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Old Tuesday, May 07, 2013
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Default Wanted: a national security strategy

Wanted: a national security strategy
By Dr Maleeha Lodhi


The violent run-up to the May 11 election is another urgent reminder of the need to evolve a comprehensive national security strategy. The country doesn’t have one at present. We have defence, foreign and economic policies and a patchwork of internal law and order responses, but this doesn’t add up to a national security strategy.

A national security strategy has to integrate these components of policy in disciplined pursuit of clearly articulated goals and priorities. It has to be more than a sum of these parts and provide an overarching, strategic focus to them. There is an evolving dynamic between goals, changes in the internal and external environments and the strategy crafted to deal with them. A viable strategy has to continuously align ends with means, goals with resources, objectives with tools. It must also aligned itself with people’s aspirations and have public support.

Among the next government’s top priorities should be to evolve such a strategy and devise the appropriate mix of policies to give strategic direction to the effort to achieve a secure and strong Pakistan. The country has to be secure against the entire spectrum of threats – internal and external, hard and soft, old and new. Attaining comprehensive security means achieving national cohesion, establishing political and economic stability, eliminating threats of terrorist violence, combating extremism and dealing effectively with external challenges, while at the same time enabling the country to capitalise on opportunities offered by a globalising world and the promise of an Asian century. Capabilities need resources. But their allocation must strike a balance between defence and development needs. Otherwise there will be a security deficit.

Today our country confronts a complex security landscape and unprecedented challenges to peace and stability. These emanate from a diverse array of sources and comprise traditional and non-traditional or asymmetrical threats. The greatest threat is internal but Pakistan also faces enduring external challenges from unresolved regional disputes, unfinished wars in our neighbourhood and newer dangers posed by shifts in global geopolitics. Some challenges are the unintended consequence of Pakistan’s past policies. Others have resulted from actions by other states as well as non-state actors.

Everyone accepts that national security has to go beyond a military-centric paradigm of defending physical borders to embrace a broader, more comprehensive approach. It is also widely acknowledged that comprehensive security requires that all elements of national power – military, political, economic, diplomatic, cultural and informational – are deployed in a ‘whole of government’ approach so that multidimensional challenges are met by a holistic strategy.

But here lies the problem. This acknowledgement remains theory, not practice. It figures in the rhetoric of national leaders and in power point presentations at military academies. But it does not translate into operational strategy. It is not reflected in the setting of national priorities or in institutional arrangements to pursue these. There is no national forum where such a strategy can be evolved and then coordinated with a clear comprehension of linkages among different areas of risk in the domestic and international arenas.

Decisions on security issues remain ad hoc and disconnected, formulated and implemented in separate ‘silos’. Policy is often reactive rather than coherent and consistent. Both civilians and the military eye much needed institutional improvisation with suspicion, believing that new structures will take power away from them.

How will the next government address this vital area? The election manifestos of the major political parties avoid specifics and state goals as if they are strategy. Those looking for any indication of how these parties will manage Pakistan’s security problems will not be able to discern that from their manifestos.

All emphasise that internal and external security is intertwined but then deal in a scattered way with interconnected issues. In some cases partisanship colours the assessment, for example, of the reasons behind the rise of militancy. All the manifestos stress the need to defeat terrorism but fall short of identifying the means to accomplish the goal.

The PPP’s manifesto promises a national security plan without however specifying what this might look like. It also does not explain why its government failed to provide one in the past five years. The PML-N manifesto pledges a “comprehensive review” of national security and foreign policy but offers no clue of what this will involve. The PTI manifesto identifies what it regards as Pakistan’s “core national interests” and calls for a multidimensional security framework but then doesn’t spell it out.

Whatever the manifestos may or may not say, the incoming government will have little choice but to move quickly to address the worsening security environment. It will have to decide whether it wants to run the country without a national security strategy or make a determined effort to formulate and implement one.

Some broad principles might help to inform this important undertaking. The most fundamental principle is that our national security and foreign policy should start at home. External challenges can only be met if we secure ourselves internally. Unless the sources of internal weakness are addressed – a stagnant economy, crumbling energy infrastructure and threats from violent groups that mock and defy state authority – Pakistan cannot empower itself to deal with overseas challenges or benefit from the extraordinary changes sweeping the world.

A national security vision has to be predicated on the firm belief that the country’s economic revival and progress is the bedrock of security. Rebuilding the economy should have overriding priority. But economic security also rests on physical security. And this requires the elimination of threats to law and order. All other impediments in the path of economic revival must also be removed. That means mobilising domestic resources, addressing power shortages and dealing with the education emergency, which threatens to turn our demographic transition into a disaster.

All this is impossible to achieve in the present fraught security environment. The marked deterioration in law and order in the pre-election period underlines the scale of the challenge and the reality that the defeat of militancy is nowhere in sight. The surge in sectarian violence and attacks on minorities has added dangerous new dimensions to a complicated security picture. Meeting this challenge requires summoning the national will and building the capacity to deal effectively with those resisting the state’s writ – from Karachi and Khyber to Quetta – as well as disbanding militant wings of political parties.

The country’s anti-militancy campaign has made some gains – in Swat as well as by driving the Tehreek-e-Taliban out of South Waziristan. But the overall effort has taken the form more of firefighting than a coherent strategy. The political and administrative effort too has been weak in the post-military operation phase. These weaknesses have to be corrected to establish a sustainable environment that prevents the return of militants to these areas. It is also imperative to end persisting confusion at the political level about how to respond to extremist violence. Efforts for dialogue with militants must be conditioned on their acceptance of the law and constitution.

With Nato’s 2014 deadline looming in Afghanistan, Pakistan must reinforce its lines of defence to protect itself from the fallout of any security vacuum that might accompany the stepped up withdrawal of foreign forces. It must also evolve a military and political plan that comes into play between now and 2014 to accomplish the strategic objective of breaking the nexus between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.

Space does not permit a review of the external dimensions of national security especially those relating to India, as indeed broader foreign policy issues. I hope to discuss this in a later column. What will be pivotal in the days ahead are the choices we make for ourselves. If destiny is choice, not chance, then the factors that will shape the country’s destiny lie within. That must be the fundamental premise of our national security strategy.
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