Economy and National Security By Dr Moonis Ahmar

The 220 million people of Pakistan would have been prosperous and secure if the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) had been $6 trillion; exports $800 billion per annum; foreign exchange reserves $1 trillion and per capita income $30,000. The economic vibrancy of Pakistan would have taken care of its human security predicament by ensuring 100% literacy and the availability of quality healthcare, public transport, housing, clean and safe drinking water. Alas, that is not the case; and despite decades of claims, Pakistan’s economic predicament reflects the degeneration of its national security.

Presenting a national security policy focusing on geo-economic may be a good idea but the reality on the ground is different. Without hard work, efficiency, intelligence and integrity, no nation can transform its culture of corruption, nepotism, laziness and lack of accountability into one of merit, integrity and rule of law. It is the leadership that should be a role model and motivate people to turn around the economy, politics and governance. Parochial approach and tunnel vision tend to define national security from the prism of ideology, territorial integrity and conventional/nuclear arsenal but disregard bitter facts reflecting colossal poverty, illiteracy, failure of the state to provide clean and safe drinking water, quality education, healthcare, public transport and efficient and affordable justice system. Failure to eradicate extremism, radicalisation of youth, violence, intolerance, militancy and terrorism has exposed Pakistan’s so-called paradigms of national security.

There is nothing new propagated by the protagonists of national security to focus on geo-economics because such type of superficial and rhetorical assertions were made earlier by those holding power. It is not only geo-economics that matters in determining priorities of national security, but the country’s social fabric and societal contradictions which pose a grave challenge to human survival. The surge in crime and use of firearms by extremist groups prove how fragile the national security of the country is. The inability to take prompt and exemplary action against those who take the law into their hands is another failure of national security. Why has national security been superficially discussed by state actors? In the last 75 years, why has Pakistan failed to provide minimum security to an ordinary person? How can a practical approach on matters of national security turn around things and transform the country from national security state to a human security state?

Nations cannot be built and established on a strong footing by shallow means. Something is clearly wrong with the national security of Pakistan because the literacy ratio of the country is 60%; 25 million children are out of school; cities and towns are inundated with beggars; per capita income is a mere $1,500; GDP has come down to $264 billion; exports are a meagre $25 billion; foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank are just $17 billion while the public debt has ballooned to Rs50 trillion. Pakistan cannot progress by just exporting vegetables, fruits and raw materials. One cannot expect any betterment when the country’s national security is formulated by those who have nothing to do with the ground realities of the country and operate from their comfort zones. Currently, Pakistan needs to ensure a better future for its population of 220 million.

Three major requirements must be fulfilled in order to save Pakistan from a sustained decline.

First, focus and concentration on shaping policies and proper implementation for economic recovery, political stability, good governance, rule of law and justice system. Without clarifying how such objectives will be achieved, merely arguing that geo-economics will shape Pakistan’s national security in the days to come does not make sense. Those who are a part of the VVIP culture and have nothing to do with the plight of the common person cannot transform Pakistan from a debt-ridden, economically and politically fragile state to a vibrant, secure and prosperous country.

Without proper work ethic, accountability, integrity and sense of responsibility, no policy for bettering the socio-economic and political conditions of the country can succeed. This would require the leadership to share sufferings with common people as was done by the leadership in Germany, Japan, China, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the UAE. One cannot expect plausible results just through superficial ideas to turn around the economy. National security policy will remain in a vacuum and cannot render positive results when state-owned institutions such as PIA, Pakistan Steels and Pakistan Railways have accumulated debt worth trillions of rupees. Even PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel in New York is closed with a debt of millions of dollars.

Second, the superficiality of national security policy is evident from the fact that those who are supposed to provide security to people, themselves need security. They cannot move without a heavily armed squad. This hypocrisy can be compared with the movement of heads of state and government of other countries where VVIP culture and heavy protocol are not seen. In Pakistan, however, even an ordinary person with some position or seat of power needs security and protocol. This is alarming because who will provide security to common people who are exposed to crimes, violence and terrorism when most of the security forces are deployed for those in positions of power.

When those who represent law enforcement and security agencies utilise their energies to target and spy on non-conformist individuals, groups and mainstream opposition parties instead of focusing on real security threats, one can only expect degeneration of society and state. Without reforming the mindset of those who wield power, national security policy would remain elusive. It is the feudal, tribal and VVIP culture which has ruined the economy, politics and security of Pakistan. Without changing their lifestyle, the elites of Pakistan cannot rebuild the country economically, politically, socially and in the realm of good governance, accountability, rule of law and justice system.

Third, there is no shortcut to having a functional and viable national security policy unless the country is in safe hands. Economic and security managers must be efficient, competent and honest with clarity and vision to pull the country from the vicious cycle of crises. Unless there is a serious crackdown on incompetence, corruption and nepotism, which is a major reason for augmenting the economic crisis, 220 million people of Pakistan will not feel secure. When they are hand to mouth and buried under the tsunami of poverty and price hike, the outcome is a compromise on the country’s national security.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2022

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