It was heartening that General Kayani in a conversation with correspondents on April 19 called for a comprehensive national security concept recognising the importance of development as its essential ingredient. He was quoted to have said: “Ultimately, the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders, but it is when people that live in the country feel happy (that) their needs are being met.” He even called for less spending on defence. These remarks were music to my ears, as I have been urging the adoption of a comprehensive concept of national security in my columns for the last eight years since my retirement from the Foreign Service of Pakistan and even earlier when I was a government servant. In fact, in my last article (Strategic imperative of peace) in TheNation of April 17, I called for the building up of a structure of peace between Pakistan and India and the reduction of their military expenditures so that their resources could instead be diverted to the urgent task of economic development and welfare of their peoples.
Nevertheless, General Kayani’s remarks call for a few clarifications. To begin with, the ingredients of a comprehensive national security concept are not just defence and development. A comprehensive definition of national security would also include diplomacy and domestic political solidarity as the other two essential ingredients. Thus, a comprehensive definition of national security would cover domestic political solidarity, development, diplomacy and defence, as its essential elements. A country, which is politically in disarray, economically suffering from grinding poverty and underdevelopment, and diplomatically suffering from inertia, would remain insecure even if it has strong armed forces in terms of manpower and equipment.
Frequent takeovers of the government by the army generals in violation of the Constitution and their oath of honour show that these generals in the past had an inadequate comprehension of the concept of national security and a distorted understanding of their duties as the soldiers of Pakistan Army. They failed to understand that national security is not their responsibility, but rather that of the Government of Pakistan, which has other instruments besides the armed forces at its disposal for safeguarding the country’s security. The Constitution requires that the armed forces “shall, under the directions of the federal government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war…….” It is for the federal government to decide in what manner and in what combination with other instruments of policy, e.g. diplomacy, economic strength, etc., it would use the armed forces to defend the country. By illegally taking over the reins of the government, our generals in the past overstepped their vital but limited role in safeguarding national security.
Domestic political solidarity is, perhaps, the most important ingredient of national security. A military takeover, which by its very nature embodies the rejection of the political process and the rule of law, inevitably has a disruptive influence on the political climate of the country. It sows the seeds of dissension and revolt, instead of strengthening political cohesion and solidarity. Pakistan’s history is a witness to the disruptive influence of military takeovers, which at least in one case led to the dismemberment of the country. The current instability in Balochistan is the direct result of the resort to the use of force by Pervez Musharraf in dealing with the political situation in the province and the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. A general, who had even the minutest understanding of these disruptive consequences, would never even think of taking over the reins of government. The fact that we had four such military takeovers shows the limited understanding of the army generals concerned of the concept of national security.
This is not all! Pakistan’s armed forces despite their professions to the contrary have appropriated the lion’s share of the nation’s resources for themselves in the name of national security, leaving a minor share for economic development. This was particularly true when military governments were in power. Different gimmicks were employed to hide this unpleasant reality. After the Musharraf takeover in October, 1999, military pensions were shifted from the military part of the budget to the civilian one enabling the government to claim that it was trying to control the military expenditure. Such practices have not stopped. In the budget for 2011-12, an amount of Rs 495 billion has been allocated ostensibly for defence, in addition to Rs 73 billion earmarked for military pensions. But there is also an amount of Rs 150 billion hidden elsewhere in the budget for armed forces development programme whatever that means. The total amount for the military sector would thus work out to be Rs 718 billion, which is roughly 47 percent of the net federal revenue receipts of the federal government after taking out the provincial share. This is an unsustainably high level of military expenditure, which can only result in a slow rate of economic growth and increased poverty as is the case at present.
Finally, the military establishment has given short shrift to the diplomatic dimension of national security, thereby usurping the role of the Foreign Office. Predictably, this tendency grew during military governments that have ruled the country for almost 33 years. The Zia and Musharraf years were particularly damaging in this respect. But even during the rule of elected governments, the military establishment continued to manipulate the direction of the country’s foreign policy from behind the scene. Many of the serious foreign policy blunders were linked in the past to the military establishment in one way or the other. The country has paid and continues to pay a heavy price for these blunders.
The Kashmir policy, which was instituted in 1989 and which led to increased confrontation with India at enormous cost in blood and treasure, was mostly the responsibility of our military establishment. We pursued this misconceived policy zealously for about 15 years, despite its unbearable cost and the growing international isolation. The twin disasters of Kargil and 9/11 finally forced us to change it. The same is true of our pro-Taliban policy of 1990s from the damaging consequences of which the country continues to suffer. This policy isolated us internationally and regionally, damaged our relations with Iran, prolonged the conflict in Afghanistan, destabilised the country internally by encouraging extremism and violence, and tarnished Pakistan’s image internationally as the breeding ground for terrorism. It took a virtual ultimatum from Washington after 9/11 to persuade Musharraf to reverse this suicidal policy. It defies common sense and certainly any strategic logic that just when our pro-Taliban policy had isolated us internationally, Pervez Musharraf and the coterie of his generals embarked upon the disastrous Kargil operation derailing the peace process that had been launched by Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee.
Thus, welcome as the reported remarks of the COAS are, they would not bear conviction if the realities on the ground continue to tell a different story. The need of the hour is a new national security doctrine, which places increased emphasis on its political, economic and diplomatic dimensions than has been the case till today. The military dimension must be given its due priority, but within the framework of a coherent national security policy that sets a high rate of economic growth as the supreme national goal to which everything else must be subordinated. Our failure to do so will soon make us irrelevant in the international arena where a country’s position is increasingly judged by its economic performance, rather than the size of its military establishment.
The writer is a retired ambassador.