The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan recently launched the country’s first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) for the five-year period of 2022-26. Although only a condensed version has been made public, it is enough to highlight the broad contours of the framework the country’s policymakers intend to adopt for the next five years. In process since 2014, the NSP has been prepared by the National Security Division (NSD) in consultation with multiple government departments, academic experts, think tanks, and civil society members.
The public version of the NSP is a compact document including the broad outline of all major policy areas under the umbrella of national security. After dedicating the first two sections to the conceptual framework and the institutional thinking behind it, the NSP moves on to discuss six major thematic areas of national security. These range from the traditional aspects of security i.e., territorial integrity, internal security, and foreign policy to economic and human security and one chapter discussing the idea of national cohesion.
For the good of the people
The NSP is said to be the ‘first’ security policy of Pakistan of its kind. It is indeed first in the sense that for the first time, the umbrella of national security is expanded to include economic and human security. It adopts a citizen-centric approach with a focus on growing population, environment, health, food and water, and gender as major areas of human security for policy orientation.
There exists strong literature and a general consensus among development policy experts that the true national security of any state lies in the comprehensive and multi-faceted security of its people. It is very encouraging to note that the policymakers of Pakistan have realized this and the relationship between traditional, economic, and human security is aptly explored and formulized in this comprehensive and inclusive policy document.
Acknowledging the crucial and overarching role that economic security plays in ensuring traditional as well as human security, the NSP offers clear-cut guidelines on allaying the country’s economic woes. It aims to ease the ever-growing foreign exchange and trade imbalance by focusing on value-added exports and a future-ready workforce.
Another positive policy development underlined in the NSP is the renewed focus on geo-economics. The expression of interest toward improved relationships with neighboring states including India to focus on regional connectivity will go a long way in realizing the true economic potential of the region. This will also allow Pakistan to reap the benefits of its optimal location.
All is not well
The NSP and its proponents make it a point to stress the stakeholder consultations that were undertaken during the process of its formulation. However, the most important stakeholder when it comes to the implementation i.e., the Legislature has been left out of the process. Lack of parliamentary involvement and oversight is a major challenge that the NSP will have to overcome if it is to evolve to the implementation stage.
The NSP talks about economic and social inequalities existing at multiple levels across the society but falls short of listing direct and cohesive policy recommendations in this regard. Expansion of the national resource pie will likely lead to the rich getting richer if the equitable and just distribution of wealth is not ensured. The economic policies should do away with the reactive approach and go beyond the one-off social welfare ventures to aim for sustainable economic growth that directly benefits the middle and lower class and not just the industrialists and landowners.
The climate policy underlined in the NSP also leaves much to be desired. Climate change is such an overarching existential crisis that it affects each and every facet of national security be it in the traditional or non-traditional aspect. Linking the climate policy with water management and limiting its approach to just a few aspects threatens to undermine the true extent of the problem and the massive and multilevel action needed to combat it.
Although the inclusion of the human security dimension in the broader national security paradigm is a very positive development, there are other universally recognized aspects of human security inclusion which could have been made more inclusive. The 1994 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program considers community and political security to be essential components without which comprehensive human security remains unachievable.
A step in the right direction
The NSP is based on a sound theoretical framework but a policy is as strong as its implementation and the implementation will be the true test of this ambitious document. There is a need to build a broad national consensus among all the stakeholders including political actors and civil society. This will also ensure that its progress is not disrupted by political changes.
For sustainable and impactful implementation, the NSP needs to be flexible and able to accommodate the various variables set to change with time. In this regard, the annual review mechanism will come in handy but it needs to be further streamlined. The NSD should be given formal autonomy to track its progress and make any amendments if needed. There should be specific and quantified objectives and deliverables against each policy area to be consistently tracked and publicly checked.
To conclude, the NSP is being heralded as a significant milestone for a streamlined policy approach towards many of the burning issues facing the country. It is indeed a groundbreaking initiative in the civilian-led and citizen-oriented policy development arena. However, a closer look reveals widespread overgeneralizations and implementation challenges that may hamper its progress if not addressed properly.
The author is a development professional with a keen interest in non-traditional security challenges particularly climate change and associated risks currently working as Program Manager with German political foundation Hanns Seidel Foundation Pakistan (HSF). He tweets at https://twitter.com/mianbilal628.
The opinions expressed in this write-up are those of the author only and do not purport to reflect the opinions or policy of this publication or HSF.