Adhocism and short-term thinking have played a predominant role in the official policy formulation in Pakistan. Long-term planning, on the other hand, has been generally conspicuous by its absence in our governmental decision making process. Consequently, our leaders and senior officials are constantly preoccupied by responses to day-to-day developments instead of setting and pursuing strategic or long-term directions of policy in the best interest of the country. This preoccupation with the short-term or tactical adjustments as against the long-term or strategic directions of policies in various fields has been one of the major causes of the problems and crises that confronted the country in the past. Pakistan’s Kashmir and the Afghanistan policies of 1990’s are prime examples of policies made for short-term gains at the expense of the long-term interests of the country. Both policies brought us to the brink of disaster forcing us to change course radically at tremendous cost to the nation. Our policies have also generally focused on the demands of short-term security to the detriment of the nation’s long-term security. Unfortunately, despite the past unhappy experience, we remain preoccupied by short-term thinking in the formulation of governmental policies in economic, security, and foreign policy fields. Focus on long-term planning and on strategic directions of policies, generally speaking, is still not our forte.

The point made above about the tension between the demands of short-term and long-term security needs to be elaborated. It is generally recognised that in the long-run it is a nation’s economic and technological strength that provides the foundation for its military strength. An economically weak and technologically backward country cannot hope to safeguard its security in the long run in the face of serious threats. Ideally, a country, at the initial stages, should concentrate on building up its economic strength and technological prowess before it goes after the development of its military power. But in this anarchic world where power rather than the rule of law plays the decisive role, it is not safe to neglect the military sector totally for the sake of strengthening a country economically. The reality is that countries do need a certain minimum level of military power to act as a deterrent against potential aggressors, while strengthening themselves economically and technologically. It is the familiar question of butter versus guns that leaders and policy makers face in all countries, that is to say, how much of a nation’s resources a government should allocate for defense and how much should be directed towards the task of economic and technological development, and social welfare.

If a government over-provides for defense, it may strengthen the country’s military security in the immediate future but at the grave risk of slowing down its economic strength, enabling its competitors to pull far ahead in the race for economic growth and thereby endangering its security in the long run. In this scenario, the country winning the economic race in the long run may use its economic strength not only to dominate the losing side economically but also militarily by using its greater economic and technological resources to build up a formidable military machine. On the other hand, the country losing the economic race in the long run may find itself increasingly at the mercy of the winning side both economically and militarily, thus exposing itself to a serious security threat. In short, the requirements of security in the near future call for an adequate level of forces and armaments now to deter aggression and preserve national security while the demands of long-term security necessitate economic and technological superiority in the interest of safeguarding it. Further, it is not enough for a country to grow economically. It must grow at a higher rate than its opponents and competitors if it wishes to safeguard its long-term security. Otherwise, as pointed out above, the danger is that as it is left behind in the race for economic development, its opponents would gain an overwhelming advantage both economically and militarily.

A telling example of the short-term approach overriding the long-term interests in the formulation of Pakistan’s security policies is the allocation of the lion’s share of its resources to the defense sector while neglecting the requirements of economic development. This tendency has had a negative impact on the country’s long-term security by slowing its economic growth. For instance, in the budget for the current financial year, the total allocation for defense was estimated to be Rs.1228 billion (Rs.860 billion for defense affairs and services, Rs.178 billion for military pensions, and Rs.190 billion for contingent liabilities). This would be about 44.17% of the estimated net revenue receipts of the federal government amounting to Rs.2780 billion. The total expenditure on debt servicing and defense (Rs.3031 billion) would exceed the net revenues of the federal government by Rs.251 billion forcing the government to meet this shortfall and the requirements of the remaining current expenditure (Rs.812 billion) and development expenditure (Rs.1051 billion) through loans and deficit financing.

This state of affairs is a recipe for a debt trap and a national disaster in the long run unless necessary corrective steps are taken right away. Little wonder that Pakistan’s GDP is projected to grow at the rate of about 5% in 2016-17 as against India’s expected GDP growth rate of 7.5% in 2017. Pakistan’s current high rate of the defense expenditure is unsustainable for its weak economy. The high ratio of the defense expenditure in the net federal revenues needs to be brought down by rapidly raising the tax-to-GDP ratio and controlling the defense expenditure through innovative military strategies. A programme of radical tax reforms is a must for the country’s long-term survival and economic progress.

It seems that Pakistan’s policy makers have not adequately taken into account the lessons of modern history. The USSR suffered the defeat in the Cold War and disintegrated not because of the shortage of conventional and nuclear weaponry. Its defeat took place because its weak economy failed to provide a solid foundation for its heavy military superstructure. It appears that Pakistan in the absence of a well-thought-out grand strategy is in the process of repeating the same cardinal mistake as was done by the Soviet Union with predictable disastrous results. It also does not appear to have learned anything from the success of China after the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in December 1978 and of the post-World War II Germany in building up national power and attaining a high position in the comity of nations (and, in the case of Germany, national reunification) primarily by achieving high rates of economic growth in the first instance. Pakistan is in dire need of far-reaching economic reforms to raise the efficiency and the productivity of its economy.

Pakistan’s long-term security and economic well-being demand that it should assign the top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth and subordinate everything else to the realisation of this supreme national objective. This would require maximum possible allocation of resources to the urgent and massive task of economic development. We would be able to do so only if we have peace in our neighbourhood and avoid a major armed conflict allowing us to allocate the lion’s share of our resources to economic development while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of forces and armaments. The goal of peace in our neighbourhood in turn would require us to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy.