Socio-Political Factors and National Security

Commentary | August 25, 2011

National security in the traditional sense is connected with the idea of sovereignty; territorial security means freedom from risk of danger of destruction and annihilation by war, physical violence and/or aggression from outside. Traditional threats emanate from inter-state conflict and cross-border aggression. Since the nation state is supposed to have a monopoly of power for protecting the life and property of the members of the nation, they are deprived of power to defend themselves against aggression. The focus therefore previously being on external threats, state security has dominated the national security agenda.

With progressing globalisation, borders have become increasingly irrelevant, thus reducing the probability of external aggression. Conversely threats to a country’s security emanate internally because of lack of economic development, unemployment, failing internal security because of religious, sectarian and/or ethnic strife, shifting of identities in the wake of globalisation, radicalisation of society and growing terrorism thereof being recent additions. It has not been possible in our relatively new nation state to properly work out the national identity and borders, both traditional (external) and internal security threats have started to overlap. Societal security is the prime responsibility of the state; our rulers have generally cold-shouldered this to our lasting detriment, as we can now see on graphic display. Societal threats undermine national cohesion and identification with the state, the resultant radicalisation and extremism results in law and order situations, rioting, rise of criminal gangs and gang wars, due to money-laundering and easy availability of weapons because of the nexus between corruption, organised crime and terrorism.

A credible accountability system is missing, without proper investigation, effective prosecution and delivery of swift, untainted justice is not possible. Perjury is not only rampant but is the order of the day, credible witnesses are in short supply and even they are susceptible to influence, by use of money and/or the force of public office. Our Supreme Court (SC) has become captive to endless bureaucratic manoeuvring, fighting a losing battle against a virtual bag of administrative tricks to defy and/or frustrate their judgments and instructions. Both the NICL and Haj cases are likely to enter the “Guinness Book of Records’, sophisticated filibustering making them into an endless exercise without a likely outcome. Failure to fulfil the main function of maintaining law and order to protect lives and properties of its citizens and ensure impartial, even-handed justice hastens the deterioration of the state and its institutions. The failing identification with the state impacts negatively on the connection between citizen, the government and the army. This dissolution of the Pakistani identity results in growing influence of foreign interests, this spawns intervention and support for secessionist movements like in Balochistan.

Duly fanned by a well-meaning but immature media, paying little attention to core national interests, the vacuum provides a robust platform for promoting radical ideas, readymade for religious exploitation by extreme elements, making an alternative form of a purely Islamic state with all its ramifications resonating with the public. The spread of terrorism is detrimental to economic growth, the bad investment climate and the lack of development is extremely detrimental to the economy. The diminishing value of individual lives makes killing condonable and justifiable (Karachi killing, collateral damage). Despite the so-called truce between the warring political parties within the coalition government, hundreds of people have died during the past month alone. The consequent ugly cycle of unemployment and high inflation leads to stagflation. There is flight of both capital and manpower from the country, weakening the economy further. The failing economy destroys jobs and incomes, creates more poverty and destabilises society leading to fuel riots, electricity riots, water riots, food riots, etc, desperation in the mass psyche of citizens, suicides, destruction of families, etc. This creates favourable conditions for criminals and terrorists, further impacting negatively on the overall security. This diverts the right amount of attention and the material support necessary for external security. A whole process of cataclysmic changes is taking place in the political, economic and social transformation in South Asia. The structures of governance being diversified and differentiated, only lip-service is given to poverty reduction and improving governance. In such conditions corruption is rampant.

The Anna Hazare backlash we are seeing in India was waiting to happen, the more violent form being manifest in the four decades-old Maoist Naxalite movement. With an economic transition in the region, the majority of countries have inculcated globalisation to address their economic crisis. This has accelerated the process of growth but the impact of globalisation has not been accompanied by the reduction in poverty or improvement in human development through the formation of social capital. Increases in population growth is by itself a time-bomb. Pakistan’s security interests can be best served if elements having disruptive potential to our socio-political profile are contained, thereby giving no excuse or opportunity to our detractors and enemies to take undue and adverse advantage. Factors responsible for the declining social and human security and strengthening of extremism have to be identified. The human element remains the biggest resource for Pakistan, the government must utilise this to promote safety of the population and counter the threat of extremism engulfing this nation. The political leadership and all other stakeholders (who have a vital role to play) must agree to cooperate and formulate a national strategy to eradicate this menace. To cope with external threats, Pakistan has to keep up both conventional and nuclear deterrence necessary but should at the same time aim at socio-political solutions for long-term sustainable alleviation of our problems. The army has had increasingly to deal with internal strife instead of securing the borders. Other than drawing crucial reserves away from countering the aggressive defence postures of the Indians, they are forced to devote time and effort to burgeoning internal problems of different dimensions. Fighting against ones own population can put stress on any army in the world, raising adverse perceptions among the populace, extremely dangerous for a country that thrives on glorifying its armed forces.

The international media is fully mobilised against Pakistan’s critical national security assets, but of more serious concern is not only the erosion of local media support, but rather an antagonistic view from some motivated sections. The compromise of the media’s integrity is extremely detrimental to the national aims and objectives. The concerted campaign against the ISI, and by extension the army, is deliberately motivated despite our sacrifices not being matched in the war against terror by all the coalition partners in Afghanistan put together. The unfortunate irony is that an instrument of war – the armed forces – is also the ultimate guarantor of internal peace. One can understand it not being part of the decision-making process where democracy is institutionalised, in less developed countries this is a paradox. This leaves absolute power, at least in democratic theory, in the hands of a pre-modern feudal and agrarian mindset elected through a tainted process on fraudulent votes, as the ultimate arbiters of nation security and societal society, and by default, the destiny of the nation. Who will make the change? (Extracts from Part-II of the Talk on ‘Linkages between Socio-Political Factors and National Security” given recently at the National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad).

Click here to read Sehgal's piece in The News