It has been Pakistan’s misfortune that its leaders and policy makers, by and large, are accustomed to considering national issues on a short-term, tactical and partial basis instead of taking a long-term, strategic and comprehensive view of those issues. Strategic thinking provides leaders with deeper understanding and a sense of direction in the formulation of policies for the realisation of long-term national goals. It also offers the framework within which short-term policy adjustments can be made in response to new developments. The absence of a strategic framework robs the nation and policy makers not only of a sense of direction but also firmness of purpose. A nation lacking such a sense of direction is at the mercy of day-to-day developments, which can throw it off course under the pressure of events and push it in the wrong direction. Enemy powers can take advantage of such a nation for the realisation of their nefarious designs. On the other hand, a nation equipped with the strategic compass remains steadfast in the realisation of its long-term goals and is able to face new developments with confidence in the purpose and direction of its policies.

Pakistan’s history provides several examples where short-term views and tactical adjustments trumped strategic considerations and long-term goals of the nation. Pakistan, which gained independence through the resolute and democratic struggle of its people under the indomitable leadership of Quaid-e-Azam, was economically and militarily weak at its birth. It needed to accelerate its economic growth rate so as to alleviate poverty and raise the standard of living of its people. It was also faced with a grave threat to its security from India which had not fully reconciled to the emergence of Pakistan as a sovereign nation as reflected by the Kashmir dispute and several other steps taken by New Delhi soon after the Partition to overload it with economic and security problems.

Pakistan’s leadership could not afford to endanger the country’s security by ignoring its immediate defense requirements. On the other hand, over-emphasis on security carried the risk of impeding the allocation of resources necessary for accelerating the country’s economic development, raising the standard of living of its people, and strengthening its long-term security. The importance of economic strength and growth for a country’s long-term security cannot be over-emphasised. As pointed out by me in my book, “Pakistan and a World in Disorder—-A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century”, published by Palgrave Macmillan from New York, in the long run it is primarily a nation’s economic and technological strength that provides the foundation for its military strength and determines its relative power position in the comity of nations. One cannot build a heavy superstructure of military power over a weak economic and technological foundation. Historical experience shows that in the modern era, nations that attained powerful positions in the comity of nations did so by building up their economic and technological power initially followed by the strengthening of their military muscle.

At the initial stages, when these nations were in the process of building up their economic and technological strength, they generally followed a low-risk foreign policy and avoided ambitious foreign policy agendas that could have involved them in costly wars and distracted them from the task of rapid economic growth. Consequently, they were able to concentrate their resources and attention on the important task of building up their economies and thus lay a sound foundation for increasing their military power. Nations that lost to their competitors the race for economic and technological development also weakened militarily in the long run because of paucity of resources to support military power, leading to their overall decline. In recent times, the fate of the Soviet Union provides a telling example of a country that collapsed, despite its vast conventional and nuclear forces, primarily because of its economic and technological weakness but also because of domestic political instability. The disintegration of the USSR carries important lessons for our political leaders and military planners in facing the security threat posed by India.

Driven by short-term goals and tactical considerations, Pakistan’s policy makers have ignored the lessons of history and the demands of a sound grand strategy which would bring into a coherent whole the country’s political, economic, security, and diplomatic policies in the service of our enduring national interests. Instead of assigning top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth, as demanded by the ground realities, they over-emphasised the military dimension of the national power, thereby reducing the allocation of the nation’s resources for the task of rapid economic development, slowing down Pakistan’s rate of economic growth, and endangering its long-term security. It is a matter of deep concern that whereas Pakistan’s GDP growth rate was only 5.8% in 2017-18 and may decline to around 4% during the current financial year, India’s current GDP growth rate is reported to be over 7%. If these trends continue, Pakistan will not only be left far behind India economically but its long-term security would also be gravely endangered.

The prevailing situation in Pakistan should be a wake-up call to Pakistan’s political and military leadership leading to necessary corrective steps. What one sees instead is a pathetic spectacle in the country, in which the state institutions, instead of working together in harmony within their constitutional limits, are at each other’s throats. The non-elected state institutions are projecting themselves as saviours of the nation to the detriment of the democratic process in the country. Recently, some of the political parties colluded with anti-democratic forces to destabilise an elected government, thus, sowing the seeds of political instability, precisely when political stability was most needed. In the process, they also slowed down economic progress and endangered national security. The accountability process itself has been tainted with accusations of arbitrariness, selectivity, political victimisation and even corruption. The combination of political instability, the over-reach of the establishment, the slow rate of economic growth, grinding poverty, huge fiscal and current account deficits, the continued reliance of the PTI government on slogans for cheap popularity instead of well-considered policies, and the weakened condition of the elected institutions of the state has brought the country to a dangerous precipice.

What Pakistan needs is a grand strategy which would synthesise its political, economic, security and diplomatic policies in pursuit of national interests while taking into account the overall picture. Secondly, it must be understood that no institution of the state and no individual in the country has the monopoly of wisdom or loyalty to the state. Therefore, debate and discussion on important national issues should be welcomed. Thirdly, the various institutions of the state must function strictly within their constitutional limits and in harmony with one another. Fourthly, the supremacy of the parliament and the elected government, which represent the will of the people, must be strictly enforced. Political parties must not conspire with anti-democratic forces in the country to destabilize elected governments. Fifthly, there must be rule of law in the country under which citizens, without any exception, are treated equally so that their fundamental rights are protected and across the board accountability is ensured.

Finally, the linchpin of Pakistan’s grand strategy should be assigning the top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments. This in turn would require us to pursue a low risk and non-adventurist foreign policy. Our failure to bring about course correction on these lines would pose a grave threat to national security.


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