Pakistan’s policymaking over the past 65 years is influenced by its security concerns, emanating from a hostile neighbourhood. There are many reasons why security perspectives eclipsed socio-economic considerations, thereby holding the country hostage to elites. Amongst them is lack of credible second tier political leadership post-1949, linkages between the residual political elites, bureaucracy, and military high command and facilitation of a corporatocracy during the decade of progress. This elitist and exclusive culture deprived space for the evolution of a broad-based popular and sustainable political order. A coterie of few held the entire nation hostage.

In the past five years, the question of civilian supremacy over military attracted the liberal circles. Unfortunately, pot shots by illiterate commentators and a trending media relegated the entire discourse to acrimonious debates riding airwaves. Memogate is an example in which a peevish effort to garner US support to checkmate the army became public.

A realistic, balanced, and mature approach to civil-military relations holds far more promise for the military corporate culture, exclusivism, and professionalism than overindulgence in matters that are not its fortes. This is what all developed countries have achieved. South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico have grown to become the world’s top economies after militaries have been successfully confined to their professional duties. This was not a result of one overawing the other; but because all parties had agreed to a common national agenda.

Rather than the civil-military context, it is the political-military relationship that is vulnerable to this encroachment. Consequently, both have suffered. It is time that the military cedes space for a broad-based national security that hedges Pakistan from all forms of threats, including military, economic, cultural, globalisation, transnationalism, political economy, and non-state actors that include militants, parallel systems that challenge writ of the state, NGOs, banks, media, hostile intelligence, separatists, sub nationalists, and fifth columnists (in other words the military definition of sub conventional threats). Pakistan’s repeated economic capitulation and susceptibility to hidden forms of coercion and subversion have had far worse effects than wars with India.

It is also important to understand that all political-military concords emanate from national policy, which is a product of its national power reflecting its calculable (tangible) and incalculable (intangible like national character and morale) potential. Like a rainbow, the spectrum of this policy is well spread and diverse. Military, in tandem with others, is just one instrument of policy to achieve multiple objectives. In this agglomeration, the military enjoys its space on the horizontal spread and below the narrowing pinnacle of vertical national control. Hence, the entire military system, military strategy and its operations remain subservient to political directives enunciating policy. National policy and national security policy thereof fall in the domain of political control, while the operational strategy and service doctrines remain the fortes of the armed forces.

In Pakistan, for far too long, the ineffectiveness of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) and the inability of politicians to enunciate a national security policy left a vacant space that the military occupied under exigency. In any case, the Committee of National Defence and Security (CDNS), National Security Council (NSC) or DCC cannot function effectively without an enabling and productive mechanism. Conversely, the civilians and politicians cannot fill this void till such time they build their capacities through education, inputs from research and academic institutions, and study of military sociology and evolution of a common strategic language. The Quaid-i-Azam University and Institute of Strategic Studies were steps in this direction, but are since diluted with the rise of military-led National Defence University and Institute of Peace Studies (NUST). Till such time the civilians do not assume an effective control of institutions related to the highest level of national security, a proper transition and balance in civil-military relations and political-military control will never be possible.

So far, the lynchpin of Pakistan’s national policy has been security against external threats. Over the past 10 years, the diverse shades of internal threats have emerged. The armed forces and law enforcement agencies are not organised to fight this diversity. The entire policy spectrum needs to be geared towards thwarting these threats. The national security policy does not cater for military threats alone, but also economic security, governance, and socio-economic emancipation of people. This means a paradigm shift from a militarily strong to a credible, economically prosperous, and internally cohesive Pakistan with a defensive nuclear and conventional deterrence. This also means that within the ambit of its duties in aid to civil power, military employment does not mean intervention.

Geography, with its relatively stable platform, forms the base of this paradigm shift supported by a sustainable, value-added export oriented growth, and documentation. Pakistan through its own resources has the capability to jumpstart its economy through agriculture, energy production, and employment of armed forces in national development.

Pakistan’s research in this challenging area lacks incisiveness. Papers produced by military institutions are corporate in nature due to obvious deficiencies in geography, economy, sociology, and ethnology. Various commentators, some political parties, and the senate committees have tried to define or evade the subject differently in bits and pieces. The most explicit enunciation of what is to be done comes from a policy paper written by this scribe that states: “The national security policy comprises a comprehensive set of national policies and new structures that will address the interconnected challenges to deploy and integrate all elements of national power to create a sustainable environment of broad spectrum security. The welfare of people will be a force multiplier at the heart to synergise the people and seize the endless possibilities offered by a world in which only the economically strong and intellectually innovative nations will emerge as the most secure, prosperous, and respected.”

If this is, indeed, the challenge, the reinvention of a national security council will once again be a wolf in new cloths. It is tantamount to not holding the bull by the horns. ‘Neither here nor there’ without a well enunciated policy will lead nowhere.

The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.