National Security in peril

Ongoing soaring inflation in Pakistan presents a multifaceted threat to the national security of the country as it erodes its economic stability, provokes social unrest, and heightens its vulnerabilities across the broader geopolitical landscape. With dwindling purchasing power, the citizens of Pakistan are facing the intense challenge of affording their vital necessities, especially food, fuel, and electricity. Despite a slight drop in the overall inflation rate from July’s 28.3% to August’s 27.4%, food inflation further elevated to 38.5%. Petrol prices have scored a historic high triple-century mark. Electricity prices have also surged to an all-time peak. Such unrestrained inflation coupled with political instability serves as a catalyst for rising poverty levels as the middle and lower middle class struggles to make ends meet. Waves of widespread protests against soaring electricity bills and increased crime rates possess the potential to undermine the established social fabric of society thus challenging the status quo. These emerging concerns force the interim government to allocate more resources to deal with internal security crises.
The alarming decrease in the purchasing power of ordinary citizens cultivates strong discontent among them. This brewing discontent can result in social unrest and violent protests forcing governments to divert their resources and attention away from crucial national security concerns. Amidst an economic climate already grappling with severe inflation, recent attention has shifted towards unanticipated and soaring electricity bills which have further exacerbated the financial strain on households and businesses. What was once considered a routine monthly expenditure has turned into an unbearable burden for common people and enterprises which are essential components of Pakistan’s economic framework. The ongoing nationwide protests from the general public and particularly traders’ unions against soaring power prices depict a heightening frustration among them.
The widespread protests ignited by public outrage over inflated electricity bills carry an unavoidable risk for the country’s internal security thereby weakening the already fragile economic and political system. Protesters around the country can be seen chanting against the incompetencies and corruption of the ruling elite manifesting their rallying cries for reform. Surrendering to the threat of mob psychology, power supply departments across the country have requested LEAs to provide security for their officials and installations. The rampaging mob with common disgruntlement can transform these tiny processions into a widespread grassroots movement adding some violence to it. This will impose an additional burden on LEAs to first deal with the deteriorating internal law and order situation while giving secondary importance to the existing menace of terrorism. Prolonged periods of inflation together with rising poverty and unemployment levels can incite crime rates across the country as people are pushed to adopt illegal and desperate means to secure their financial budget. This assertion is highly advocated by recent data issued by the Punjab Police which shows that the number of calls received on the Police Helpline during the initial five months of the ongoing year has risen by more than 100 percent as compared to the same period in 2022.
Rising inflation coupled with political turmoil sets the stage for radicalisation posing a significant threat to national security and societal stability. The diminishing purchasing power of people has raised widespread skepticism among them eroding their trust in the government’s ability to effectively deal with their overarching economic woes. Here, extremist and radical groups are expected to take advantage by pledging change and empowerment. Vulnerable to extremist narratives, unemployed youth may seek alternatives far from established social orders being allured by compelling narratives of such radical groups. The digital age facilitates easy recruitment by these terrorist organizations making the situation more perilous. Moreover, mental health experts across Pakistan assert that with rising inflationary pressures more people are exhibiting evident signs of high irritability and intolerance. Depression levels across the country are at historic highs due to financial anxieties making such people more vulnerable to extremist ideologies.
Nations grappling with economic instability not only face internal challenges but are also subject to some external repercussions, and so does Pakistan. The recent surge in inflation has rendered Pakistani currency at its lowest levels against the dollar while diminishing its capacity to engage in international trade and attract FDIs. Consequently, countries with more robust currencies are able to exert more influence in global financial institutions and diplomatic negotiations undermining Pakistan’s regional and international influence. Considering Pakistan’s current economic fragility, BRICS nations are more likely to adopt India’s objections that Pakistan has no tangible thing to offer. This will hamper Pakistan’s aspirations to join BRICS ultimately depriving it of potential economic and political privileges offered by such multilateral engagements.
As Pakistan grapples with prevailing political instability and constraints imposed by the IMF: its government seems unready to confront the pressing questions: How can Pakistan protect its citizens from the threat of rogue and lawless beliefs during their desperate financial times? Will the government resort to coercive means in case of mass protests ignited by the discontent of the ordinary public? If it does so, the situation will spiral out of control leading to major civil unrest.

The writer is a Research Fellow at the Center for Law and Security Islamabad.

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