buzzwords national security policy

Written by Afifa Mushtaque 1:13 pm Opinion, Published Content

Buzzwords in the National Security Policy of Pakistan

Buzzwords play a crucial role in development policies as they help frame the problems and their solutions. They often take support from ambiguous policy language to promote a particular perspective; they are also called empty words that serve no purpose other than sounding powerful for the sake of it. Afifa Mushtaque critiques the National Security Policy which has used multiple buzzwords that fail to take the national cohesion of Pakistan into consideration. She also claims that the policy portrays an image of Pakistan that is the opposite of what is indeed the case.
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Ms Afifa Mushtaque is studying BS Public Administration student at NUST. She has a keen research interest in development policy and discourse.

The National Security Policy 2022-2026 claims to be Pakistan’s first security policy that plans to relocate Pakistan in global trends. It utilizes fancy, bold, and doublespeak words language like “tolerance”, “rule of law”, “transparency” and “geopolitics”. These are the buzzwords that have been only used to portray a certain image of Pakistan in the international world, but the reality is far different.

The policy talks about how Pakistan will preserve the Pakistani identity of its citizens through tolerance for all religions and ethnicities, observing zero tolerance towards terrorism, championing global causes by promoting tolerance, and inculcating tolerance in all aspects of society. When juxtaposed with PTI’s general attitude towards minorities like the Ahmadiyya community and particularly women, the story is that of chalk and cheese.

The first example of intolerance wrapped in the name of maintaining unity for the masses was the removal of an exceptional economist, Atif Mian, who was appointed to the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) in 2018. He was asked to resign as there was massive criticism, mostly by religious extremists, over his appointment as he belonged to the Ahmadiyya community.

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The PTI government was compelled to ignore Mian’s skillset, credibility, and potential contribution to dealing with the economic challenges of Pakistan. There was no sudden “paradigm shift” in the ideology of the PTI for it to suddenly decide to make tolerance a key factor in achieving national security, yet it was there in the policy, filling gaps in sentences to sound inclusive and equitable without truly observing it in real-life scenarios.  

Khan portrayed misogyny and patriarchal toxicity various times in his speeches and attitude. Thus, when a PM treats the issues of an entire gender so condescendingly, his claims of tolerance can never be trusted. The incident of significance here is when Khan was asked in an interview on HBO called Axios whether he thought that the clothes women wear had any impact on men’s temptations leading to different sexual crimes.

His response was shockingly at odds with the policy’s claims under the gender security component of human security as he said and I quote: “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it is common sense.” While I agree that his response was problematic on various levels, my point of concern is that if the leader truly believes that women can ensure their safety just by wearing culturally appropriate clothes, the policy shouldn’t have bothered to incorporate gender security in its policy since the state obviously cannot provide that and women themselves easily can.

However, the idea of gender security is popular and sensitive so it was inevitable for the National Security Policy 2022-26 of Pakistan to be filled with this buzzword, the pattern of which could be seen in other buzzwords as well. Words such as “rule of law” and “transparency” which have been used multiple times within the policy as being the prerequisites for achieving delivery-based good governance are also meaning-emptied buzzwords. I say this because both standards were shamelessly breached by the party itself on various occasions.

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The reality is hence quite the opposite as there is no denying that Imran Khan’s government had politicized the military and was also bashed by PML-N for trying to politicize the appointment of the Army chief. From the sit-in and besieging the capital to openly threatening security forces, the promise of strictly observing the “rule of law” was found to be damaged beyond repair.

The element of transparency which was so dearly highlighted with hopes and promises to achieve “national prosperity” was equally challenged when Imran Khan’s wife, Bushra Bibi, was found to have retained all the expensive gifts Pakistan acquired from foreign dignitaries during his tenure. The truth of what happened in the cruel Sahiwal encounter of 2019 along with the enforced disappearances never came forward which again contradicts the so-called transparency pledged in the policy.

With the desire to sound rational and politically advanced, the policy utilized new jargon for geopolitics by swapping it with geoeconomics. I say this because even though Pakistan’s prized geoeconomic location has always been there, the policy mentions the same old reasons for its special location like north-south and east-west connectivity to Central and South Asia.

The policy mentions that one of the reasons why Pakistan is interested in regional peace in Afghanistan is its potential as a gateway for economic connectivity with Asia. However, this idea is not new as Pakistan has always wanted to dominate Afghanistan for trade. Pakistan never truly had economic utility in this context, only strategic.

For geoeconomics to be prioritized over geopolitics makes sense only in the case of India because it gives South Asia meaning and place in the economic sense. For Pakistan, geopolitics can never come secondary as Pakistan’s economic struggles and worsening conditions do not allow the country to have that liberty yet. There are issues with regional economic integration which have neither been addressed nor fulfilled but are still prerequisites for focusing on economic progress per se.

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Pakistan’s relationship with India particularly after constitutional reforms in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 added to the complexity of the already troubled relationship and thus posed an even larger barrier to achieving economic integration in South Asia. This hampers the overall movement for geoeconomics highlighted in the policy.

The crux of the situation is that the National Security Policy has incorporated various populous elements and words into its document without assessing their reality and the alignment with the true ideology of the leadership. Effective policymaking is debatable when the policy on paper sounds pragmatic and neutral but falls prey to problematic biases of the government.

The truth is that words are a powerful tool for the manipulation and exploitation of the masses who believe in the innocuous policies presented without questioning the contradictory attitude of the political party in place. In a country where power speaks the loudest, the only thing citizens have is their ability to identify the hollow and fake hopes disguised in the form of buzzwords. Once identified, the attention must be diverted to questioning the use of language in the development discourse and coming up with alternatives to combat its abuse.

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