Pakistan’s national security imperatives

Defence Today | Jan 1, 2000

Pakistani strategists felt that a new security consensus among these Muslim neighbours would produce numerous dividends for Pakistan and the Muslim world through organizations such as OIC and ECO. However, Indian diplomacy has achieved considerable success in trade and foreign relations ties with the CAR nations and this is not to Pakistan's liking. The recent elections to the legislative assembly of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which were won by Ms Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, have been rejected as massively rigged by almost all the other parties thus creating more problems for a beleaguered Prime Minister and adding to tensions in a sensitive area.

Global and regional environment

The end of the Cold War has profoundly altered the character of inter-state relations. It is widely believed that the basic considerations that underpinned friendships in the bi-polar world, are no longer relevant. Adherence to common principles, rather than pursuit of the same strategic goals, economic interests rather than political ones, are today more likely to be factors in relations between states. There is thus a need to redefine the principles and basis of bilateral relationships in accordance with the imperatives of the changes forced by the end of the Cold War.

Until recently, Pakistan had played a geopolitical role proportionately much larger and more “pronounced than her actual or potential capabilities. The prevailing geo-strategic and regional security environment suggests a logical re-evaluation of her foreign policy objectives and strategies.

In pervasive Pakistani strategic thinking, domestic problems of governance inter-twined with a perceived external threat from a militarily stronger India, are viewed as the most significant threats to national security. These threat perceptions have largely motivated the desire for developing close mutual relationships with neighbouring Muslim states with historical, religious and geographical proximity. However, Pakistan’s quest to obtain the support of Muslim states in the region is closely contested by India. Given the intensity of animosity over Kashmir and competition in such areas as nuclearisation and missile technology, both the South Asian nations are likely to persist in their efforts to cultivate favourable lobbies in Muslin states in the Southern Asian region.

As per a Pakistani view, “Pakistan’s geopolitical priorities since its inception have been geared mainly to safeguard its territorial integrity, enhance regional stability and achieve socio-economic advancement for its people.” Pakistan’s effort to maintain a credible regional deterrence without being relegated to a subordinate role in South Asia during the 1970s and, subsequently, has been premised on the following trajectories in its foreign policy:

  • Play a wider and more active role in regional fora such as SAARC.
  • Strengthen multi-dimensional relations with the Muslim world bilaterally and through fora such as Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the erstwhile Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD)/ Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO).
  • Develop and strengthen relations with China for collusive support against India.
  • Assume a growing role in global politics by extricating itself from US-led alliances and playing a more meaningful role in the Non-Aligned Movement.

Major Events Affecting Security Perceptions

The Turbulent Decade: 1979-89
Throughout Pakistan’s chequered history, internal turmoil has dominated all aspects of national life. However, the eighties were marked by the maximum amount of instability and turbulence. Following the dismissal of the Bhutto government in 1977 and his execution jn 1979, the military regime of General Zia ul-Haq established a policy of Islamisation of Pakistan by introducing. a number of Shariat ordinances. The communist coup d’etat in Kabul and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1978-79 posed a direct threat to Pakistan’s security. It appeared as if the country’s vulnerable flank in Baluchistan would fall within the purview of greater Soviet expansionist designs. Pakistan found itself catapulted into the role of a frontline state with its tribal areas turning into a staging ground for guerilla activities against the Soviet backed Kabul regime. After the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran entered a revolutionary-phase with avowed anti- Western policies. Exploiting the internal turmoil in Iran and with tacit support from the Western powers and neighbours, Iraq invaded Iran and further heightened tensions in the region. All these events had a direct bearing on Pakistan’s security imperatives and the resultant policy postures.

Post-Cold War Tensions
President Gorbachev’s policies of ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ \ed to the Soviet decision to pull out from Afghanistan, The Geneva Accord was signed in April 1988 and by February 1989, the Soviet Union had completed the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
internally, South Asia saw the re-emergence of democratic politics in Pakistan and Bangladesh, while India suffered separatist movements in a few states as well as the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Though Pakistan’s geopolitical spectrum improved somewhat, new challenges arose such as the continuing crisis of governance within Pakistan, increased tensions with India on Pakistan’s support to the insurgency in Kashmir and problems with the US over the nuclear issue.

Foreign Policy Failures
Two almost concurrent developments a couple of years ago came as a traumatic shock for many Pakistanis. The first was the closure of Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul in.early 1994, following frequent attacks by Afghan militant factions. This surprised the country that had itself endured numerous hardships, including the loss of human life, in playing a vanguard role in assisting the Afghan resistance against the Soviet supported communists. Second, the Pakistani government failed in its avowed attempts to exploit India’s Human Rights Problems in Kashmir in the plenary session of the UN) Human Rights Commission at Geneva. It had to ‘suspend’ its sponsorship of a resolution censuring Indian policies in Kashmir, due to lack of tangible support from Muslim countries and other friends, specially Iran and China. The Indian diplomatic triumph was a major blow to Pakistan’s standing and prestige.

Current security challenges

The following factors impinge on the current issues of consequence and merit attention:

  • The long-drawn stalemate in political dialogue between India and Pakistan, characterised by hostility and mutual suspicion, continues to undermine the forces of peace and normalcy.
  • Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir is rooted in the ‘Two Nation Theory’ and appears to be substantiated by a national consensus supporting the Kashmiri right to self-determination. India accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting Kashmiri militants, by providing moral, political and diplomatic support overtly and material support covertly.
  • India’s rejection of Pakistan’s proposal for a five-nation initiative for a nuclear-free zone In South Asia characterises, in Pakistan’s view, India’s hegemonistic aspirations and has heightened tensions in the region. Both the nations did not sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and are also reluctant to lend their support to the ongoing negotiations at Geneva for the Comprehensive ‘Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), though for different reasons.
  • Pakistanis were particularly exuberant at the emergence of the six independent Central Asian Republics (CAR), as this development re-linked two vital Muslim regions, provided: Pakistan a secure geo-political environment to his North-West with) the disappearance of a hostile super power and raised expectations for wider economic and cultural prospects. Pakistani strategists felt that a new security consensus among these Muslim neighbours would produce numerous dividends for Pakistan and the Muslim world through organizations such as OIC and ECO. However, Indian diplomacy has achieved considerable success in trade and foreign relations ties with the CAR nations and this is not to Pakistan’s liking.
  • The ongoing civil war in Afghanistan continues to be a source of regional instability and is a potential flashpoint. The recent alignment of Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s forces with President Rabbani’s state forces, in a joint front against Taliban, is viewed as a major slippage in the ability pf-the ISI to call the shots in Afghanistan. A politically stable, friendly and peaceful Afghanistan. is vital for Pakistan’s growing economic, commercial and cultural links with Central Asia.
  • Indo-Pak relations continue to be mired in the swamps of history and the unresolved problems of partition. High pitched accusations regarding interference in internal affairs by both sides, are blown out of all proportion by the media in both the countries. Restrictions on each other’s diplomats and the routine denial of visas on flimsy grounds, add to mutual suspicion and hostility. While Pakistanis see an Indian hand behind the ethnic violence in Karachi, Indians accuse Pakistan’s ISI of arming and training terrorists and engineering violent incidents all over India. The friendly overtures of the new United Front Indian Government are yet to be substantially reciprocated by Pakistan.
  • Internally, Pakistan continues to be troubled by unrest. The MQM-inspired movement in Karachi is showing no sign of letting up and is continuing to blow hot and cold. The hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, large numbers of whom are armed, are a constant source of anxiety to the Government of Pakistan. The recent elections to the legislative assembly of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), which were won by Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been rejected as massively rigged by almost all the other parties thus creating more problems for a beleaguered Prime Minister and adding to tensions in a sensitive area.

Indo-Pak arms race

In Pakistani perceptions, “India maintains the world’s fourth largest army, has ambitious plans for a blue water navy, a growing missile (ICBM) capability and near self-sufficiency in conventional weapons.” Pakistan considers the might of the Indian armed forces as a threat in being. Consequently, Pakistan relentlessly pursues modernisation plans for its own Armed forces. The recent Brown waiver to the Pressler Amendment has infused those plans with renewed vigour as the F-16 fighter aircraft, medium artillery guns and other sophisticated military equipment, which had been paid for but not delivered, are now shortly to be added to the arsenal. Thus the arms race on the Indian sub-continent has acquired a new momentum.

Recent developments in Pakistan’s military strategy

As a response to India’s massive mechanised forces Exercise Brass Tacks in 1987, the Pakistani Armed Forces conducted Exercise Zarb-e-Momin in December 1989. It was Pakistan’s biggest ever exercise and was designed to test and evaluate its capability as a viable force in the prevailing security environment. It was also meant to transmit a signal 10 the adversary, restore the image of a truly professional army and signal its disengagement from politics. The ‘Beg Doctrine’ of offensive-defence, named after General Mirza Aslam Beg, the then Army Chief, emerged and found acceptance after Zarb-e-Momin. Stated simply in General Beg’s own words, the concept is: “In the past, we were pursuing a defensive policy; now there be a big change since we are shifting to a policy of offensive-defence. Should there be a war, the Pakistan Army plans to take the war into India, launching a sizeable offensive into Indian territory.” Pakistan’s new perception of its enhanced offensive capability has raised the stakes and considerably upped the ante in the Indian sub-continent.

Islam: Fundamentalism to Pluralism

Since the death of General Zia ul-Haq, there has been a perceptible tilt away from Islamic fundamentalism towards pluralism, with inevitably a violent backlash from the deeply entrenched Mullahs. This too is a destabilising factor in the nation’s security environment.
In the words of Iftikhar H Malik, Senior Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, writing in Asian Survey, in an article entitled “Pakistan’s National Security and Regional Issues”:

Pakistan’s effort to build a representative, plural system, despite periodic returns to authoritarianism, provides a case study in which the new ideological configuration between nationalism and ethno-nationalism/regionalism seems to have replaced the erstwhile polarity with nationalists/modernists arrayed against traditionalists… The absence of democratization and reforms, following the bankruptcy of such ideologies as transregional nationalism and secularism, is allowing Islam to assume a more central position leading to violent confrontations between the power elite and rag-tag Islamists

Pakistan-US relations and equation with India

There is widespread agreement in Pakistan that Pakistan’s perceptions converge with the broad outline of US policy on South Asia, with the exception of the nuclear non-proliferation irritant. However, Dr Shafaqat Ali Shah of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, feels that, “Washington’s approach to South Asia was creating the impression that fie Us was supporting India to emerge as the predominant regional power… Such a development could destabilise the region, undermine Pakistan’s security and trigger a ‘domino’ effect going beyond the sub-continent.”

Speaking at the US-Pakistan Joint Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad in June 1994, Dr Shah Stated, “From Pakistan’s perspective, its future as a strong and prosperous state lies Southwest, Central Asia and Persian Gulf regions, not in South Asia… My generation, born at the time of Pakistan’s creation, has no hang-ups about pre-Partition India or the events of that period. There would be nothing better than ‘capping’ the conflict with India, ‘freezing’ the past historical association and to-see India geographically ‘rolled back’ as far as possible. Pakistan would like to get on with the process of nation building and making Pakistan into a model, moderate Islamic state. based on tolerance, justice, peace and prosperity.”

Growing political apathy, a marked intensity in inter-sectarian strife and a rising tide of ethnic volatility have consistently vitiated Pakistan’s internal security atmosphere. The external security environment continues to be marked by strife and regional tensions, exacerbated by Pakistan’s own obviously myopic foreign policy. Pakistan can contribute significantly to regional stability and detente by resuming a political dialogue with India and agreeing to follow a new bilateral approach for managing regional security issues. India and Pakistan can together enhance regional Stability by engaging in multi-lateral discussions with other members of SAARC and the Central Asian Republics to institute confidence building measures. In the prevailing geo-political scenario, industry, trade and commerce are —the -building blocks of national power and not guns, missiles, fighter aircraft and naval ships and submarines. This new development in the rules of the games which nations play needs to be appreciated well if the nations of the Southern Asian region are to achieve peace and prosperity.