This is a follow up to my Op-Ed; “Rethinking national security” where I had argued that a radically-altered world order post-COVID-19 would necessitate inter alia, a re-examination of national policy frameworks especially vis-a-vis crucial national security. It is interesting to note that pandemics have always been recognised as one of the non-traditional security threats, but palpably never regarded as a likely or serious one. Alas, COVID-19’s rampant spread has not only exposed woeful inadequacies in the collective global response, despite being duly acknowledged as a transnational challenge but has also caught many nations wholly unprepared.

There is no doubt the pandemic is set to leave in its wake human misery of epic proportions, ravage the world’s economies, challenge the efficacy of national and international institutions and all but engulf the world in an unprecedented geopolitical morass. Many observers thus contend that the impending unstable world infested with rising nationalism and struggling for survival connate a ‘disorder’ rather than a new world order. In such an era of economic doom and political uncertainty, prudence demands conducting an analytic appraisal of the conundrum and chalk out a roadmap if we aspire to prosper as a comprehensively secured and progressive state. We need to plan afresh and prepare, so that rather diverse and incipient security challenges can be met effectively.

As a first step, our national security architecture needs to be re-evaluated through conducting a formal security review. Such an undertaking in its basic form (as enunciated by UK) is meant to “conduct comprehensive cross departmental analysis of national security and defence needs in line with national security strategy before setting/allocating resources via capability choices”. Apart from the United Kingdom, which issued its first strategic defence review (SDR) in 1998, France, USA, Turkey etc. to name a few, are also engaged in a similar activity. On the contrary, Pakistan has found it expedient not to delve either in critically scrutinising its overarching national defence framework or formulate a national security strategy in the public domain. Even though there exists a Security Division headed by the National Security Advisor (a position that has been inexplicably vacant for the last two years) whose responsibility it is to promulgate one. Evidently, the lack of a robust strategic thinking and planning culture, domestic politics and deficient interdepartmental coordination are primary reasons that have contributed to our failure to date. As a sequel, defence and security-related planning has largely remained the exclusive purview of the Armed Forces.

In my reckoning there are quite a few compelling grounds to undertake an unfettered probe into our national security architecture with no preconceptions. The first is obviously the tectonic transformation of the global geostrategic landscape centred on US-China relations’ inevitable shift from rivals to outright adversaries. In a sign of things to come, the US is seen to have faltered as a global leader to deal with the pandemic while China appears to have nicely filled the vacuum with a collaborative approach worldwide. A rising China being our strategic partner, augurs well albeit much to the discomfort of the US which needs continued cooperation from Pakistan.

At the regional level, the strategic environment is already reeling under debilitating conflicts, and shows little signs of abating any time soon. Intransigent India with its fascist regime and expansionist agenda alone makes for a highly volcanic situation in South Asia. Afghanistan’s imbroglio, ostensibly on a course to peace is as yet far from it, while Iran’s situation too remains in limbo. On our west, the Middle Eastern states with their economies tattering under the twin blow of the oil price crash and the aftermath of COVID-19, are also staring at an uncertain future. Essentially thus, Pakistan is in an unenviable position by virtue of its geographical location in proximity of perennial hot spots and a potential locus where great powers interests crisscross.

Even the maritime arena contiguous to our coast is set to see intense jostling for influence and control, leading to rivalries and possible conflicts between multiple players. The second important extraneous factor is that the spectrum of Indian threat has metamorphosed. No longer is it just military but a persistent multi-faceted and carefully calibrated campaign, more visible in the non-kinetic and sub conventional domains. The conventional warfighting prowess painstakingly built over time, which has dominated our strategic thoughts, requires revalidation and tweaking. Another telling aspect of future security challenges is the rapidly changing nature of warfare, largely fuelled by an onslaught of cutting-edge disruptive technologies and the coercive power of non-state actors, not to mention the growing efficacy of cyber-, space- and net-centric warfare. Add to this a plethora of contemporary non-traditional security threats such as climate change, pandemics (COVID-19; a case in point), natural disasters, drug and human smuggling, transnational crimes etc. which can be equally perilous.

A broad consensus amongst security experts prevails that we are indeed confronted with a ‘hybrid’ Waw. It is also generally understood that the most pressing determinant necessitating stock-taking of our national security more than ever before, are our endogenous compulsions. The national economy has nose-dived to unprecedented lows (-0.4 percent GDP growth) during the current financial year, making mobilisation of necessary funds for socioeconomic development and security well-nigh impossible. The excruciating resource crunch alone is reason enough to appraise our security paradigm to make it more wholesome, contemporary and above all, optimal.

The growing primacy of non-traditional security challenges emanating internally and externally would require a greater and multidimensional focus. In short, it is easy to deduce from the above postulations that a cross department response is inexorable to synergise civil and military potential. An unremitting ‘no war, no peace’ situation that prevails in Pakistan, yearns not only for a capability beyond the military gamut but also possibly significantly different and capacities. Furthermore, hard and soft powers of the state need to better complement the national effort in pursuing our national security objectives in the face of more complex, intertwined and dangerous perils.

Eisenhower famously claimed “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” and he went on to assert “The reason it is so important to plan is to keep yourself steeped in the character of the problem you may one day be called to solve”.

The problem(s) before us at this momentous occasion is such that we cannot afford to shy away as the stakes are high. The maiden review in Pakistan that I propose could be titled the “Comprehensive Security and Defence Review” (CSDR 2020). The governing parameters for the initial review should encapsulate cross-departmental considerations, be objectively realistic and strategise in the vein of capability-based planning as opposed to hitherto threat-based. The way to go about it is to establish a mandate and then engage meaningfully with relevant stakeholders and interact with academia, think-tanks, industry, tech professionals etc. to make it a worthwhile effort. The CSDR can lead in developing policy options that stem from the combined efforts of various departments and agencies that advance our national interests and meet the exigent demands of comprehensive national security. Pakistan is endowed with huge geopolitical significance, full-spectrum military capability and other latent potentials to overcome transmuted security challenges in the post COVID-19 world. Hopefully a Comprehensive Security and Defence Review (CSDR) would pave the way for an optimal blueprint for impregnable defence, comprehensive national security and improve cross domain deterrence.

Khan Hasham Bin Saddique

The writer is former Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and president of a think tank. He tweets

@hashambinsaddiq and can be reached at khbsiddique@gmail.com