For an independent and sovereign country, there cannot be anything more important than national security. Security, both internal and external, is a sine qua non for a people to lead their lives in peaceful, orderly, economically prosperous, and dignified conditions enabling their genius to flower and their potential to develop to its maximum. Insecurity, on the other hand, can endanger the very existence of a country through loss of independence and internal chaos and disintegration. A nation beset with external threats and armed conflicts, and mired in internal disharmony can hardly hope to prosper or even survive.
The foremost task of the national leadership, therefore, is to safeguard a country’s security defined in a comprehensive manner covering its political, economic, diplomatic and military dimensions. External security undoubtedly requires as its centerpiece military means—-armed forces and armaments—-to deter and, if the deterrent fails, to defend the country against external aggression. However, because of the changed nature of warfare in modern times, defense against external aggression requires not just military means but also the support of economic and technological strength. Therefore, emerging powers have generally built up their military power on the foundation of a strong economic and technological base rather than the other way around, particularly in the modern era starting with the industrial revolution.
Thus, military means and economic strength are essential elements of national security and defense against external aggression. As a general rule, the shorter the war effort, the more important the military means are for the purpose of national security. Conversely, the relative importance of economic strength for national security increases corresponding to the increase in the duration of war. If one takes this argument to its logical conclusion, it can be stated emphatically that any long-term contest between two nations would be decided primarily by their relative economic and technological strength which as needed can be translated into military power. Nations that neglected the economic dimension of their security came to grief in the long run. Ideally, the leadership of a nation should allocate resources to defense and economic development in such a manner as would deter a potential aggressor in the short term and ensure a faster rate of economic growth and technological progress than its competitors in the long run. The main cause of the defeat and disintegration of the Soviet Union was its economic weakness rather than shortage of conventional and non-conventional armaments and forces. China, on the other hand, wisely concentrated its resources and energies on the task of rapid economic development for about three decades after the initiation of economic reforms at the end of 1978 and embarked on an ambitious program of building up its military power only after a solid economic foundation for it had been laid.
The importance of foreign policy for national security cannot be overemphasized. It is with good reason that foreign policy is called the first line of defense of a country. The first test of a sound foreign policy is that it must be synchronized with the national military and economic policies so as to form an integrated whole in the form of the national grand strategy. Secondly, foreign policy must reflect the relative importance or priorities of the nation’s goals that it is expected to support or achieve. If the supreme national objective is rapid economic development, the pursuit of other national objectives must be subordinated to it as China has done since 1978. Thirdly, it is axiomatic that the foreign policy of a country must be based on a realistic assessment of the regional and global environment and its likely future trends. Finally, the demands of foreign policy must be within the reach of the nation’s resources or power. An over-ambitious foreign policy that aims too high is likely to result in strategic overstretch leading to strategic exhaustion, political demoralization and instability, and even to a national debacle.
This brings us to the consideration of the home front in safeguarding national security. Internal political stability, national unity, and law and order are not only essential elements of internal peace and security but also indispensable conditions for safeguarding a nation’s external security. A powerful military machine would fail in providing defense against external security threats unless it is backed by internal economic and technological strength as well as by internal political stability and national unity. Obviously, a country weakened by internal conflicts and dissensions would be in no position to safeguard its security against external threats. This lesson was driven home by our disastrous experience of 1971 when the Indian aggression led to the dismemberment of the country because of the mishandling of the situation in East Pakistan by the national leadership and the resultant political unrest and insurgency there, backed by New Delhi. The last thing that the armed forces need while defending the country against external security threats is a crumbling home front marked by political instability, public unrest, internal conflicts, economic stagnation, and the absence of economic and social justice.
A careful review of the domestic situation in Pakistan, against the background of the foregoing, is far from reassuring. A series of developments over the past few years starting with the dharna of 2014, which was totally unjustified as the later investigations by the Supreme Court revealed, have badly destabilized the country politically with negative effects on its economic health also. The same anti-democratic forces, which were behind the dharna of 2014, have been active again over the past few years to destabilize the country politically. The possibility that some of them, wittingly or unwittingly, may have fallen victim to the conspiracies of enemy powers to foment instability in Pakistan and undermine CPEC cannot be ruled out. These anti-democratic forces belonging to the deep state have been clamoring for quite some time for the replacement of the present democratic order by a government of technocrats backed by unrepresentative state institutions. This is simply a call for dictatorship in the country. Such renegade elements, who simply have not learnt from the world history or from our own historical experience, may lead the nation to another major disaster if their shenanigans are not checked by the people of Pakistan and the enlightened sections of the public.
A democratic system of government, in which the people manage their affairs through their elected representatives, has a much better chance of ensuring internal stability, unity, cohesion, and economic and social justice than a dictatorial or unrepresentative government that is alienated from the people which, as our own past experience shows, would invite internal opposition and dissent leading to political instability and dangerous national divisions. Further, whereas democratic governments are subjected to periodic accountability by the electorate, unrepresentative institutions of the state are not directly accountable to the public. The danger is that if they are not checked by the elected governments and the Parliament, they would become power unto themselves leading to policy blunders and constitutional transgressions. We would be better off if the different institutions of the state perform their duties within their constitutional limits instead of indulging in institutional overreach. The nation would, therefore, be well advised to stick to the system of constitutional democracy and use its right of vote during the coming general elections to send this message to all and sundry. The present system of government does need reforms but it is still better than anything that its critics have come up with as an alternative.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.