistan has recently released an abridged version of its new security policy document. The big stated shift is from geo-strategic to geo-economics. However, the two are linked, and more so for Pakistan. Until and unless Pakistan is focused on issues other than Jammu & Kashmir and India, it will continue to remain in an arms race that it cannot win. The cascading effect on its economy is telling. The article analyses the security policy enunciated in the light of stark realities.
Pakistan announced its new National Security Policy (NSP) covering the period 2022-2026, at the end of December, which was unveiled on 14th January. It has neither been approved by their Senate nor discussed in the public domain before being adopted. It is a 110-page document, likely to be kept under wraps, with an abridged version released for public consumption. It contains chapters on national cohesion, economy, defence, internal security, foreign policy and human security. There is mention of J&K as a pending dispute, human rights in Kashmir and Hindutva as a major threat to Pakistan.
No inputs have flowed on how the same would be implemented, except that Imran Khan would take regular feedback. In its reference to India, Pakistan’s national security advisor, Moeed Yusuf, stated, ‘We are not seeking hostility with India for the next 100 years. The new policy seeks peace with immediate neighbours.’ This is a shift from the 1000-year war against India. He also added that Pakistan’s emphasis has shifted from ‘geo-strategic to geo-economics,’ a subject buzzing in Pakistan since early 2021.
In March 2021, speaking at the Pakistan-Hungary dialogue, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, SM Qureshi stated, ‘transformed Pakistan’s focus is shifting from geopolitics to geoeconomics.’ Addressing the Islamabad Security Dialogue in March 2021, Army Chief General Bajwa highlighted his geo-economic vision for the country. It included peace within and with neighbours, non-interference in internal matters, boosting intra-regional trade and bringing sustainable development. Hence, the concept of geo-economics mentioned in the NSP is nothing new.
An official spokesperson, discussing the NSP mentioned, ‘there are no prospects of rapprochement with India under the current Modi-led government in New Delhi.’ The animosity which Imran has displayed towards the present Indian dispensation has been because India rejected all overtures for talks unless it ceases support to terrorism, an action which Pakistan is loath to take. Further, Indian decisions on Kashmir, on which Imran has had no global support, has shown him in poor light.
There is no mention of withdrawal of Article 370, an oft-stated pre-requisite for talks, though the NSS is stated to have included that the ‘longstanding Kashmir dispute with India has been identified as a vital national policy issue for Pakistan.’ The obsession for Kashmir has hampered Pakistan’s rational thinking since independence. The NSP also mentions that in case Indo-Pakistan talks commence and progress it could normalize trade and commercial ties with India. Indo-Pakistan trade is not of as great value to India as it is to Pakistan. What would benefit India is using Pakistan roads to trade with Central Asia.
Geo-economics is an essential requirement for Pakistan if it seeks to survive. It’s currently facing an economic crisis. Its survival is dependent on loans from friendly nations and global bodies. To meet conditions laid down by the IMF for its next tranche of loans, it was compelled to pass a finance supplementary bill also termed the mini-budget. Shaukat Tarin, the finance advisor had earlier stated that the terms laid down by the IMF included State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, withdrawal of tax exemptions and increase in energy tariff, all measures impacting Pakistani citizens and any ruling party or coalition will be loath to bite such a bullet.
Last month, Saudi Arabia had given a $ 3 billion deposit to Pakistan under strict conditions which included a 4 per cent interest, no rollover, can be recalled on 72 hours notice with no assigned reason, as also would have to be repaid in case Pakistan defaulted on any global payments. The message sent was that in case Pakistan acts against Saudi interests, the loan would be recalled. Pakistan’s foreign policies, in addition to economic, are also dependent on loan dispensing countries.
The World Economic Forum report released last week stated that Pakistan’s debt crisis is the top risk, amongst the five risks facing the country. The others include extreme weather, cyber security measures, price escalation and man-made environmental damage. Such is Pakistan’s financial status that Imran Khan recently mentioned, ‘Pakistan will have to go to the IMF again if we do not enhance our exports.’
In the same breath, Imran stated that Pakistan is in a better economic position than India, on which he was laughed at. Pakistan is the only global nuclear power surviving with a begging bowl. Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, had stated in an interview, ‘When we cannot (fulfil) the demands, we seek foreign loans. When you procure loans, your economic sovereignty is compromised.’ He added, ‘it affects a country’s foreign policy.’ Pakistan’s silence over Uighurs is due to its over-dependence on China. Another reality is that with a weak financial position, Pakistan cannot continue with its current military-dominated strategy.
Since its independence, Pakistan’s national security thinking has been based on a threat from India and regaining Kashmir. It had no other enemies amongst its neighbours. Its populace was made to believe that India seeks to break the nation into smaller entities, which has been contrary to the Indian policy of a stable Pakistan. This provided unbridled power and funds to the army ignoring all other sectors. Desperation to avenge 1971 led to it becoming a base for global terrorism, commencing with supporting terrorists operating in Kashmir and Afghanistan. There was hardly any emphasis on human development or creating an industrial base.
There is no doubt that Pakistan can exploit its geostrategic location to enhance its economy. India would have been the major exploiter of Pakistan’s geo-strategic location by utilising Pakistan as a trade route for Central Asia. There would have also been investments in Pakistan from India, supporting the growth of the country. However, its misconstrued policies on India has denied it the earnings and resultant development that would have accrued.
Pakistan could have also benefitted financially from multiple oil pipelines flowing through Pakistan for oil and gas for India from Central Asia and Iran, but observing India through myopic glasses has added to its losses. Oft discussed projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) may never see the light of day. Even when it came to the recent Indian request to use Pakistan’s road space for moving aid to Afghanistan, it resorted to stumbling blocks.
Enmity with India has pushed Pakistan into an arms race that its economy can ill afford. Its official defence budget is 16 per cent of its national expenditure, a figure which impacts development. Its support of terrorism has distanced it from most aid providing nations, including the US. Unless it changes its policies, its stated re-orientation to geo-economics will be just words on paper.
At the macro level, there is no change in Pakistan’s approach in conformity with what the NSP wanted to communicate. It continues being guided by an anti-India approach (despite mentioning no hostility with India). There is no change to its policy of backing terrorism while calling for talks, compelling India to turn down any request for dialogue. Pakistan’s policies are forcing it into an arms race which can severely damage its economy. With high dependence on economic aid, Pakistan’s economic and foreign policy are subservient to donors. It implies that its recently released NSP is just another exercise on papers.
Maj Gen Harsh Kakar (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)