Pakistan’s National Security Policy and its Implications for India – Explained, pointwise

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Pakistan’s National Security Policy (NSP) was officially released on January 14, 2022. It offers the first comprehensive view of the political-military-intelligence establishment’s approach to its internal and external challenges at a critical juncture in the 75th year of its existence. The policy was cleared by the Pakistani Cabinet is valid for the five-year period 2022-2026 and is subject to annual revisions.

The document identifies a wide range of unexceptionable goals; what stands out is the ambition to integrate economic development into the traditional military conception of national security. The 48-page version in the public domain deserves attention from the international community, particularly India, with whom relations have arguably touched a low-water mark.

What is the focus of Pakistan’s National Security Policy with respect to India?

The eight sections of the public document contain many formulaic pronouncements. These include,

Firstly, the policy focuses on economic diplomacy in the immediate neighbourhood and doesn’t advocate any conclusive measures in ties with any particular country. The policy mentions “Pakistan remains committed to normalisation of relations with its neighbours based on mutual respect, sovereign equality, and a collective effort to find pathways for conflict resolution with the belief that shared economic opportunities are cornerstones for achieving prosperity in Pakistan and the region.”

Secondly, the policy seeks peace with India without any hostility for the next 100 years.

Thirdly, the policy leaves the door open for trade and business ties with India without a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute provided there is progress in the talks. But the policy also states that India had “illegally occupied” J&K, and Hindutva-led politics as a threat to Pakistan’s security in terms of political exploitation.

Read more: Understanding Pakistan’s Kashmir conundrum

Fourthly, the NSP underlines the state’s Islamic credentials. But, it describes Pakistan as a diverse country that would ensure equality for all.

Fifthly, the NSP accords just one sentence to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, though it has offered to host the next summit.

ForumIAS is now in Hyderabad. Click here to know more
What are the reasons behind new changes in Pakistan National Security Policy?

Challanges with terrorism as a state policy: With the end of the Cold War, Pakistan chose to opt for cross border terrorism to bring instability to Kashmir and turn Afghanistan into a protectorate. But all its initiatives did not yield any credible results.

Pakistan’s support for violent religious extremism has also started to backfire. Militant groups which were once seen as valuable instruments for Pakistan have now turned against the state. Also, severe financial penalties have been imposed on Pakistan by the international system for supporting terrorist activities.

Must read: Pakistan on FATF grey list- What does it mean for India?

Challenges with the Economy: Pakistan’s growth rate remains very low, decent growth having been registered mainly during phases of large external aid inflows. Pakistan has done little to bring reforms to its economy. As a result, its economy in 2021 (GDP at $280 bn) is well behind that of Bangladesh ($350 bn). The Indian economy at $3.1 trillion is also more than 10 times larger than that of Pakistan.

Pakistan has gone to the IMF more than twenty times but has been unable to forge long-overdue structural changes in the economy.

Challenges in Foreign policy: In the past, Pakistan played a large role in the Middle East and more broadly in the Muslim world. But today, its equities in the West have steadily diminished. The US President Joe Biden hasn’t called Pakistan’s PM even once despite persistent efforts by Pakistan’s foreign ministry even though he has been in the Office for more than a year now.

After USA intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan had a chance to change its course. Instead, it has chosen to bring Taliban back to power. This led to the wrath of the USA. And Taliban on the other hand is signalling it is not a proxy of China.

Challenges with China: Pakistan also has troubling ties with its evergreen ally China e.g., the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is caught between corruption, terrorism and an uprising in Balochistan, turning their attention more to Karachi than Gwadar. Pakistan is getting increasingly indebted to China and had to pay Rs. 26 billion as interest to China in 2021 for its failure to repay a maturing debt on time.

Change in the stance of Pakistan’s military: The case for major reform to get Pakistan out of the multiple crises confronting it has been articulated by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The “Bajwa Doctrine” emphasises the importance of restoring peace within by putting down various internal insurgencies, reviving economic growth, reconciling with the neighbours, rebuilding ties with the US without abandoning the strategic partnership with China, and regaining its traditional political goodwill in the Gulf.

The other reasons for the change include growing and unaccountable defence expenditure, low resource mobilisation, entrenched economic interests, extremist violence, and ethnic fissures accentuated by Punjabi dominance.

What is the significance of Pakistan’s National Security Policy to India?

Reversal of Pakistan’s earlier contexts: Pakistan had downgraded ties with India and stalled trade after India had revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019. They have said that it would be impossible to normalize ties with India if it doesn’t reconsider its decision on Jammu and Kashmir special status.

But the NSP offers India the opportunity to engage with Pakistan outside of the straitjacket of the J&K paradigm, especially since the ceasefire of February 2021 seems to have held. Moreover, there is no demand for the reversal of August 5, 2019, changes made by India in the status of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, the policy demands “a just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

Must read: Issue of ceasefire violation between India and Pakistan – Explained Pointwise

The necessity for Pakistan to engage with India: Pakistan’s geo-economic transition can’t succeed without a fundamental shift in its India policy. Hence, with the new NSP, India can focus on closer economic ties with Pakistan. India can play a constructive and mutually beneficial role in facilitating linkages with the rest of South Asia and maximise the potential of its own infrastructure investments.

Read more: Five key takeaways on Pak’s National Security Policy document
What are the challenges associated with Pakistan’s National Security policy for India?

The NSP is a “policy”, not a “doctrine”, which basically translates into an aspirational document. Moreover, almost 50% of the policy is classified and out of public reach. Only 48 pages of the 110-page document are available to the public.

Pakistan supported terrorist infiltration into J&K has seen a significant rise since the Taliban took back Afghanistan from the US in August 2021. There are more weapons being sent across the LoC. More civilians are being targeted in the valley. Hence, it is hard to conclude Pakistan has shed terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Pakistan has continued the support to the Khalistan movement and has upped the ante to revive the movement in Punjab when the elections are near.

Increasing ties with China: Pakistan has been acquiring Chinese weapon systems at scale. Further, Pakistan is becoming a staging ground/ port for Chinese power projection in the Arabian Sea/ western Indian Ocean, like a pincer against India.

Not recognising India as a trading partner: Pakistan’s NSP emphasis on geoeconomics without trade and transit links with India. The NSP describes Pakistan’s eastward connectivity as being “held hostage to India’s regressive approach”.

Read more: Sir Creek Issue:India-Pakistan
What should India do?

Enable a two-way flow of trade traffic:  India and Pakistan can re-open the existing road and rail links and expand ready-made border customs infrastructure — the Wagah border.

If provided, Pakistan can become a meaningful transit hub between Central/West Asia and beyond on one side and Southeast Asia and beyond on the other.

Keep its expectations grounded: India should be cautious in its engagement with Pakistan because the army is still calling the shots in Pakistan’s internal politics.

If both Pakistan’s army and government together worked on “burying the past” with India, then India should be ready to extend a hand.

Read more: Shift in India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan

Pakistan has to explore options for more ties with India. This can be achieved by steps such as, a) Restoration of High Commissioners in each other’s capitals, b) Making valuable commitments on issues such as cross-border terrorism, etc. c) Granting Most Favoured Nation status to India. In return, India can also grant the MFN status which it revoked earlier.

Further, it has to understand that the only feasible peaceful solution to Kashmir will have to be non-territorial.

Read more: Significance of India Pakistan Agreement on Consular Access

Work on countermeasures of Pakistan and China: Between 2017-20, India-Afghan trade bypassed Pakistan, via Chabahar or an air corridor. If India concentrates more on Chabahar and uses the UAE as a trading hub to access Central Asia and western Asian markets, it can build up an effective counter move.

Read more: Courting the stans: India’s outreach to central Asia is vital to counter the China-Pakistan axis

No one has a higher stake than India in the success of the Bajwa doctrine that calls for a Pakistan at peace with itself and the region. Pakistan’s NSP has provided some hope for India. Now it is the time for Pakistan to fulfil those hopes into action.

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