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Reinvigorating Pakistan’s National Security Discourse

Pakistan open up its National Security discourse to allow participation by a wider swathe of the country’s intelligentsia.

Pakistan’s security discourse has always been the preserve of the high and mighty. It was traditionally a closed-door affair, with input restricted to intelligence sleuths and very few policymakers from the civilian side. In other words, the invisible establishment, as the top tier of the civil-military officialdom is referred to, called all the shots and took all the decisions.

But that seems to be changing for good in the ‘New Pakistan’ under the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan. That was confidently evident as the National Security Division in collaboration with the National Security Policy Division hosted a two-day conference under the theme of ‘Islamabad Security Dialogue’ in the federal capital.

One single point that made this elite gathering of power-brokers make headlines across the world was the categorical utterance from Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa that Pakistan is prepared to bury the hatchet and willing to make peace with India. This was not merely a ceremonial or applause-driving statement; it came as an indication of policy approach from a position of strength.

The army chief was candid, as he expressed Pakistan’s willingness to “sit with the Indians across the table and start talking: Sir Creek, Siachen Glacier, Indus Water Treaty and other irritants.” This statement came at a time when the recently agreed ceasefire across the LoC is holding.

The point that General Bajwa made, “Kashmir issue can wait till other disputes are amicably addressed” with the initiation of comprehensive dialogue between the two countries reflected the zenith of confidence and power. “It is our desire. Not under pressure,” the army chief asserted. New Delhi has been squarely put in the dock, and its high time India reciprocates in all sincerity.

With the theme, ‘Together for Ideas’, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security, Dr Moeed Yusuf took a leap forward as he articulately brought to fore five major think tanks namely: ISSRA-NDU, CASS, IPRI, ISSI and IRS to foster a framework of ‘future dialogue’ on National Security among policy-makers, intelligentsia, academia, and the commoners.

This is a remarkable departure, and the first of its kind. It could be conveniently called the era of Renaissance for Pakistan’s stability to seek a dialogue in pluralism for a multi-ethno-lingual populace of more than 220 million.

If graduated in years to come, this could turn the face of Pakistan and put it in the true light of solidarity and genuine security, as the policy approach shall be backed and complemented by people from all walks of life. This is, indeed, the Pakistan of consensus that Jinnah and Iqbal wanted to build in all sincerity.

Let’s take a paradoxical look at what makes this initiative so important! Prime Minister Imran Khan’s earnest desire is to broaden the framework of National Security, and make it comprehensive to the core. He pinpointed many firsts in his approach, as he listed out climate change, food security, getting to know what the common men think on security, as well as the intelligentsia, and last but not the least seizing the opportunity to ensure peace and connectivity with all of its neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan.

This new psyche cannot be merely brushed aside as a political gimmick from a chief executive whose wafer-thin majority government hangs in balance. Rather, it pitches itself in a formidable policy approach as the government and the State apparatus are eager to solicit views and inputs from more than 100 universities and think tanks across the country. Such serious profiling of national security agenda is no stunt.

Prime Minister Imran Khan sounded sagacious as he pointed out that security is not only empowering the armed forces, but the new paradigm of security is all about making the common man realize that the State and the Government is responsive, and is alive to their whims and aspirations. This is the notion of Peoples’ Security and, indeed, serves as a shot in the arm for the military establishment to help make it fool-proof and further tighten the horizons of stability by eliminating dissent and parochialism from the national fiber. Had this thinking been in vague, Pakistan would never have been dismembered in 1971.

SAPM on National Security Dr Mooed Yusuf, who deserves full marks for harnessing this epoch-making consensus of broadening the agenda -as he plays the role of an interlocutor between the civil and military echelons rightly said: “The deficiency is that Pakistan never had a strategic document vision in one place; and in one document.” He went on to elaborate that the country never had a National Security Policy in 70 years. Courageous words, indeed, to be delivered from the podium and that too at a time when Pakistan is at the crossroads of its security dynamics.

What made him categorize the genuine consensus, which had been simmering underneath the common man’s mentality for decades is, “why should we shy away from our narrative as long as it caters to Pakistan’s national security.” Thus, it is all about crafting a Pakistan-specific narrative, one which is indigenous, genuine and broad-based.

Perhaps, this is what the Prime Minister meant as he remarked, “it is not necessary that a person from Balochistan should have the same perspective and thinking on national security, as eulogized by one from Punjab.” This is a leadership approach and endorses pluralism. It is the sine qua non for coexistence and survival in a millennium that is characterized by hybrid warfare, 5G intrusion and penetration of non-state actors.

Three contours could be drawn from the new realization that has dawned at the Islamabad Security Dialogue.

First, the State of Pakistan is opening up and is confident enough to take along a multitude of views when it comes to drafting a new national security policy.

Two, Pakistan’s defense is impregnable and is better placed to share horizons of connectivity with its traditional adversaries, too, in an attempt to further national interests in an era of alliances.

Third, change is indispensable, if Pakistan has to rise to new challenges of geo-economics and strategic maturity – and that too by encompassing the inherent aspirations of its true sovereigns.

To quote Army Chief General Bajwa, “Yesteryears’ solutions cannot be applied to today’s challenges.” Incidentally, the Prime Minister is on the same page of thought as he curates an aura of concord among the divergent mosaic for a renewed consensus on a new national security doctrine.

This radical change in thinking at the highest echelons is a welcome development. It is, indeed, the realization of the simple thought that the status quo hasn’t delivered. The need of the hour is an inclusive approach as a State and a Nation; and to rewrite National Security in endurance and resilience.

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