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Pakistan must think beyond conventional means in addressing security challenges within the country.

National security has always been a prominent discourse in Pakistan, as well as an integral goal of policy actions. The idea of security has evolved significantly over time, with scholars and analysts exploring its other dimensions such as economic security, energy security, food security, cybersecurity, etc. However, the governing circles in Pakistan are still clinging to the classical notion of national security which is related largely to military and defense. It is due to this narrow understanding of security that Pakistan is not able to deal with both internal and external threats to national security.

It is immensely pertinent to grasp that political instability, chronic economic crisis, and social fault lines are deeply related to the issues associated with national security. In 2014, the National Action Plan (NAP) was formulated in Pakistan as a comprehensive policy action to root out the scourge of terrorism and extremism in the country. It spelled out kinetic measures in this regard such as military operations and intelligence enhancement along with long-term measures such as deradicalization, institutional reforms, and socioeconomic uplift. The reason why the objectives of the NAP could not be attained fully is that the whole institutional and analytical emphasis was placed upon short-term kinetic measures.

Although considerable gains were made against terrorism in northwestern Pakistan, extremism is still a simmering issue which again threatens to fuel the menace of terrorism. There have been minimal overtures by the government to bring about deradicalization in a true sense through well-directed reforms in education and media. Needless to say, a prolonged economic downturn and a lack of political will are exacerbating the socioeconomic decadence across the country. All these factors combined have cast a shadow over the national security paradigm of Pakistan. Uneducated, unemployed, and, hence, alienated segments of society are always vulnerable to militant outfits during their recruitment drive, eventually causing a threat to national security.

The state could launch military operations, widen the intelligence network and put people in jails in the name of national security, but all this would have a minimal impact unless a determined effort is made to win the hearts and minds of the people. And that can only happen through political ownership and socio-economic uplift of the nation. A literate, politically conscious, and financially secure nation would always act as the first defense against the enemy.

Apart from that, there is a legislative initiative in the form Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) to curtail crime and anti-state activities in cyberspace. This law again makes the mistake of viewing digital interaction purely through a security lens. One could ask why there are no substantial and meaningful efforts regarding digital education and the digital empowerment of the nation. It goes without saying that a digitally illiterate populace would easily end up falling into the hands of anti-state elements operating across the digital spectrum, thus undermining the fight for national security.

On the other hand, there is no doubt in the fact that Indian intelligence has penetrated deeply into the heart of Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan. The arrest and subsequent confession of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, an Indian national, substantiate this fact. But can the threat from India be countered solely through kinetic measures involving law enforcement agencies? Why is it so hard to understand that the state’s longstanding neglect of the province has indirectly pushed it into the hands of the hostile elements? It can be stated with utmost confidence that if the government starts working on winning the hearts and minds of Balochs through justice, socio-economic development, and political ownership, the threat of India can be countered effectively in a matter of few years.

National Finance Commission (NFC) is a constitutional body in Pakistan established for the purpose of vertical and horizontal distribution of fiscal resources among federations and provinces. Its formula of distribution is particularly unjust to weaker provinces like Sindh and Balochistan. Some fiscal prudence on the part of the government could go a long way in addressing national security issues in Balochistan. Apart from that, Pakistan’s economic base is signified by stagnant productivity and recurring macroeconomic challenges, causing debt to pile up with each passing year. Poor economic straits have deprived Islamabad of power and prestige in the international arena. As a result, India does not regard Pakistan as an equal in terms of resolving the decades-long Kashmir dispute between the two arch-rivals.

Moving on, Pakistan is facing a plethora of internal and external security threats to the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor). A recent unsuccessful assassination attempt on a Chinese ambassador in the city of Quetta is being viewed from this perspective. Fiscal challenges have deprived the government of adequate funds to be spent on the security of the entire CPEC network and the associated personnel. This case again reinforces the fact that economic security is highly imperative for overall national security.

It is high time the governing circles in Pakistan realized the ever-evolving nature of security and institutionally embraced its various dimensions. A holistic approach in this regard would enable the country to address national security issues in a comprehensive and sustainable way. Needless to say, this idea has become highly relevant in the era of 5th-generation warfare. A country can amass all sorts of weaponry but if it doesn’t mend its internal fault lines, it gives a chance to hostile elements to make it fall under its own weight without even using force.

Shah Muhammad is a member of the Future Leaders Connect Programme, British Council. He is doing his postgrad degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at NUST University, Islamabad. His focus is primarily on conflict resolution, global governance, and public policy.