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What is the government trying to hide?

On the National Security Policy

What is the government trying to hide?

When Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot, I doubt he had our National Security Policy in mind. But he would be flattered how well he communicated our collective inaction and indecisiveness that has accompanied the long wait for this document.

We have had unofficial and whispered versions of such policies before, and different arms of the state have implemented their own visions in the name of national security. This is not unheard of in other countries. Competing visions can often spur growth in the right direction — but if words are the polar opposite of actions then countries do get into trouble. And so goes the story of Pakistan.

It is healthy that the federal government has introduced an official document in the national legislature for debate. However, it is odd that parts of the National Security Policy document have been classified as ‘secret’. Policies usually set out broad aims and the means that will be used to achieve the ends. Operational details are often chalked out by the professional soldiers — ideally with approval from civil authorities. Therefore, it makes little sense for the government to maintain secrecy about any part of the document. It is hard to fathom how any operational details could have been laid down already. Ideally, these should be flexible and constantly evolving, especially against an enemy regarding which new information is likely to surface on a regular basis.

So, what is the government trying to hide? Could it be that there are no real plans? I am cynical enough to believe so.

The message about the policy is clear though: it is supposed to be pro-active rather than reactive. It sounds good but tactically the government has already lost important chances of building consensus about tough decisions. It will not be easy to convince the general population why all of a sudden we are moving from talks to talk of a cricket match to a volley of bombs. Many will see the failure of negotiations as a defeat for the government.

The public discourse and the tenets of the curriculum taught to brainwash young minds also matter. It is true that not all terrorists suffer from lack of a proper education but many recruits do.

This is the government’s own fault and it will bear the cost in the coming days.

One thing is sure though — the cricket match with the TTP is not happening. I doubt it would have been a thriller and the teams may not have agreed on the dress code. Just as well.

On a more serious note, one cannot help but notice that the details of the National Security Policy reveal that it has a military focus. It treats terrorism as a military problem. To a considerable extent, yes, we do need concerted military action to counter this menace but terrorism does not just consist of identifiable soldiers walking around.

It is a mindset that breeds and thrives because of distorted interpretations of religion, desire for power (for those controlling the recruits), manipulation of people suffering socio-economic exclusion, lack of identity etc.

The public discourse and the tenets of the curriculum taught to brainwash young minds also matter. It is true that not all terrorists suffer from lack of a proper education but many recruits do. Socio-economic vulnerability and hatred spewing from the written and the spoken word cannot be cured by bombs. These things can only be solved by the state if it engages with the discourse based on hate that is spread by extremists in the name of religion.

Is the federal government thinking about all this in its National Security Policy? I am not sure how. If our focus is on bombing, raising a new force (yes, yet again) and new laws then are we not ignoring the battle for hearts and minds?

Terrorism survives because those training young terrorists know that this is a war of ideas. And as long as the idea survives, the terrorists always have a shot at manipulating young minds. The abuse of religion or painting another country’s foreign policy as anti-Muslim is of course not justified — but these are ideas being taught in schools and homes across Pakistan. This mindset focuses on ascendancy through exclusion, where in order to be the purest you eliminate everyone not pure enough. Fellow Muslims are fair targets because by not following those with beards and guns, we allegedly undermine the struggle and aid the infidels.

Our own non-Muslim communities and even Muslim sects that are in the minority live in perpetual fear. Will the state take it upon itself to protect them?

In a most heartening example of suo moto action, the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan recently took up the cause of a minority community being threatened. Will other state actors, particularly the executive, join him in sending out the message that there is no national security till those constituting the nation are secure?

State policies and actions have angles that are glamorous and unglamorous. Wars are glamorous for the state project as a whole. They lead to rhetoric of nationalism, the rhetoric of unity and uplifting stories of bravery. But there is an unglamorous aspect too. Improving the education and healthcare sectors, purging the curriculum and national discourse of hate speech encouraging violence are things that deserve equal attention. And what of the justice system? Is the government willing to improve the state of disrepair that characterises the legal system?

A national security policy should not lay down how we will fight a war. It should have aims that ensure that we never have to go to war. And that our children have enough opportunities and information to avoid becoming pawns in games of power and hatred.

The state must spend its resources not just on fighting a war but on ensuring that our next generation never faces similar problems. Even if we begin today and focus not just on military action but on the people that inhabit this country, it will take us at least a generation to fix these issues.

If you are twenty or older, the next twenty years of your life will be spent with a considerable amount of turmoil in Pakistan. The least that we can do is ensure that when we talk of national security, we focus on issues that actually make a nation secure.

As far as ideas go, we have come up short. As far as the bombs go, we have never been short of them. But that is not the real battle.

Waqqas Mir

The writer is a practicing lawyer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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