Envisioned to be a progressive Islamic welfare state by the founding fathers, Pakistan soon became a security state in the face of a real and pervasive existential threat from India that has become more virulent with the passage of time. During a rather tumultuous journey of over seven decades, we have had to endure a number of cataclysmic events, with dismemberment in 1971 and War on Terror eclipsing the rest. The looming threat on the eastern borders from an implacable foe and the internal unrest as a concomitant of geopolitical rivalry of great powers raised national security to the highest level in the pantheon of national priorities. Consequently, national security instead of human security, became the main focus of the national leadership. The militarisation of the foreign, defence, and economic policies was a logical consequence of the above developments.

Pakistan’s quest for conventional military balance had kept her bogged down in a debilitating arms race even after the 1971 war. The attainment of nuclear deterrence, a testament to the national will to survive as a self-respecting nation ushered in a different era of strategic balance which opened up the possibilities of a peace thaw in the frosty relations of two estranged neighbours. Despite an elusive quest by Indians to find space for conventional war the two countries eluded a full-fledged war. Though the stability-instability paradox of the nuclear deterrence resulted in localised conflicts like Kargil and some near miss conventional wars, yet peace held due to the strategic deterrence. The scourge of the terror unleashed on Pakistan as a consequence of geopolitical ambitions of global powers and Indian perfidy tested national resolve for over a decade. Pakistan, through the sacrifices of the general populace, law enforcing agencies and armed forces succeeded in winning the war on terror, opening up the possibilities of a peace dividend.

Regrettably however, political infighting, weak governance and poor economic growth has all but stifled our economic development initiatives. If this was not enough, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have dealt a serious blow to any early recovery. The pandemic has already disrupted global supply chains, weakened demand world-wide and damaged the international travel industry, leading towards a global recession. The situation thrust upon us divinely, is yet another defining moment in our history that compels policymakers to chalk up a national strategy, leveraging the strengths of all the elements of the national power potential in a post-pandemic world of new possibilities. The post-COVID 19 world would feature a more insular and competitive world with multilateralism, making way for a new Monroe Doctrine would require greater self-reliance and economic resilience. Human security and economic development will be the new normal in a world tired of futile military spending and senseless wars.

The first and foremost requirement is to formulate a national security blueprint in sync with political and economic realities. The starting point for this exercise should be an unbiased, unfettered and analytic “Strategic Defence Review”. It should be a wholesome reappraisal of the existing strategy, organisational structures, force goals, developmental plans, military system and defence production. The cardinal point to understand is that a “change” is de rigueur as more of the same will not yield the desired outcomes. It may not be possible here to discuss a long list of relevant issues; I would therefore, flag just three important matters.

Firstly, the notion of national security should be re-evaluated in the context of “Comprehensive Security” and not just the defence of territorial integrity. If human security is conceptually agreed to as a subset of comprehensive security then this non-military component must receive the desired resources to fully complement national security. Pegged at the abysmally low HDI ranking of 152 out of 189 countries and having 29% of the population below the poverty line, it is almost an obligation now to make urgent amends. A continuation of low government investment on health (0.8%of GDP) and other social sectors would be detrimental to national security.

The second issue relates to visualising the nature and character of future war. Future wars would be shaped by the impact of modern technology including cyber and space warfare, ballistic missile defence shields, precision munitions, disruptive technologies and the combined use of hard as well as soft powers of a state. Add to it the nuclear overhang in our context, which makes it even harder to make accurate hypotheses. Hybrid war is the new buzzword these days with the tendency to lump everything under it. Resultantly, there is a predilection to securitise threats which ordinarily would be amenable to a soft power blandishment. The dimensions of non-state actors, information warfare and the increasing salience of law-fare would shape the future war environment. In essence, the outcome of future war is unlikely to be determined by military prowess alone, but a contest involving overall power potential.

The third issue of importance is that, despite our full spectrum deterrence, the Indians have been trying hard to discover the space for conventional war by resorting to “Cross Domain Strategic Coercion” for the past 20 years. The coercion is in fact part of “Compellence” strategy in concert with international partners, using multiple levers and thrust lines simultaneously, to affect a policy change in Pakistan. The Damocles’ sword of FATF is a case in point which is continuing to haunt us. Since India is relentlessly using political, diplomatic and economic leverages to sidestep and weaken our deterrence regime there is a need is therefore, to develop a “Cross Domain deterrence” strategy to ward off complex threats in the future. The military potential is likely to retain its primacy in the geopolitical context but modern non-traditional threats can be equally damaging in the absence of effective response. The coronavirus has caused colossal economic losses and excruciating pains on societies far beyond wars, apart from rendering the world’s best military machines utterly helpless.

Finally, if the strategy is aimed at meeting the desired ends, scarce resources must be allocated imaginatively and more judiciously to achieve synergy of effort jointly at the armed forces level as well as the national level through an approach that includes the whole government. Considering the panoply of threats featuring military as well as non-military threats in equal virulence, the capacity-building of civilian institutions should also be given equal attention in the interest of comprehensive national security.