A National Security Policy That Never Was

A National Security Policy That Never Was
A People Centric NSP 

National security was never meant to be a “military alone”– or for that matter, “anything  alone”—affair.

The Incas’ was a great civilization with much treasure. It lost to a band of bandits because of internal fissures. Baghdad, an epicentre of knowledge, was not only destroyed by the barbarian Mongols, but also taught an important lesson: if only they had spent some of their riches on defence, their libraries would not have gone down the Tigris. The Soviets had a formidable arsenal, but when the economy collapsed, all their Nukes stood by twiddling their thumbs. And the mightiest country of modern times, when unable to keep its head, turned by unbridled power, lost to peoples’ power in Vietnam and more ignobly in Afghanistan.

The first thing that a student of national security learns is that a number of elements of power – military, economic, demographic and diplomatic; to name but a few – must be woven in a “whole” to synergise a nation’s potential. Frederick the Great once said: before looking at the parts, one must imagine the whole. And our own redoubtable Professor Col Qayyum used to suggest that the whole too must never be seen without its parts. Sounds like Rumi’s drop in which one must find the ocean. The problem is that there is no formula to guide us on how the essential but at times seemingly incompatible ingredients must be mixed to cook this power pie. And then there’s no way to ensure that the assumptions we make at the start of the process, would not substantially change as we proceed. A cataclysmic event like 9/11, an important ally getting cold feet, or an enemy going bonkers could radically upset our calculations. The policy we formulate therefore must ensure balance most of the time.

My favourite definition of strategy is: “use of finite resources to optimally accomplish a complex mission.” Applied imaginatively, one might surmise that while some others could work for seven years to produce an “undergraduate” product, one would be well advised to get on with the essentials – but taking care that the progress on chosen tracks was in tandem. Improvement in military defence for example should provide a favourable environment for economic development, which in turn would facilitate building internal defence. India did not wait for a policy paper – they have yet to release one – to create a human resource infrastructure that in due course facilitated the country acquiring cutting edge technology. Pakistan may not have had the luxury to follow this ideal order, but had to create the right balance as it went along.

At the time of its creation, the spirit of the people and sincerity of its leadership led all the state and non-state institutions to help the country overcome the pangs of birth. It didn’t need any policy directive. The Army got a larger-than-life role because of the surgical strike that separated the conjoined twins, indeed without anaesthesia, and led to mutual hostility with  unfinished agendas. To countervail the Big Bad Brother, we got onto the American bandwagon. It was primarily a defence alliance, and while it did help economic growth, the bargain came at a price. With a powerful prop in Washington, the Army got another shot of steroids, and as Ayub Khan grabbed total power, political institutions took a back-seat.

The best argument in defence of smaller administrative units was that even if only some of them started functioning it would be an improvement over the existing system, in which nothing works to people’s benefit.


The civil-military imbalance has continued ever since, also affecting the armed forces. Without political oversight, many of its operations crashed on the rock of hubris – and no institutions grew under the Banyan tree.

All the above may be known, perhaps even be true, but completely useless unless it can help us evolve a robust national security structure.

Following is an attempt, at least, to suggest the mechanics.

The Basic Brick

The Army may have been mainly responsible for the present mess, if for no other reason than for being the most powerful political actor – but to be fair, it did get a couple of things right.

People being the ultimate stake holders in the security paradigm – Afghanistan and Vietnam highlighting the effectiveness of their resistance, and Japan and Germany elucidating their role after lost wars – our military dispensations were generally more sensitive to the needs of the masses than the political regimes. Taking the governance to people’s doorsteps – call it Devolution if you like – was often the consensus in all civil-military deliberations at the National Defence College (now the National Defence University). In developed countries, its importance can be judged by a crucial principle of administration: what can be done at the lower level must not be attempted at a higher. The doctrine even has a name: subsidiarity.

Indeed, community is the bedrock of a society and people’s problems were best addressed at the lowest levels. Tribal and family loyalties in Afghanistan have seen the country through many a crisis; and the mohallas and madrassahs helped Uzbekistan become a superpower of the time. The spirit of oneness too was more effectively inculcated through community work. Needless to say, that it’s the right place to create the simplest of jobs and resolve most of the family disputes.

Of all the Army head-honchoes, Musharraf pursued this concept most seriously. Tanwir Naqvi as his points-man did prepare a framework which may not stand the test of technical soundness or strategic execution, but its design logic was actually subverted by Musharraf’s handpicked prime-minister, Zafarullh Jamali. Going against the grain of his flagship programme, Musharraf accepted Jamali’s plea that his Quisling League could not survive unless the party leadership, and not the people’s representatives at the grass roots, controlled the development funds. Power and money brokers have always been unwilling to share their clout and cuts. The threat that most of the taxes too were likely to be collected by the local bodies, must have sounded like the League’s death knell. To save the system from his Frankenstein Monsters, Musharraf even toyed with the idea of deploying volunteers; normally more committed than the run of the mill babus. No idea, how this option was torpedoed.

There were certainly some legitimate reservations like the expertise available down the ladder, but that could easily be addressed by calibrating the mandate, which at the lowest rungs merely required mobilizing the citizens for social and civic duties. The best argument in defence of smaller administrative units was that even if some of them started functioning it would be an improvement over the existing system, in which nothing works to people’s benefit.

To make the Security Policy people-centric one simply has to help the people take charge of their daily lives.



Let’s start by disagreeing with “it’s the economy, stupid” stuff. There was a time when our annual growth rate was six percent or more for three decades. If it was because during most of this period we were beneficiaries of an alliance, one could still be faulted for not planning for the days we would no longer be. As our financial czars got onto the International Monetary Fund [IMF] path, now for the  umpteenth time, it became clear that the intent was not to get us any bailouts but to keep us on the leash. In the Subcontinent, we have enough experience of the Banyas and the Soodkhors (local moneylenders) tying up their clients for life. If we still fell in the trap, no one else can be blamed – especially for the latest misadventure.

Don’t know if any of our genuine economic hands, as indeed the famous Einstein did warn us that trying the same act time and again and expecting different outcome was insane. One suspects that the Qadiani Atif Mian, a professor at the MIT, was not kept at bay for his religion, but more for his opposition to the IMF option and the five million housing scam. He actually pleaded for a peoples-centric economy – building it up from the base.

When was it last that any trickle-down reached the masses.

But we still have had our bail-outs; not by the IMF, but by our unofficial sector: called black, underground, or whatever. By keeping themselves out of the rapacious establishment’s net, our enterprising non-state actors provided jobs and affordable amenities to the poor. They also covered the gaps in health, education, and security services. No one knows how large this undocumented and unshackled economy is! One has heard guestimates from half of the official, to twice its size – pretty sizeable in any case. But its saviour role too has extracted a cost. Not that it deprived the state kitty of considerable revenue – most of which in any case would have been skimmed-off by the officialdom – the actual damage our indigenous Samaritans do is that they keep the hoi polloi gainfully engaged, and the state therefore does not feel compelled to mend its ways

Following is the policy directive to our economic team:

  1. The unofficial economy must not only remain out of the state’s stranglehold, but also saved from the petty bureaucrats and the local mafia operating under their

  2. Keep the IMF in good humour till with the help of our non-state actors, we can tell them to go, get lost.

  3. Cut out waste, ban luxury imports; no more foreign yatras; and starve the government to its bare bones.

P.S.: None of the above needs money or any green light from the IMF. Post-World War 2 Germany was economically kaput – and under occupation. Erhard as the finance minister received instructions from the American Viceroy how to go about preparing the first budget. When asked what he was going to do about this directive, “ignore it” was his response. The country became an economic powerhouse, and Erhard went on to succeed Adenauer as the Chancellor.

Defence Policy

Like all policies, it’s the domain of the government. Looking at our past and present experience though, it may seem like the forbidden temple. One knows however that the services acted more seriously on PM Junnejo’s austerity scheme – admittedly nothing earth shaking, but still more telling than selling buffaloes or the chicken-and-egg strategy. Creating a less expensive and more efficient defence model too has often been mulled over – once even implemented in the ZAB’s regime by Tikka Khan. It was rolled back by the usual suspects.

It might be a good idea to seek their views on reforming the defence structure, and also how  to handle the NSAs (Non-State Actors, and not the National Security Advisers) – ours and theirs


Now it may have become our compulsion: not only because of the dire economic situation; but also because the nature of war has been changing over the last couple of decades. After going nuclear in 1998, some adjustments had in any case become necessary. Having heard from the horse’s mouth that the warfare now was hybrid, it’s time for a review and a smart solution.

Unbridled power of the US led to wars it could afford to lose; especially, when some of its influential lobbies were making money. In Pakistan the extraordinary powers of the Army too have done some damage – only less affordable. An odd COAS rode rough shod over the institutions – civil and military. Many respected chiefs however did believe in the wisdom of political oversight. One of them was of the view that if the country’s leadership gave the right directions, the military would be happy to recreate the once admirable institution.

It might be a good idea to seek their views on reforming the defence structure, and also how  to handle the NSAs (Non-State Actors, and not the National Security Advisers) – ours and theirs. Every country employs them. Some have Black Waters; others sponsor Daesh and TTP. Groaning and moaning was of no use. Follow the time-tested norms to fight insurgencies: synchronising force and persuasion; coordinating roles of the military and civilian administration; and ensuring that the political leadership takes the ownership.


Assuming that it’s not the system but the people at the helm who matter, logically those who are unfit must be weeded out before they reach the level of their incompetence. We try to do that in all fields except where it matters the most. A sycophant, a conman, or even a psychopath can now be catapulted to the apex of political power. Nowhere and in no system has this likelihood been completely eliminated, but some at least try; even institutionally. Those aspiring to reach exalted posts in politics are put through the mill.

In our case, quite a few have reached dizzy heights by simply belonging to a privileged clan; death of a relative; courting favours where it matters; and at best, winning one’s spurs in banking or sports. A law that requires service in the lower rungs of politics – in the local government for example – to qualify for a higher grade should filter out most of these nincompoops. It’s certainly possible that some with inborn talent for this vocation would not have the time or patience to go through the grind. But then they also stand no chance in the present system in which the political mafias stoutly defend their turfs, especially against the talent at the gate. And if someone did sneak in, he or she would have to become – as per a Persian saying – salt, like all those who go into a salt-mine.

Don’t look for perfect solutions, as the Chinese say. Even Plato’s golden principle to find an ideal leader (reluctance to rule), or the Islamic injunctions that discourage self-nomination for an office, could not be put in practice. However, one serious deficit in our electoral system can easily be addressed. First past the post rule may be quasi-democratic, but it’s prone to undemocratic practices. People can vote tactically: if one’s first choice had no chance (and good candidates normally don’t), one would rather vote to keep the last choice out. And then spoilers are often fielded to divide the opponent’s camp. A candidate with less than a quarter of votes cast can now win a constituency, and God forbid if a party polled one-third of them, it would be handed a landslide.

Policy Directive:

  1. Get a law passed that in five years no one would be allowed to contest a provincial or a federal election unless he or she had served a complete tenure at the lower

  2. All elections would now onwards be held on the basis of proportional. If the German formula was too complex for our under-nineteen team, ask Hikmatyar who has burnt all his boats in Afghanistan but got an engineering degree by resolving this riddle.


Since most of the noteworthy ills in the country – inefficiency; corruption; and nepotism – are the sole domain of our highly educated elite; before getting a policy making assignment, the candidate should do an internship with the Afghan Taliban.


Higher judiciary is one of the holy cows that violates the laws more than any other institution. The Supreme Court at times acts as a trial court; gives judgements against Article 10A of the constitution; seeks donations to build dams; and under the cover of judicial activism (if those responsible would not act, the judiciary must – though not a bad idea when passing the buck is the first principle of public service), it has at times taken the suo moto provision to absurd levels. Pros and cons of the above can always be argued, but what our judicial system has certainly failed to do is to provide quick and affordable justice to the masses – and in lieu enriched its own tribe. Palatial houses and gas guzzlers of not even half- way competent members of the community, and reems of paper required by the courts, priced according to your need and not your means, clearly indicate that like all the other systems in the country, the judiciary too has vested interest in the status quo. But these custodians of law are now pitched against the lawless Taliban who dispense prompt judgement and execute their orders, along with the culprits, before breaking for their prayers. Certainly not a desirable model but still better than generations getting old in the court corridors.

A simple policy directive to the Ministry of Law that reads: “Since our judicial system has failed to clean up its act, and the government has no power to dictate it; create a network of people’s courts – panchayats, jirgas, community arbitration, et al – and ensure that in 5-10 years they drive the mainstream system out of business (pun intended)”.

Foreign & Security Policy 

Diplomats believe that the foreign policy is a country’s first line of defence – a claim contested by the Intelligence. Smart countries employ both of them in sync. Pakistan may not have, but strangely (and that’s our best kept secret) has not done too badly pursuing its F&SP objectives – and that too so nimble-footedly.

We started by joining the US-led alliances to countervail the Indian superiority; won the Chinese over when the time was right; once even opened a window to the Soviets after the Tashkent Accord; took Kissinger over the Himalayas to bring China and the US together; successfully aided the Afghan Resistance to vacate the Soviet occupation; went nuclear against  the desires of the sole-superpower; and when it was America’s turn to try their luck in Afghanistan, scuttled their designs with the help of a rag-tag militia. And all this, while containing the Indian threat below a certain threshold. Not forgetting of course that a very important relationship – that with China – was kept on a steady track. In short, we navigated troubled waters; played balancing games – double, or at times triple; kept multiple balls in the air, and rode two horses. Not bad for a country, often labelled failing, faltering, or fumbling.

Only a few years back when Pakistan was chosen to be the trailblazer for a new world order, with CPEC as its more visible manifestation, we had reasons to believe that we had crossed the Rubicon.


But just as our geopolitical tightrope walking had positioned us, along with some of our like- minded friends, for the real Great Game – China vs. America – something seems to have seriously gone wrong.

Kashmir needed a comprehensive strategy: multi-pronged; flexible in execution; but without losing sight of the objective. That may never have happened, but any crisis was always encountered to flag our commitment. Post 5 August 2019, when Modi revoked Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)’s special status, our total response – redrawing a map and renaming a road – clearly indicated that it was no longer the case.

Two years later, another August and Afghanistan was liberated from foreign occupation (an objective that we had pursued against great odds for over four decades), but we found ourselves unable to provide more than token humanitarian aid to a people who when free used to defend our western borders whenever we had serious issues on the eastern – and now were all set to take us to Central Asia and beyond.

Only a few years back when Pakistan was chosen to be the trailblazer for a new world order, with CPEC as its more visible manifestation, we had reasons to believe that we had crossed the Rubicon. Perceptions that we are now dragging our feet under US pressure cannot be pooh-poohed merely as enemy propaganda. In fact, we all know what has happened, and those who don’t only have to look at what the newly liberated State Bank has done – refused to open an Afghanistan Relief Fund, believe it or not, rationalized by some imagined FATF conditionality. Principle of a state bank acting independently of the government is accepted, but when it becomes yet another tool of the US, it would obviously want us to punch below our weight – which indeed has suffered not only because of the economic slump but also because many of our leaders did not learn the art of playing hardball.

And that’s precisely the reason that some of our wiser heads had been working for more than a decade to provide Pakistan a regional umbrella. Both Syria and Iran are still breathing because China, Russia, and Turkey helped them against extra-regional designs. When more powerful countries these days like to be integrated in a multi-national security structure, Pakistan, blessed with a unique geo-strategic location, was well advised to work for a regional rather than a national F&SP. Improving relations with India is always a good idea, only if someone told us how to!


None of the above are the first or the last words. But the message to be conveyed is that good intents or wish lists do not a policy make. The “NSP” officially released in January was short of substance and tall on platitudes. Organs of the State that must now implement it will have a hard time figuring out what to do any differently than in the past. No clear objectives; the guidelines splendidly vague; no clue about the resources at their disposal; and nary a hint how the process would be coordinated. It still made some useful points.

The paper correctly talks about “non-traditional” threats. The problem is that these are too amorphous to be clearly defined as targets. Countering them would require comprehensive, but indirect efforts, over a long period. Didn’t find any conceptual framework on how the present government intends to go about this arduous task, or what its plans were to get the political opposition – which would have to next carry the can – on board.


The writer is a political/defence commentator and former DG ISI.