111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

NSP and social cohesion

PAKISTAN is perhaps the first South Asian country which has now a comprehensive national security doctrine in documented form. The country’s friends and foes can interpret it in their own way and engage with the state accordingly. But why has Pakistan chosen to put together pieces of its security approaches in the first place?

For some, the doctrine was needed to remove the persisting ambiguities between the internal and external security paradigms which had emerged after 9/11. While the security institutions were stru­g­gling to precisely visualise the terrorism threat, which was internal, such ambiguities had also been harming the country’s conventional strategic vision. Others believe that Pakistan needed to understand and define its place in the changing world order, specifically in the context of America’s shifting priorities, which compelled Pakistan to become a proactive member of the Belt and Road Initiative club. This has not been an easy transition and a major segment of the country’s power elite still believes that hiccups in Pakistan-US relations are temporary and that Islamabad can maintain a fine balance in its relationships with the US and China.

The growing economic challenge has been another nightmare for the establishment, and lies at the heart of the National Security Policy. However, the NSP reflects a much deeper issue and is linked with the identity of the state and maintaining cohesion in society. The state has been using religion to create nationalism in the country but at a very high cost. Religiously inspired actors have used the same religious-ideological arguments against the state and damaged the country by promoting sectarianism and extremist narratives, which have not only weakened communal and sectarian harmony and social cohesion, but have also fed into terrorism.

Over the last two decades, state institutions have made multiple moves to fix the issue of religiously motivated terrorism and extremism. Their attempts have included the National Action Plan, Paigham-i-Pakistan, the National Internal Security Policy and the Counter Violent Extremism Policy. A large part of the emphasis has been on bringing in religious actors as the key agents of desired change. The state remains reluctant to find an alternative source of social and national cohesion and feels threatened by the presence of sub-nationalist cultures and sentiments in parts of the country. So, it appears convinced that only a religious narrative could work towards harmonising society. Even in the introduction of the NSP, the prime minister has adopted a religious tone to endorse the policy document.

Political parties and most parliamentarians do not touch any issue with the tag of ‘security’.

It is interesting that while state institutions usually keep a distance from the critical mass of the country, the policy draft has borrowed all ideas and terminology used in the latter’s intellectual discourse — mainly ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’. For instance, in the section on national cohesion, the policy draft reads like this: “It is imperative that we reinforce our coherent national identity based on the principle of unity in diversity.” However, in the next line, there is an expression of fear of external forces which are exploiting the fault lines that exist in society. Notwithstanding the fear behind the notion of ‘unity in diversity’, this is a positive development. But how will the state institution translate it into action? Through changes in the curriculum as mentioned in the NSP? But what is the state doing to bring changes in the curriculum in the first place? The major objection to the Single National Curriculum is that it promotes exclusivity. It is not clear that the state institutions will engage society from whom they have borrowed the terms. Traditionally, their allies for sociopolitical and ideological engineering remained the religious groups from the time of the Afghan jihad to preaching Paigham-i-Pakistan.

It is not certain how NSP will help in addressing the identity crisis in the country when the predominant approach of achieving social and national cohesion is to reduce the space for sub-nationalist movements. Apparently, ‘cohesion’ has been used as an alternative term for engagement. The state is using the engagement strategy for religiously inspired actors and cohesion for subnational movements. However, the unclassified NSP document does not help us understand how the cohesion process will be initiated. Will it be a coercive or dialogue-based process?

The NSP identifies the religiously inspired extremist groups and sub-nationalist movements as the key internal security challenges. As per practice, the state spectrum of threat includes other segments of society in this domain as well, which sympathise with any group or movement or raise their voice over state action and policy. The state institutions think in black and white and want to curb all threats with full impunity and without any accountability. They lack the ability to identify the grey areas and it is even harder for them to evolve the policy framework around it.

Parliament can do this job to clearly identify the grey areas, the grievances of the people, and the dynamics which can develop cohesion so that miscreants and irritants can be isolated. Parliament and civilian governments have done this job and developed all instruments and institutions for fixing the issues, including the economic and political grievances of the federating units. But the issue as always remains implementation and the executive remains bound to its commitment to the establishment rather than operationalising trust. Obviously, the executive derives its strength from the establishment rather than from dialogue with dissenters.

Over time, the word ‘security’, has become very sensitive. Political parties and most parliamentarians do not touch any issue with the tag of ‘security’. They think this is the exclusive domain of security institutions and their job is only to endorse whatever policy is coming from the establishment. If the NSP is presented in parliament, it will be endorsed very easily. Parliament is sovereign but it should be truly independent, and all political parties must play a role to make it the country’s supreme institution. Nothing can guarantee a cohesive Pakistan more than a vibrant parliament.

Muhammad Amir Rana, "NSP and social cohesion," Dawn. 2022-02-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political parties , Political leaders , National security plan , National action plan , Paigham-i-Pakistan