Pakistan has suffered enormously in the past because of the pursuit of a flawed national security policy which focused on the military dimension of national security to the neglect of other ingredients. This uni-dimensional approach to national security has been the main source of most of the country’s internal and external problems. The exaggerated role of the military derailed the democratic process, weakened the institutions of the state, and destabilized the country internally through a succession of martial laws. The over-emphasis on the defence in the allocation of national resources at the expense of economic development slowed the rate of economic growth, impoverished the country, and badly damaged the nation’s physical and social infrastructure. It thus weakened the very foundation of a sound national security policy. The subordination of the Foreign Office and diplomacy to the whims of the country’s military rulers and security agencies denied the country the advantages of a coherent foreign policy.

The need of the hour is a comprehensive national security policy covering adequately its political, economic, diplomatic and military dimensions. Internal political stability, social cohesion and security must be one of the most important goals of such a policy. A divided nation suffering from political instability and internal insecurity is on the course of self-destruction. It is certainly in no position to defend itself in the face of serious external threats. We should have learnt this lesson from our experience of 1971 when the mishandling of the East Pakistan crisis by the military regime at the helm of affairs led to an ignominious military defeat and the dismemberment of the country.

Unfortunately, neither our military nor our politicians drew the right lessons from that tragic experience. Military adventurers in the persons of Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf overthrew elected civilian governments, thus, derailing the democratic process, sowing the seeds of political instability, and undermining respect for law and the constitution. Politicians, when given the chance to rule the country after Zia’s air crash in 1988, did not fare any better. Instead of pursuing a consensual approach in dealing with important national issues, they embarked upon confrontational policies aggravating political instability.

With the completion of the process of democratic transition from one elected government to the next one this year, hopefully the country has seen the last of military dictators. The installation of a civilian government, however, is not an automatic guarantee of success in strengthening internal security. For success in realizing this goal, it is also imperative that the government attaches the highest priority to the rule of law so that the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong are treated equally in the application of the laws of the land.

Pakistan’s internal security has been badly damaged by the menace of terrorism which is the direct outcome of the flawed Afghanistan and Kashmir policies followed by us in the past. These policies must be reviewed and modified keeping in view the regional and internal security environment as well as the limits of our national power. We must also simultaneously initiate a dialogue with TTP, which has spearheaded most of the acts of terrorism in the country, within the framework of the constitution as suggested by the recent APC. While opening the door of negotiations with the TTP, the government should retain the possibility of the use of military force as an option of last resort.

A similar effort needs to be made to restore normalcy and stability in Balochistan. The government must reach out to disgruntled elements with a view to understanding their political and economic grievances, and reaching a settlement to end the insurgency in that province in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The people of the province must be made to feel that they are in charge of their affairs and that they are the primary beneficiaries of the resources of the province. The federal government must provide increased resources for the economic development of Balochistan. Simultaneously, steps should be taken to bring to book the culprits responsible for the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

The edifice of national security rests on the foundation of internal security and economic strength.The strengthening of internal security is an essential but not a sufficient condition for safeguarding national security. A nation suffering from backwardness, poverty and deprivation is in no position to defend itself successfully. We must, therefore, accord the highest priority to the goal of accelerating the growth rate of our economy by raising our national saving and investment rates, focusing on health and education, and building up our physical infra-structure.

In the post-industrial revolution period, emerging great powers have traditionally built up their economic power before strengthening their military muscle. Countries that violated this principle have come to grief. The Soviet Union disintegrated essentially because it had a heavy military super-structure on a weak economic foundation. China, on the other hand, wisely concentrated its resources and energies on the task of economic development for about three decades after the initiation of economic reforms at the end of 1978 before embarking upon an ambitious programme of building up its military power.

Obviously, we cannot afford to ignore the military dimension of our national security. We must, therefore, maintain a credible deterrent at the lowest level of forces and armaments. But our long term survival as a progressive, prosperous and self-reliant nation depends primarily upon our ability to accelerate the process of economic development of the country to the maximum extent possible. Unfortunately, we have been treading in the foot-steps of the Soviet Union by building up military power before strengthening ourselves economically. As a result, our economy is in a vulnerable condition, and a source of acute weakness to our national security. We, therefore, need to take urgent corrective action in line with the policy followed by China since 1978.

It is the primary responsibility of the Foreign Office to assess external challenges and threats to a country’s security, and suggest ways and means of overcoming them keeping in view the nation’s economic and military power, its political strength and weaknesses, and the regional and international security environment. Under the present circumstances, it would be advisable for Pakistan to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurous foreign policy to defuse tensions in Pakistan’s relations with its close neighbours and preserve peace around Pakistan’s borders. This would enable us to allocate the lion’s share of the nation’s resources to the urgent task of economic development which is perhaps the weakest link in our national security strategy.

The National Security Policy should ideally establish an optimum balance among its political, economic, diplomatic and military dimensions. As noted by me in a paper entitled “The process of foreign policy formulation in Pakistan”, written in April, 2004 at the behest of PILDAT for the benefit of our parliamentarians, Pakistan has historically suffered from the absence of any agency which can synthesize the various dimensions of national security and present to the government well-considered options for its consideration. The reconstitution of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet as the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) supported by its own secretariat holds the promise of filling up this gap. This would be possible, however, only if the CCNS and its secretariat are able to secure the support and inputs of all the  ministries and agencies relevant to the task of the formulation of a comprehensive national security policy.

 The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.