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HomeOpinionPakistan's National Security Policy offers no change on Kashmir: Shah Faesal

Pakistan’s National Security Policy offers no change on Kashmir: Shah Faesal

The policy is significant because it offers us a keyhole view of the Pakistani mind at a time when India is fortifying its presence in the Indo-Pacific.

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The recently released document on Pakistan’s national security is an important one because it aims to build legitimacy for two most crucial security actors in the country — the army, and the orthodox Muslim clergy that enjoy hegemony over the Pakistani State. It is achieved by forging a synthesis of religion and nationalism — what George Mosse calls a ‘surrogate religion’ — by deploying Kashmir, India, and Islam, a conventional strategy integral to military school of State-building in Pakistan. What would this mean for the prospects of a safe neighborhood for India and peace in South Asia region? It is a question that should be enough to dampen the enthusiasm shown by certain quarters on our side of the border vis-à-vis the possibilities for India-Pakistan peace under this policy.

An agenda-point from the Pakistani military, the National Security Policy seeks refuge in the same old revanchism as it declares Kashmir ‘dispute’ a vital national security interest. In the service of the clerics, the document invokes the fantasy of ‘Riasat-e-Medina’ and presents Pakistan as an embodiment of the Islamic cause that will do everything — from ending Islamophobia to working towards the security and safety of the holiest sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia. Riding the antinomy of Islamic nationalism, this policy thus leaves little elbowroom for the Pakistani State to stumble away from its historical contempt for peace in and progress of South Asia.


Also read: India needs a national security document too. But don’t do a Pakistan


Pakistan’s identity: ‘To exist against India’

Kashmir has always been intimately linked to the question of national identity in Pakistan. And the wars that Pakistan fought and lost against India over Kashmir in the 75 years have done little to mellow down the existential urge of the Pakistani military to wrest back territory and complete its nation-building project. This ‘designed militarism’, as Morris Janowitz calls it, and the unique influence of Pakistani military on its society and politics, has ensured that Pakistan as an imagined nation exists only in opposition to India and has no independent existence of its own.

As such, the commitment in the policy to continue ‘moral, diplomatic, political, and legal support’ to further Kashmiri Peoples’ right to self-determination despite knowing India’s stated position on cross-border terrorism falls short of the avowal of ‘peace-based mutual co-existence’ in the policy. In fact, looking at these contradictions, the policy intent to re-position Pakistan as a ‘responsible State’ comes across as nothing but a red-herring for the Western audience. The rupture between aspiration and reality becomes further evident as the policy takes cognisance of the events of August 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir, but still retains the old romance with human rights and UNSC Resolutions to foreclose any opportunities for a fresh start with India.


Also read: Imran Khan should brace for civil-military tensions with first National Security Policy


Pakistan on extremism

Another important aspect is how this policy looks at the return of violent Islamist extremists to the center-stage of Pakistani social and political life. The document apparently tries to address the issue only to leave it unaddressed.

The Imran Khan government has from the day one been accused of being soft towards violent extremist groups like Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), besides numerous anti-India terror groups. While Pakistan has always competed with other Organization of Islamic Countries for being the strongest citadel of Islam, the Oxford-educated prime minister has been surprisingly eager to walk an extra-mile with the radical Islamists to secure his political survival. The National Security Policy thus while promising a ‘united narrative against extremism’ misses the larger point that no such narrative can succeed under the rubric of a theocratic State. The policy does make a half-hearted mention of action against radicalisation and hate-speech but doesn’t realise that terrorism inspired by religious extremism will continue to remain a major internal security challenge for the country unless the military-clergy complex gives up its obsession to cultivate and unleash this Frankenstein on its neighbours.


Also read: India-Pakistan army-to-army talks are long time coming, Gen Naravane and first NSP show


Over-promise and under-deliver

This National Security Policy is thus a classic case of ‘over-promise and under-deliver’. The specific details as to how this policy will be implemented are missing from the draft. Will it be the PMO or GHQ that will monitor the outcomes under this policy? Does the country have resources to get done what it proposes to do? In absence of the clarity on these vital issues, the only action over this policy that is possible soon is an “intellectual debate” — to quote the Pakistan NSA Moeed Yusuf. But there is very little appetite for such debates both within and outside Pakistan.

Already, there are many voices of dissent within Pakistan that have rejected this document for wishful thinking. Pakistan Peoples Party senator Sherry Rehman led the charge against the policy in the Upper House of Pakistani Parliament, calling it a piece of paper that was prepared without the knowledge of people’s representatives and had nothing significant to offer.

The realisation, both within and outside Pakistan, is that a nation that has often disregarded its Constitution for the last 75 years and limped from one military coup to another is unlikely to follow a piece of paper which doesn’t even have the approval of domestic stakeholders. It will, in no case, command respect of the military and clergy, howsoever it might try to appease them.

Yet, what makes this policy significant in a sense is that it offers us a keyhole view of the Pakistani mind at a time when India is fortifying its presence in the Indo-Pacific and is ready to meet any challenges in Afghanistan and rest of the northern frontier, both in conventional and unconventional space. Rattled by India’s claim as a ‘net-security provider in the wider Indian Ocean’, and expansion of India’s nuclear triad, the policy offers generic solutions like human security and centric approach to cover-up for Pakistan’s failure to keep pace with the events in the region and beyond. These frustrations will be important for us to watch out for as Imran Khan government faces an anti-incumbency challenge due to a near-total economic-collapse of the country. The security implications for India of such internal chaos in Pakistan are well known.

We must remember that a State which makes the ‘preservation of the Islamic character as enshrined in the Constitution’ a priority of the National Security Policy but at the same time ridicules the hegemonic designs of the ‘Hindutva-driven politics’ by its most important eastern neighbor, is playing a dangerous ideological game and can not become a credible partner in the regional peace.

Therefore, those of us in India who expect that this document will give a better idea about our immediate neighbor’s strategic vision, priorities for regional security and a program of action for peace in the neighborhood, must brace up for a major disappointment.

Shah Faesal has served in IAS, J&K Cadre. He holds a Master’s in Public Administration and Public Policy Management from Harvard University. Tweets @shahfaesal. Views are personal. 

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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