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Pakistan’s grand strategy

Pakistan’s institutions and policymakers, with some rare exceptions here and there, are prone to think and act tactically when dealing with major national issues instead of deliberating and planning in strategic terms.

Ideally, tactical decisions must be made within the framework of a well-thought-out strategy in the interest of safeguarding long-term national interests. Such an approach enables the nation to maintain a sense of direction in its day-to-day policy decisions. It also avoids the danger of lack of consistency in tactical or short-term decisions taken in the heat of the moment in the face of new and unforeseen challenges.

There is a huge body of literature available on strategy in the military field. As elaborated by Liddell Hart, a well-known military thinker of the 20th century, in his classic book ‘Strategy’, the true aim of strategy “is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve it.”

Sun Tzu explains the same idea differently: “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

However, even the military strategy should be formulated and implemented within the framework of grand strategy, which, according to Liddell Hart, is on a higher and wider plane than pure military strategy. To quote Liddell Hart again, “The role of grand strategy – higher strategy – is to coordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war – the goal defined by fundamental policy.”

The focus of grand strategy should be on the development and optimum utilization of the nation’s resources and strengths (political, economic, military, diplomatic, moral, and intellectual) in any contest with an external opponent or opponents. Thus, grand strategy aims at the synthesis of a nation’s political, economic, military, and diplomatic policies into a coherent whole in pursuance of national goals.

A partial rather than comprehensive approach to policymaking in dealing with external challenges and threats is likely to endanger a country’s security and economic well-being. As the famous saying by French statesman Georges Clemenceau goes, “War is too important a business to be left to soldiers.” This is particularly true in the modern world, in which war is not a contest between two armies but between nations, in which all the resources and capabilities of a nation – political, economic, technological, military, diplomatic, and intellectual – are deployed to gain victory.

Nations whose thinking is confined to the military field only to the neglect of other dimensions of grand strategy are likely to suffer reversals in the long run. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s military elite, which has ruled it directly or controlled its policies indirectly through most of its history, has often insisted on the adoption of security policies that were out of sync with the ground realities and the country’s economic and diplomatic compulsions, leading to disastrous results. For example, the flawed Kashmir and Afghanistan policies of the 1990s and the ill-planned Kargil operation.

A sound grand strategy in the service of national goals must be based on an in-depth analysis of the evolving global and regional security environment within the framework of which it must operate. Rapid economic growth is desirable per se for the welfare and prosperity of the people of any country. But together with political stability, it is also the most important ingredient of the state’s security structure in dealing with external threats.

Economic stagnation or a slow rate of economic growth can put a country at a growing disadvantage vis-a-vis its opponent, thus posing a long-term threat to its security.

It is, therefore, a matter of serious concern that over the past few decades Pakistan’s GDP growth rate has been lower than that of India, which, because of its hegemonic ambitions in the region, outstanding disputes – especially Kashmir – and the growing sway of Hindutva, poses an enduring threat to our national security.

Even in 2024, according to the IMF, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate is projected to be 2.0 per cent as against 6.5 per cent for India. Accordingly, raising our annual GDP growth rate to 7.0 per cent or above is not only an imperative for the well-being of the people of Pakistan but also a matter of life and death for the nation in the long run in the face of the serious threat posed by India.

The greatest error in grand strategy is strategic overstretch, which is the direct consequence of pursuing goals that are far beyond the reach of a nation’s resources and capabilities. It inevitably leads to a state of strategic exhaustion, economic stagnation, political instability, and national demoralization. The disintegration of the Soviet Union bears testimony to this fundamental rule.

At the global level, the defining feature of the 21st century is the growing US-China rivalry, which has direct strategic implications for Pakistan. The US is strengthening its alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia, as well as developing strategic partnerships with India to contain the expansion of China’s power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The development of security structures by the US within the framework of the Quad and AUKUS also needs to be analyzed from that perspective. This is a long-term trend that is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future. Pakistan, therefore, has no choice but to strengthen its strategic cooperation with China to restore regional strategic balance while maintaining normal friendly relations and cooperation with the US and Western Europe. CPEC, in this context, assumes critical importance for Pakistan’s security and rapid economic growth.

Pakistan’s grand strategy must assign top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth through the maximum possible allocation of resources to the task while maintaining political stability and a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments.

This in turn would require us to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy in the interest of peace in South Asia. Over-ambitious foreign policy goals should be avoided to escape the trap of strategic overstretch.

Javid Husain, "Pakistan’s grand strategy," The News. 2024-04-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political stability , diplomatic , Economics , Georges Clemenceau , India , China , CPEC , GDP