INSIGHT: Frontloading National Security With Economics the Way Forward

IRSHAD SALIM — There’s a new normal everyone realizes but may have found it difficult or finding it hard to tell what it looks like and what a new order could be.

South of the Tropic of Cancer where all the goodies and actions have been taking place over decades until now, a paper, in a first in this region, has been written and published — in Pakistan for Pakistan.

It suggests ways to rudder the 220m human capital of the country that has a huge youth bulge (64 pct), and makes a case one can’t ignore any more, even in the wider region west of the country.

The whole region, even the oil-rich countries and the Central States stand shaken and stirred due to COVID-19.

Several years back, I had suggested a “West look” — northwest to southwest and called for geodiplomacy which I understood then was somewhat on the backburner because of geopolitical hiccuups around.

Economics should take primacy, says the paper, and the county must adapt to the changing business dynamics post-COVId-19, the head of an Islamabad-based think tank says, who this week wrote the 1000-worded paper calling for “rethink” on national security.

That the country’s huge bulge has been a ticking time-bomb rather than a dividend hitherto cashed, the paper frontloads the human capital case as an urgent and imminent (in my view) need to ying yang with national security priorities.

“For that to happen, discussion on human security needs to be carried forward”, says Mr. Khan Hasham bin Saddiq, who is President of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

Frontloading national security with economic imperatives, as the two being mutually inclusive, seems to be the paper’s fountainhead — again in my view. Even if it brings at par is a brave footnote to the overall concept.

That the paper was published in one of the most prestigious national newspapers makes it a frontpage news. The key points, observations and the way forward discussed are of interest.

Mainly, he wrote, “a real and pervasive existential threat from India has become more virulent with the passage of time” — a view many independent observers and analysts tend to finally agree with the situation having developed in India since Auguest last year on PM Modi’s watch.

According to Mr. Saddique, “dismemberment in 1971 (Dhaka Debacle) and the War on Terror eclipse rest of the cataclysmic events (though) –over seven decades, which the country had to endure”.

He mentions internal unrest as a concomitant of geopolitical rivalry of great powers — a view which may find divided or different takes by analysts across borders.

The bottom line remains Pakistan has been over the edge for decades (no denial by observers, analysts), and have lost nearly Rs130 billion in economic terms, with Afghanistan being on the boil for over two decades, post-2001.

That its western neighbor could be, would be a region of peace in plain sight remains a toss, some observers say.

Mr. Khan aptly points out in his paper that decades of roller-coaster like situation “raised national security to the highest level in the pantheon of national priorities”. Consequently, he says, national security instead of human security, became the main focus of the national leadership”.

According to him, there was militarization of the foreign, defense, and economic policies which in his opinion, “was a logical consequence of the above developments” — a view upheld by several observers who read the paper.

Included in the observations which some observers agree, is this one: “Regrettably, political infighting, weak governance and poor economic growth has all but stifled our economic development initiatives. If this was not enough, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have dealt a serious blow to any early recovery”.

According to Mr. Saddiq, the situation “thrust upon us divinely, is yet another defining moment in our history that compels policymakers to chalk up a national strategy, leveraging the strengths of all the elements of the national power potential in a post-pandemic world of new possibilities”.

The post-COVID 19 world, he says, would feature a more insular and competitive world with multilateralism, making way for a new Monroe Doctrine (that) would require greater self-reliance and economic resilience. Human security and economic development will be the new normal in a world tired of futile military spending and senseless wars.

The way forward which he suggests include:

Response to non-traditional threats which has to be built. How? “Formulate a national security blueprint in sync with political and economic realities.

The cardinal point, he writes is to understand that a “change” is de rigueur, as more of the same will not yield the desired outcomes.

What are these desired outcomes? Some observers I discussed with, allude to Gen. Bajwa’s “enduring stability” doctrine as the arch. Still relevant, stronger, and having enough space to couch all rethink in my view.

The notion of national security should be re-evaluated in the context of “Comprehensive Security” and not just the defense of territorial integrity. If human security is conceptually agreed to as a subset of comprehensive security, then this non-military component must receive the desired resources to fully complement national security.

The head of IPRI points out “scarce resources” the country has, and given the situation he describes, he says these “must be allocated imaginatively and more judiciously to achieve synergy of effort jointly at the armed forces level as well as the national level. He suggests an approach that includes the whole government, meaning civil-military-etc. in my view.

The paper mentions capacity-building of civilian institutions — that it should also be given equal attention in the interest of comprehensive national security. In my view capability building bottom up in the civil side is the need of the hour, and that’s the way I read “capacity building”.

Quantitatively, we have the human capital horizontally and vertically in these institutions — we need though, a qualitative transformation that however requires statesmanship and bipartisanship on civil side and an affirmative handshake with the military — the only institution that has management and organizational capabilities equal to if not above par with the rest in the neighborhood and beyond.

Read the published paper here...

Comments above by Irshad Salim, Editor/Publisher of and business consultant, analyst based in Islamabad.