There is nothing more important for an independent country than its security so as to safeguard its sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic well-being, and cultural identity. Unfortunately, in some cases leaders and policy makers make the serious mistake of linking national security solely with the military might of the country. There cannot be a greater error than to base a country’s security calculations on this misleading and flawed assumption. Regrettably Pakistan’s leaders, policy makers and military planners have been guilty of this line of thought leading to disastrous results. Pakistan’s history is filled with several examples where a limited and short-term view of national security led to negative consequences for the country as a whole.

There are four essential factors for the preservation of national security: political stability and social cohesion, economic strength, military power, and diplomacy. A country’s national security policy must be based on a judicious mix of these four factors and must take into account both its short-term and long-term dimensions to be effective in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic well-being and cultural identity. Historically, Pakistan has suffered because of the over-emphasis on the military power to the neglect of other essential ingredients of national security policy and the short-term as against the long-term dimension of the country’s security. It is a matter of deep concern that this limited and short-term approach continues to influence the thinking of the practitioners of the art of national security even now despite the enormous damage it caused to the country in the past.

The cause of political stability and social cohesion perhaps has been the most serious victim of our limited approach to the goal of national security. As shown by the events of 1971 in East Pakistan, a divided nation suffering from political instability and lack of social cohesion is in no position to defend itself against external threats to its security. Being impatient with the complexities of the political process as against the neat command and control culture that prevails in the military and keen to achieve quick results instead of bearing with the time consuming political process of consensus building, Pakistan’s military establishment on several occasions in the past either took over the reins of the government directly or tried to influence the outcome of the democratic process through political engineering as in the case of the formation of IJI.

Needless to say that all of these steps were in blatant violation of the constitution, against the oath of honour of the armed forces officers, and in defiance of the clear advice given by the founder of the nation to the military officers at the Command and Staff College, Quetta in 1948. In the process, the democratic process was repeatedly derailed sowing the seeds of political instability, and respect for law and the constitution was undermined delivering a grievous blow to the rule of law and encouraging corruption and nepotism.

In view of the past unhappy experience and the welcome pronouncements by the spokesmen of the military establishment over the past few years reiterating its commitment to the democratic rule in the country, one would hope that the nation would be spared these experiments to control the country’s politics in the future. Nevertheless, there have been unconfirmed reports that some renegade elements belonging to the establishment have been engaged in political engineering during the past few years and attempts to influence the outcome of the general elections held in 2018. It has been alleged that the current political turmoil in the country is directly the result of those shenanigans. These reports must be verified independently and objectively to ascertain the truth and, if there is some validity in these allegations, the culprits must be given exemplary punishment in accordance with the law.

Economic and technological strength forms the backbone of a country’s national security. A nation suffering from backwardness, poverty, and deprivation is in no position to defend itself successfully in modern times. The historical record of the post-industrial revolution period also leads one to the inescapable conclusion that the relative power and position of a country in the international community and its capacity to defend itself against external threats to its security are determined mainly by its economic and technological strength in the long-run. We must, therefore, accord the highest priority to the goal of rapid growth of our economy by raising our national saving and investment rates, focusing on health and education, particularly science and technology, and building up our physical infrastructure and the productive capacity of our industrial and agricultural sectors. However, we must also maintain a credible deterrent to thwart any external security threat in the immediate future.

The test of leadership lies in striking the right balance between the demands of long-term security, which depends on a country’s economic and technological strength, and the short-term security, which calls for the maintenance of a credible security deterrent in the form of adequate military strength. Over-emphasis on short-term security may lower a country’s economic growth rate and endanger its long-term security, while over-emphasis on long-term security may expose a nation to serious security threats in the short-term.

The heavy political imbalance in favour of the military in Pakistan as shown by the repeated military takeovers and attempts by the military establishment to dominate the decision making process, and the general national bias in favour of a short-term as against a long-term approach to national security had a negative impact on Pakistan’s economic growth. Consequently, the lion’s share of the country’s resources has been claimed by the defense sector, thus, lowering the allocation of resources to economic development and the country’s economic growth rate. By way of example, in the federal budget for 2018-19, defense sector has been allocated an amount of Rs.1359 billion, which constitutes 44 percent of the net federal revenues. The development expenditure in the federal budget for the current year was reduced by the present PTI government to Rs.725 billion. By following this practice year after year over the past several decades, we have turned into a low-growth rate economy thereby endangering our long-term security. Of course, there are other reasons also for this phenomenon, prominent being our low national saving and investment rates, and the low tax-to-GDP ratio. A way out of this predicament lies in controlling our defense expenditure besides improving the overall management of our economy.

We also need to make our diplomacy pro-active so as to assess not only the existing but also the emerging external challenges and threats to our national 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 global security environment. Under the present circumstances, it would be advisable for Pakistan to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy to defuse tensions and preserve peace in Pakistan’s neighbourhood. This would enable us to allocate maximum possible share of the nation’s resources to the task of economic development which is perhaps the weakest link in our national security strategy.

Pakistan’s national security policy should strive to strike an optimum balance among its political, economic, military, and diplomatic dimensions. Our continued failure to do so, particularly on account of misconceived initiatives which endanger domestic political stability and slow down the growth rate of our economy, has the potential to expose the country to serious national security hazards.


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