Pakistan’s ‘national security’ dilemma

Addressing a seminar on ‘Interplay of Economy and Security” in Karachi last week, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa underlined the need to ensure a viable balance between economy and security in order to achieve prosperity. He pointed out that “national security and economy are interlinked in today’s world”. He expressed concerns over the country’s ‘sky high debt’ as well as the ‘abysmally low’ tax-to- GDP ratio. He also called for increasing tax base, bringing fiscal discipline and ensuring continuity of economic policies in Pakistan. Later, talking to the host of a popular TV talk show, DG ISPR said, “If Pakistan’s economy is not good, security is not good either”. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, being highly concerned about the civilian supremacy, advised DG ISPR to refrain from commenting on the economy in public. In fact, this recent ‘national security-economy linkage’ saga just indicates that there is considerable trust-deficit between the military establishment and the civil government in Pakistan. At the same time, it also shows the fact of expanding domain of national security in the country.

A variety of challenges faced by the nation states led to the evolution of the concept of national security in the Second Half of Twentieth Century. This very concept readily replaced the notions like ‘national defence’ or ‘military security’. A country’s national security essentially involves its capability to overcome the multi-dimensional threats to the apparent well-being of its people and its survival as a nation state. Therefore, in addition to its external defence, a country’s national security also includes the internal as well as economic security. A nation generally preserves its national security through power projection after mobilizing the elements of its national powers.

In order to effectively cope with the challenges of national security, a large number of important countries- the US, UK, Russia, France, China, and India etc- have formally established the institution of National Security Council. In the contemporary world, most of these consultative security bodies are being headed and run by the civilian leaders while the military officials take part in the national security meetings as attendees. Thus the modern concept of national security somehow enables the civilian leaders to play a greater and more crucial role in the formulation and implementation of the national security policy. The National Security Advisor (NSA) is another civilian official who assists and advises the civil government on national security matters.

As a matter of fact, the extended concept of national security has resulted in extending the institutional domain of the military in Pakistan. Consequently, now the military directly exercises control over the things that once were within the exclusive domain of the civil government. So it is not the civil government but the military which is in the charge of national security. The military exclusively shapes the contours of the county’s national security policy. It determines the national defence strategy. It formulates the foreign as well as regional policy. Now it has also started playing an important role in ensuring the internal security. Therefore, the recent statement made by Army Chief relating to the economy has just irked some ministers in the federal government. They just took this move as another deliberate attempt to extend the influence of the military in the state affairs.

The question of establishment of National Security Council (NSC) in Pakistan has been quite controversial and debatable. At times, several attempts have been made to establish NSC to offer a platform to the civilian and military leaders to discuss and decide the crucial national security questions. Most of these attempts were made during the military regimes. However, wary of the expanding role and influence of the military, the successive civilian regimes didn’t let this important institution take root in the country. However, in reality, a consultative security body like NSC empowers the civil government by extending the ambit of civilian authority to the vital national security affairs. The NSC set up by President Pervez Musharraf was eventually abolished in 2009. Later, another body, The Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) was set to focus on national security issues. So in the absence of any proactive civil-military forum to thoroughly discuss national security matters, most of the crucial decisions vis-a-vis national security are made in Army’s Corps Commanders Conferences at the GHQ.

India has been hostile and aggressive towards Pakistan since its inception. The multiple threats posed by India to Pakistan’s very existence just led the latter to become a typical National Security State. Therefore, keeping in view this conventional threat perception, Pakistan has not only established one of the largest armies in the world but also developed an extensive nuclear program. Following the US Invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan had to face another security challenge in the form of militancy and extremism. A large number of violent non state actors have been posing an existential threat to Pakistan. Pakistan’s security forces have launched several full-fledged military operations against the miscreants across the country. Similarly, the rapidly-changing geo strategic realties in the region, especially in Afghanistan, also led to empower the military to make crucial decisions relating to regional security and foreign policy. So these factors have resulted in establishing the military preeminence over the civil government vis-à-vis the national security affairs in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s unique constitutional cum political history and troubled civil-military relations have also established the superiority of the military in the polity. One the other hand, the civilian leaders have been found lacking the required political will and vision to evolve any national security policy. Their institutional capacity has been observably impaired to make crucial national security decisions. We just observed that the political leadership could not evolve any proactive counter-terror strategy in the past. Politicos just wasted much time while trying to negotiate with militants to make peace. Similarly, they have also failed to effectively implement the National Action Plan in the country. Therefore, the civilian incompetence and indecisiveness created an administrative vacuum which has readily been filled by the military to make all crucial decisions regarding national security.

National security demands a harmonious civil-military relationship. It is now an established fact that there exists a correlation between the national security and economic security. Both are interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, the state of economy in a country is essentially a crucial component of its national security.

Being the primary arbiter of national security, the military can ask the civil government to take necessary measures to stabilize country’s economy. The civil government should try to address the genuine concerns of the military regarding the state of economy. Indeed the state of Pakistan’s economy is not so satisfactory. We must acknowledge the great sacrifices rendered by our armed forces to end terrorism and militancy in the country. We can just imagine the current state of our economy if the armed forces had not launched the military offensives against the numerous miscreants to bust their network some years ago.

The military should refrain from unnecessarily encroaching upon the domain of civil government in the name of national security. National security surely depends on a strong economy. But at the same time, a strong economy, in turn, depends on political stability in the country. Therefore, while endeavouring to establish a linkage between the economy and national security, the military leadership must also understand the logical correlation between a country’s economy and the perpetuation of its political institutions.

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter

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