Citizens’ Insecurity Versus National Security: Why Pakistan's New NSP Was A Missed Opportunity

Citizens’ Insecurity Versus National Security: Why Pakistan's New NSP Was A Missed Opportunity
The much-hyped announcement of the new National Security Policy of Pakistan provoked the usual negative reactions from a Pakistani public that has become cynical and skeptical of almost everything that emerges from the halls of government in Islamabad. Yet, the collective silence from the ranks of the political opposition, and the lack of action on the part of parliament to engage in a public discussion and review of the NSP was much more surprising.

 Have they become gun shy of treading into the security realm or did they receive some backroom “advice” yet again that they dutifully obeyed? Though touted as such, this is not, in fact, the first national security document. In recent decades, it has been preceded by a National Internal Security Policy of 2013 and the National Action Plan of 2014 and its iterations in later years, as well as the Army Doctrine of 2011 issued by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. But we must welcome its appearance since it brings to the fore the need for Pakistan to confront its critical security threats publicly, even if, like some other similar documents, including from the West, it  is largely aspirational and is designed more for public relations than to effect meaningful change in the power dynamics of Pakistan..

To be sure, the NISP of 2013 was also a good academic effort, but inadequate since it lacked a discussion of the role of the military in internal security and failed to show how the civilian and military institutions needed to interact and how they would share responsibility for internal security. The NAP was seen as a necessary document by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to show that he was reacting with alacrity to the surge of domestic terrorism, including the murderous attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. But it became a virtual laundry list of items that needed to be checked off dutifully to show that he was aware of all that needed to be done - some 20 initiatives most of which have yet to be fully implemented. What the new NSP lacks much like the earlier NISP, is a systematic discussion of the contribution of civil and military authorities to internal security and how proposed changes would be implemented. The NISP circa 2013 totally ignored the role of the military. The new policy misses the opportunity to define the lanes designated for the civilian and military authorities and the relationship between these two unequal entities, despite the fact that the constitution gives the former supremacy over the latter.




To be sure, the NISP of 2013 was also a good academic effort, but inadequate since it lacked a discussion of the role of the military in internal security  and failed to show how the civilian and military institutions needed to interact and how they would share responsibility for internal security.



Prime Minister Imran Khan in his foreword to the NSP pronounced a grandiose aim: “the security of Pakistan rests in the security of its citizens. This citizen-centric approach to national security prioritises national cohesion and the prosperity of people, while guaranteeing fundamental rights and social justice without discrimination.” Nothing in the NSP gives a clue as to how that aim is to be fulfilled nor the role of the citizen in the process that remains visibly top-down. More unobjectionable generalizations follow: “Domestic stability and regional peace based on mutual co-existence, regional connectivity, and shared prosperity are essential prerequisites to optimising national security. 

Moreover, to achieve the vast potential of our citizens, it is necessary to promote delivery-based good governance through strengthening of institutions, rule of law, transparency, accountability, and openness.” This sets the tone for the rest of the document. “Hope is not a policy” stated former US Secretary of State George Shultz. That is a useful guide for policymakers worldwide.

The NSP remains a diffuse set of issues, confusing and conflating concerns and challenges with security threats and objectives and the means to achieving them. It follows an academic checklist approach to touch all bases and to be all inclusive rather than focus specifically on the twin key security objectives: external threats emanating from India and Afghanistan, and internal threats of religious and ethnic conflicts that enable external actors to weaken national cohesion and weaken the centripetal forces that could keep Pakistan united and allow it to prosper. 


To be sure, the NISP of 2013 was also a good academic effort, but inadequate since it lacked a discussion of the role of the military in internal security and failed to show how the civilian and military institutions needed to interact and how they would share responsibility for internal security.



The diversity of ethnic, sectarian, and geographic entities that form united Pakistan provide the social and cultural bonds that hold the nation together. Yet, they have become the political fault lines in an imbalanced provincial structure and led to a scramble for scarce resources.  

The NSP is coy in not identifying by name the twin external threats and the countries that foster them. And it does not provide a taxonomy on how a cohesive national security doctrine can be constructed from the base up, bringing the military, economic, foreign policy,  and internal security concerns and solutions into a coherent and succinct statement of the National War Directive issued by the civil authorities. The War Directive is the final guidance given to the armed forces by the government to prepare for the defence of Pakistan. Unfortunately, as discussed in my new book The Battle for Pakistan, the war directive has not been updated in a regular and orderly manner for decades. An organogram showing these linkages and the supremacy of the civilians in this process would have been useful for us to understand the threats and Pakistan’s expected response. But making that transparent would have threatened the delicate balance of the current hybrid regime and its misalliance wherein the civilians remain a junior and subservient partner to the military Hence, perhaps, the vague generalizations. A form perhaps of domestic realpolitik? 

The newly-discovered mantra of “geoeconomics” is evoked by the authors of the NSP. (This term was coined by Edward  Luttwak in 1990 in the context of the ending of the Cold War, though he bemoaned the lack of a defined purpose for the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics From geopolitics to geo-economics: Logic of conflict, grammar of commerce

EN Luttwak - The national interest, 1990 – JSTOR.) Something that one does not hear about outside Pakistan. Interestingly Luttwak’s Coup d’Etat: a Practical Handbook was popular among younger military officers in Pakistan, some of whom used it as a guide to launch an abortive coup in 1973 against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto!  The NSP places economics rightly at the center of national security. But it does not recognise that Pakistan’s current and projected economic growth cannot sustain its security objectives. It is facing a hostile India whose economy will be roughly 16 times the size of Pakistan’s economy in 2030. That’s just around the corner. When the GDP of the city of Mumbai exceeds Pakistan’s national GDP, the idea of a military equilibrium between India and Pakistan deserves a deeper thought. “The most prudent approach is to keep economic security at the core, and judiciously transfer the dividends of a strong economy to further strengthen our defense and human security,” states the National Security Adviser after setting up the straw-man argument of guns versus butter as being irrelevant. But he does not explain how economic security will translate into human security or deter an overwhelmingly powerful and hostile India or even an obstreperous and unstable Afghanistan. There is no mention also of the opportunity cost of conflict or the need to control unproductive expenditures, in both the civilian and military sectors, in order to bolster the economic base with greater investment in human capital through improvements in the quality of  education and health.

 Pakistan could learn from the example of South Korea on how allocation of resources for human development can expand the economy and allow for better defence. Pakistani economists Parvez Hasan and Khalid Ikram (both of the World Bank), separately assisted South Korea implement its economic growth strategy. Hasan calculated that if Pakistan had diverted more resources to education and health in the 1960s it would have helped lay the foundation for economic growth and Pakistan today would have been able to sustain a defence budget twice the current size! In his memoirs, Sartaj Aziz (reviewed by Khaled Ahmed in Newsweek), noted that it was necessary to ensure “a state’s economic resource and diplomatic and military strategies are suited to each other.” In other words, you cannot dissociate the economy from security policies. Or, you cannot build a strong defence on a weak economy.

Tense relations between Pakistan and India and the foregone trade are costing each country roughly 1.5 per cent of GDP growth. 

So, Prime Minister Khan and the current army chief may well be on the right track in trying to reopen trade with India. Reducing that hostility between the South Asian neighbors may be one way of achieving their economic and social welfare goals. Though good governance would still be needed to place Pakistan on the most efficient growth trajectory. There are no silver bullets! At the same time, Pakistan’s population continues to grow. It is adding some 2 million youth to the job market each year. There aren’t enough jobs waiting for these youngsters. Rather, Pakistan has lost jobs during the pandemic. The so-called Youth Dividend remains a chimera. Any national security policy must face these facts and suggest solutions to meet these challenges.


If Pakistan had diverted more resources to education and health in the 1960s it would have helped lay the foundation for economic growth and Pakistan today would have been able to sustain a defence budget twice the current size! 



“Like all such guiding documents, the National Security Policy is aspirational in some respects. One of the key focus areas for policymakers must therefore be to bridge the gap between the ambition and reality of attaining comprehensive national security in the shortest possible time period. Ensuring this will be an important benchmark of success of the Policy.” How? The NSP does not offer any specific actions, keeping it in the main an academic exercise. My learned friends who follow China closely tell me that China, too, issues such broad directions. But China sets attainable benchmarks and refines its objectives over time and has demonstrated the capacity to achieve if not overshoot its principal economic objectives. The NSP will need to be both implemented and updated regularly in a transparent manner to achieve results similar to those of China. 

The NSP states that “economic security is predicated on an expanding national resource pie and a redistributive model that can transfer the benefits of greater availability of resources to human welfare.” But it offers no guidance on how the economic pie is to be expanded or how internal redistribution of state resources would help create better growth. Is there an ancillary document from the Planning Commission of Pakistan that will provide that blueprint? How will this government continue to maintain the current unbridled distribution of resources to the armed forces as well as to the electorate via its welfare schemes without addressing the fiscal deficits that undermine its ability to grow and keep it in thrall to international and bilateral lenders?

Many questions remain unanswered 

The NSP claims that “since the early 2000s, Pakistan has made significant gains in poverty alleviation, reducing poverty by more than half.” One needs to be careful about drawing inferences with a single poverty line over time. It needs to be complemented by other metrics such as the percentage of children who suffer from stunting and wasting, child mortality, life expectancy, access to schooling and healthcare and the number of workers holding poorly paid jobs in the informal sector. Poverty figures have become worse during the pandemic. The World Bank now estimates poverty rising today. It has estimated that poverty in Pakistan has increased from 4.4 per cent to 5.4 per cent in 2020, as over two million people have fallen below the poverty line. Using the lower-middle-income poverty rate, the WB estimated that the poverty ratio in Pakistan stood at 39.3 per cent in 2020-21 and is projected to remain at 39.2 per cent in 2021-22 and might come down to 37.9 per cent by 2022-23, reported The News International.” 

Who then is responsible for meeting the needs of the citizens who are at the center of the government’s stated aims of a citizen-centric NSP? The document passes the buck from the federal government to the provinces. “Devolution of ministries has shifted the burden of delivering the majority of public services to Pakistan’s federating units.” But the NSP offers nothing in the way of policies that would narrow the distance between the Centre and the Periphery. Should we expect another document to address these issues?  The experience in dealing with the pandemic from the Centre while helping strengthen the resources and organizations in the provinces might be a useful guide rather than the half-baked Musharrafian approach that has resulted in muddled and dysfunctional fiscal decentralization.  Hence, the battle lines remain drawn between Islamabad and the provincial capitals. How will provincial and minority groups be given voice?

“The security of our land, air, and sea borders along with space and cyber domains  is paramount.” How will Pakistan meet that objective? The NSP fails to discuss the nature of and the need for potential shifts in the nature and organization of its defence forces. How will Pakistan do more with less as budgets tighten? Where does it stand vis-à-vis its main threats: Afghanistan and India? Pakistan needs a 21st Century, lean and highly mobile military not an ever increasing but static force with a huge tail-to-tooth ratio. It needs to re-examine its force structure and organization, and recognize the importance of devolved regional commands with authority to operate autonomously in a period of conflict. It has a battle-hardened soldier and officer class. But their recent experience has been derived from irregular warfare against internal insurgencies. How will this force be transformed to meet external challenges now, especially under a nuclear umbrella? Though the NSP is not the place to come up with solutions to the challenges facing the armed forces, it could ask the military to come up with a military doctrine involving all the services to deal with the new and emerging realities inside Pakistan and in its neighborhood. At the very least, the National Security Policy should ask the question: does Pakistan need a huge standing army when it is relying on a nuclear umbrella for its deterrence value?

“The security of our land, air, and sea borders along with space and cyber domains  is paramount.” How will Pakistan meet that objective? The NSP fails to discuss the nature of and the need for potential shifts in the nature and organization of its defence forces.



On the home front, sectarian, ethnic violence and the inability or unwillingness of state organs to adhere to the Constitution and enforce the law and protect citizen rights is a serious issue. This calls for a resetting of the roles and capabilities of the police forces and rules governing the involvement of the military agencies into domestic policing work. Enough has been said about the need to reform the police system. What does the government plan to do about those proposals? The NSP is silent. It falls back on bromides again: “Inculcating  interfaith and intersectarian harmony and societal tolerance in all its forms will be prioritised.” This is the equivalent of “apple pie and motherhood” in America! What is the threat assessment of the role and power of these sectarian groups including those that the military and civilian authorities are trying to mainstream? You will not find any answers in the NSP.

It provides an incomplete agenda for change. Leaving out many key issues that need addressing. For example, the following items: 

  • Are the Punjab and Sindh Rangers needed in their current form and with their confusing ambiguous command structures and reporting lines? Perhaps not. Should they be fully civilianized and operate under the federal government?

  • Are the two Frontier Corps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan needed in their current form? Should they continue to be de facto run by the army while reporting to the Interior Minister? Or, should they be merged into a new and improved National Police force or under a better organized National Guard force that acts as a ready reserve for the military but is at hand to come to the aid of civil power, and remains totally under civilian control.

  • What should be the role of NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority)? Should the Joint Intelligence Coordination functions be merged with NACTA and placed directly under the PM’s office? NACTA needs more resources and should work in tandem with the joint intelligence coordination group operating directly under the Prime Minister. Internal security and protection of the rights of citizens should remain a civilian subject.

  • Should the use of the military in aid of civil power be updated and redefined to allow more judicious use of the military in domestic security matters? Absolutely. Though the experience of recent civilian governments and the manner in which they willingly abdicated their duties and responsibilities to military proconsuls (e.g. General Kayani in the Zardari era) and  to General Raheel Sharif during the Nawaz Sharif period) leaves one wanting.

The NSP could have flagged these and other issues that demand action and offer a chance for the government to bring other political parties and civil society into the consultative process.

What purpose can the document serve?

Despite these gaps, this document can add value. It can serve a useful purpose. If it provokes a national debate, starting with an open examination in parliament, and if becomes a routine and regular exercise, similar to the Quadrennial Reviews of the US Departments of Defense and State. Pakistan could borrow selectively from their taxonomy. And if its leads to the setting up of high-level non-partisan national defence and foreign policy advisory boards (even India uses them) that provide independent formal commentary and guidance to the government. The composition and role of the ad hoc advisory boards that each government sets up, including the current one, leaves much to be desired.

There needs to be a much more informed debate. And the involvement of more retired officials who are willing to swim against the tide are needed for meaningful results to emerge. (The Defense Policy Board in the United States has former senior officials from both the major parties plus senior retired military leaders from all the services and former secretaries of state and defense.)  Unvarnished advice would allow the national security staff to take the best and brightest ideas to craft practicable not academic options for action.  In parallel, each military service should be tasked to update its doctrine every five years. As should the planning commission and the ministries of foreign affairs and interior.

This parallel exercises could then lead to an updating every five years of the War Directive from the government. An NSP that is built from the bottom up, with contributions from all the armed services and provincial governments as well as different ministries would become an actionable document that could be implemented and regularly updated. Unless that is explicitly defined as its purpose, this NSP may become yet another aspirational effort gathering dust in Islamabad.



The author wishes to thank Shahid Yusuf and Ehtisham Ahmad as always for their valuable questions and suggestions though they do not necessarily share the views expressed in this article.

Shuja Nawaz is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within, and The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC.