Since Pakistan’s inception, its people have widely believed – or to some extent have been forced to believe – that the country remains under existential threat from its immediate neighbor India and is facing a special collaboration by Hind-o-Yahood (Hindus and Jews) to undo the sovereignty and independent status of the nation.
Thus, we Pakistanis are told, it’s the utmost duty of the army and the government to leave no stone unturned to avert this immediate and everlasting threat. This mindset is the main tenet of Pakistan’s strategic culture and supreme national interest, and the ultimate goal of our foreign policy.
In pursuance of this goal, Pakistani policymakers, strategists and diplomats have securitized every inch of our national and global view. Our national and international discourse, our media discourse, foreign-policy lectures, domestic debates and even our drawing-room conversations have been securitized. This obsession has made Pakistan a mere security state. Our political history, national policies and foreign-policy initiatives, relations with superpowers and regional powers, associations with Arab countries and even our economic engagements with various nations are directly or indirectly viewed within the prism of security.
The political history of Pakistan is marked by the regimes of military men, where democracy was stagnated and constructed patriotism was pumped in. From the regime of Ayub Khan to the last government of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was at the receiving end of this.
The contemporary issues of Pakistan today are directly related to the policies adopted by Yahya Khan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. Thus the securitization of national politics has halted the growth of democracy in Pakistan. The current transition of democracy in Pakistan is undeniably a good omen, but the back-door influence of the establishment still emerges as a source of concern for the future.
Our fascination with security within the realm of foreign policy has been the most outdated and clichéd approach to win our national interest. The sending of tribesman to Kashmir to liberate it from the clutches of India was the first experiment in the quest to feel secure.
Then it continued. In 1971 in our gamble to secure East Pakistan from an allegedly Indian-sponsored insurgency, Pakistan was vivisected and had to bear the humiliating surrender of our armed forces. But we did not learn. Soon after the debacle of 1971, our government under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto promised that even if the people had to eat grass, we would develop a nuclear weapon. As promised, we have developed nuclear weapons, but continue to eat grass.
Even atomic bombs did not cure our security syndrome.
However, another opportunity was created, when the Cold War came to South Asia. Here we surpassed all rules of international relations and diplomatic norms of sovereignty and acted as a pipeline to create and train militants. It was considered a God-sent opportunity, which thus needed to be utilized in every way. In order to secure ourselves with modern US weaponry, we danced to Washington’s every tune. The end result was victory for Pakistan and the US. Thus the policy of security via non-state actors emerged as the most effective tool to follow our craving for security.
But these home-made militants turned their weapons against us, when the US changed its tune, which needed a new choreography after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The change had a counter-effect: In our war against terrorism, we have lost more than 70,000 precious lives and trillions of rupees, and suffered disastrous damage to our property, unimaginable physiological trauma and irrecoverable losses. But despite such setbacks, our gamble for security continues.
Our most cherished relations with China are purely security-oriented, and are further strengthened by the Sino-India conflict. Additionally, the notion of strategic depth, which continues to haunt Pakistani-Afghan relations, is also India-centric. Our whole regional policy is aimed at garnering support and strategic help in order to meet the Indian threat. In our endless pursuit of security, we have compromised on all fronts. Today Pakistan’s economy is weak and continues to be trapped in circular debts, while our society is vulnerable to extremism and intolerance. The political landscape is busy promoting separatism and segregation on ethnic, religious and sectarian grounds. Our educational institutions are found to be safe havens for extremists. Our diplomatic channels have failed to garner friends and supporters globally.
The recent words of caution from the US and China along with other BRICS nations are a stark reminder of this failure. Yet our obsession with security continues to shape our internal and external polices. This nation, instead of F-16s, missiles, tactical nuclear weapons, JF-17 combat aircraft and nuclear-powered submarines, needs enlightened educational institutions, modern hospitals and industries, developed infrastructure, adequate food, clean drinking water, decent homes to live in, and a society free from the evils of extremism and intolerance. Undeniably, the security of a nation is a supreme requirement, but it should not be achieved by compromising the basic necessities of a nation.