Pakistan : Back to the Future by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Although Pakistan’s exports have increased in recent years, the country continues to suffer from chronic balance of trade deficits. Pakistan remains dependent on imported petroleum products. Remittances from Pakistani workers abroad have reduced somewhat the growth in the current account deficit, but it is uncertain that rapid annual increases in remittances would be sustained… Pakistan’s agri­culture sector continues to be plagued with serious problems of low cropping intensity and low productivity…because of existing policy constraints”. Sounds familiar and present-day, right? Except that this is from a 1982 USAID report (Pakistan Agricultural Commodities and Equipment)! ( )


Pakistan has entered into a standstill agreement with itself and is fully committed to honour it. As the nation is racing back to its future , the trio with fancy imagination come out with a National Security Policy. I am referring to the Taliban Khan who keeps dreaming of Riyasat-e- Madina without knowing where he will grow his next pudina, the COAS who is seeking another extension along his devious approach to geoeconomics and their  foxy non resident Pakistani who masquerades as an NSA. Most Pakistanis feel that the policy is a nonstarter and a paper exercise not worth the paper it is written on.  It has been read with interest and commented upon extensively only in India. The reaction elsewhere has been subdued to the extent of being a mere news report. The thing which comes through clearly is that this policy reinforces the standstill nature of the Pakistani state and its revered military establishment. In the Generals Talk I had opined that this policy aims to consolidate the primacy of military and its hold on Pakistan in perpetuity. That is what it is.


However there is some value in this policy. For the first time the military establishment has acknowledged that the threat to Pakistan is beyond the traditional existential threat it faces from India. The threat from India is well known, quantified and calibrated. India is the known devil which is oft repeated in the policy. To that extent, the mere acknowledgement that there are threats beyond India is itself a moment of rare honesty. However this honesty stops very short since the real threats facing Pakistan have not been identified or quantified. The reason is simple, this  is a document by the military , for the military and of the military. Despite being a national policy, the lawmakers were not allowed to have a say on it. One Pakistani suggests that this policy could have been the outcome of this year’s joint exercise in which students of their National Defence University and War College come out with a draft National Security Policy on an annual basis. It is beautifully garnished with jargon that is normally part of discourse in such institutions. Hence the policy shows remarkable inability to look beyond the traditional security paradigm. 


The main problem with Pakistan is its unchecked population. Approximately 4.4 million people are added annually to the brood. At the present growth rate its population will be 403m by 2050. At current rates of poverty, water stress, pollution and environmental degradation , life in Pakistan will be unsustainable. How will these worthies feed and employ this looming population with their  policy in this document?  As it is the country is at the lowest rung of most human development indicators. Its 230 universities, produce unemployable youth since most do not even have full time faculty. Even now, 23 % of the ‘employed’ often work without a salary. The swelling ranks of uneducated youth with bleak future prospects is the biggest threat Pakistan faces and that has not been touched upon. 


The next problem which Pakistan faces squarely is its tryst with religion, ideology and ancestry. Pakistanis fancy themselves to have ancestral roots in Arabia, Turkey,  Afghanistan and Central Asia. This means a nation of imaginary gladiators. These high adrenaline gladiators create internal discord through violent sectarianism, secessionist movements, terrorism and extremism driven by religious seminaries along the Durand Line.  To add to the mix, the government and the military compete with all elements of the religious rainbow to be the best at it. The government’s own policy of encouraging religiosity and appeasement of extremist, faith-based groups undermines ability to deal with violent extremism of various hues. This phenomenon poses the most serious threat to the national security  of Pakistan. India finds repeated mention in the National Security Policy. One does not find TTP, TLP or Taliban getting even a mention. That is the kind of hypocrisy which pervades this national document. The recent bomb blasts in Lahore and terror attack in Islamabad are  not from India. They are from within the innards of Pakistan’s religious society. If Pakistan faces an existential crisis it is from within. 


In the 90s, Pakistan became a water stressed nation. Around 2005, it became water scarce. After 2025, it will enter the absolute water scarcity zone. It will also enter the realm of  perpetual failure. As per many Pakistanis rising water scarcity is the most existential of all the challenges facing the nation.  Water stress will debilitate day to day life. Pakistan is an agricultural country whose dependence on water intensive crops like wheat, rice and sugarcane  is high. Its economy is heavily water-reliant. Agriculture contributes 24% to its GDP, accounts for half of the country’s employed labour force and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. Water scarcity  will have a large scale impact on this agricultural economy. Incidentally water is Pakistan’s Achilles heel. It has only 30 days water storage capacity. There are few economies which are more reliant on water than Pakistan. The national security policy hardly mentions these facts! If the problem is not outlined , there is no need of a solution. Simple! 


Pakistan is a resource scarce state. It has traditionally been a weak economy dependent on foreign assistance . It has been to the IMF 23 times for bailouts. Its huge debt burden balloons further due to the loans it has taken from China and the Gulf. The country’s sovereignty stands perpetually eroded. In this scenario, Pakistan’s agriculture has stuttered. From being a net food exporter it has become an irreversible net food importer in the past few years. Take any metric of Pakistani economy and one finds a black hole. Forex reserves, energy dependence, power shortages, inflation, weakening rupee, etc… The Security Policy considers economy as the ‘core’  to national security. Yet it has not even scratched the surface  to  indicate as to how poverty, degrading natural resources, debt and militarisation intersect to trap and hollow out the Pakistan’s  economy. Increasing the size of the economic pie implies tackling  social, environmental and sustainability issues, which in turn means that conditions have to be created for internal and external peace. It is very clear that non-traditional threats need political, economic and social responses. This realisation is the missing factor in this policy.


Pakistani leaders and politicians have failed to govern the country and deliver to its people. Pakistan has been known for its   unconstitutional, undemocratic and extractive structures of power in the garb of  democratic governance. The movers and shakers in Pakistan are not invested in the welfare and security of the common man. They are self-serving, risk-averse and disconnected from the people. Pakistan has morphed into a military security state without a concept of human security. It has prided itself on its geostrategic location and involvement in regional conflicts.  It is a nuclear power with one of the strongest regional military forces. However this strength has come with a huge cost – political insecurity -internal and external and economic instability. The country is failing from within.


The answer to Pakistani woes lies in India. India might have been an existential threat at one point of time. Today it is the only country which offers Pakistan a way out of this mess.  This  view expressed by a Pakistani makes interesting reading. Why is Pakistan unable to manage its internal and external deficits? For the first, The confrontation with India feeds directly into both situationsAll of Pakistan’s export and foreign investment needs can potentially be met from India, since Pakistan’s natural economic linkage is with its eastern neighbour, much more than with any other. The countries share a border over 2,000 miles long and over 50% of Pakistan’s population lives within a hundred kilometers of it. Pakistan still has the most linguistic and cultural overlap with India, which leads to crucial overlap in consumer communication and preference. Pakistani companies can quickly start selling in India in a way they never can in China. Equally, given a normal relationship, Indian companies, which are now multinational and investing globally, would be keen to invest in such a large and proximate market. With the exchange rate in its favour, the opportunity for Pakistani exports to India, the fifth largest world economy, is huge. Indeed, any bilateral relationship has to be managed to ensure maximum benefit for the home economy. Talking of its military and nuclear assets, it goes on to sayThis ‘greatest national asset’ makes no contribution to the nation’s growth or its people’s welfare. In exchange for these weapons, Pakistan’s creditors would gladly write off all of Pakistan’s debt, foreign and domestic. In one stroke, 40% of the state’s budget is freed up for development and growth….This document (NSP) is an important manifestation of how the national security elite in Pakistan plans to not only control the distribution of resources, but also to consolidate power over every aspect of the country’s governance, every organ of the state, and even the civil society.


That is how the cookie stands in Pakistan. Before I conclude, I must comment on the ‘Geoeconomics’ angle of their COAS. He has been harping on this term since the last Islamabad Dialogues. If your western neighbour is bankrupt and on the verge of a humanitarian disaster and you are ‘Katti’ with your prosperous eastern neighbour, what will geoeconomics look like in Pakistan?  As per reports  Pakistan is offering a  permanent residency scheme for wealthy Sikhs, Afghans and Chinese, to attract investment and boost its flagging economy and national growth as part of its geo-economics drive. If this is their concept of geo-economics, then other geoeconomics activities to follow will include international flow of narcotics as also international expansion of  the Military Businesses of Pakistan. However, knowing the Pakistani Army and its greed, they might be eyeing the spoils from the mineral deposits extraction in Afghanistan along with their bosom partners – the Taliban and the Chinese. That is the geoeconomics cake which Bajwa ji is actually looking at! 



To conclude, I do understand that I have outlined an improbable scenario if Pakistan has to really take its security seriously. The hope that they will give up on their fixations on Kashmir and revenge on India is a forlorn one. If they give up that hope, for many Pakistanis, their existential reason of ‘Not Being India’ will be swept away.  That is where I leave you with the National Security Policy of Pakistan as it races back to its future. Any thoughts?  Give it the boxed in character!


2 responses to “Pakistan : Back to the Future by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. An excellent analysis sir. You have laid bare their reality without any padding. Enjoyed reading the piece.

  2. A very crisp analysis of what ails Pakistan and the way out..hope they see sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: