Recasting national security


The issue of democratic development or the broader questions of national integration and human rights cannot be divorced from the holistic perspective of national security that must involve both territorial defence as well as the larger issues of societal security The conventional view of national security as premised on defending a state against external military threats is no longer enough to help explain a wide range of security problems in post-colonial states like Pakistan. The threats we face are more complex, greatly varied in character, and emanate from diverse sources, external as well as internal. The process of state-formation and nation-building in Pakistan and other similar states faces problems that fall within the category of threats to national security because they increase the vulnerability of the state and open its vital institutions to fatal decay and disintegration. Thus, in the case of late developers, national security analysis must use broader lenses and encompass the whole range of issues and threats, and not just the threat, intentions and capabilities of eternal enemies. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has raised the possibility that nation-states can collapse from within. Also, the phenomenon of failed and failing states, more due to bad governance than any external threat, compel us to explore new approaches to comprehending Pakistan’s national-security problems. The momentous changes in world power relations following the end of the cold war have generated a fresh debate about conceptualising security. The debate is essentially between the traditionalists and their challengers who offer a more inclusive definition of security. The two schools of thought of security studies have different theories of state, society and individuals and their interactive relationships. The traditionalists view relations among states as coercive because they involve threat or use of force to achieve political objectives. In the competing world of sovereign states, notions like distribution of capabilities, balance of power, equilibrium and deterrence play key role in the management of security. This ‘narrow’ view of security has come under increasing attack in recent years. There is growing realisation that the concept of security cannot be confined to issues of military threats and force structures. All those societal, economic and political factors, more appropriately, the people that support and sustain military capabilities have to be brought into focus. What we need to learn from the collapse of the Soviet security structure is that military power is necessary but not sufficient to maintain a legitimate security system. Economic and political measures, a responsive state apparatus with roots in civil society and satisfaction of societal demands are no less important in ensuring stability at home and supporting a condition of deterrence against external foes. The new thinking on security represents liberal philosophical values and has brought in concepts like common security and human security. The definition of security includes security of groups, individuals and extends to political, economic, social and environmental issues. The cold war politics, bipolar structure of power, military alliances and confrontation between the two superpowers overshadowed liberal principles by giving prominence to state-centric geopolitical thinking of security. Classical political liberalism places rights and sovereignty of the individual above all other considerations. The theory of natural rights of man supports the view that state cannot violate them under any pretext. The international liberalism of the post-cold war period made the individual and peoples as a political community a subject of international politics by pulling them from the periphery to the centre of an emerging international civil society. In the post-cold war world order, the security of individuals and various groups that are members of civil society cannot be discussed as a separate category from the state itself. A state, in order to legitimise authority, must ensure protection to individuals and groups against threats of physical injury, economic deprivation and violation of fundamental rights. The security predicament of countries like Pakistan is much more complex than the security concerns of older, developed and relatively more stable states like those in Europe. We must attend to external threat conditions, but an exclusive or disproportionate focus on territory obscures more varied threats emanating from internal contestations of power, identity, legitimacy and various forms of internal conflicts that we have been facing in the past decades. Secondly, in politically less stable societies like ours, security as a concept and policy evokes different images and reactions from different sections — ethnic groups, political institutions, military elite, and religious groups — within the state. In the transformative phase of the post-cold war era, when the notions of security are undergoing radical redefinition, these elements can no longer be ignored in understanding the security predicament of post-colonial states. The old view of national security cast by the experiences of democratic, industrialised nation-states does not come to grips with the peculiarities of Pakistan. That is about ‘internally pacified’ and relatively integrated states. Unlike many of these states, the historical process of state formation, central features of the state, underdevelopment of political institutions, and the essential relationship between the state and society varies a great deal in our part of the world. The primary difference is that the Western states have sunk firm and deep roots in society by giving social and political significance to the individual. This is demonstrated by their system of governance based on representative legitimacy and popular participation. Representation is the most powerful tool in resolving or significantly reducing the potential of internal threats to the state and its institutions. Therefore, whatever the ideological inclinations of an elected regime in a western democracy, it would not face the problems of legitimacy, mass agitation or revolutionary upheaval that we face here in Pakistan. Those systems have mechanisms to address issues of jurisdiction of institutions and manage the contest for power and resources within the limits of law and constitution. In my view, the internal aspects of security cannot and should not be excluded from any meaningful analysis of national security. In our case, the imperatives of state-building determined autocratically by our rulers quite often conflict with popular aspirations for political representation or demands for regional autonomy from diverse ethnic groups. What we need is a people-centred approach to national security. This would create institutions based on consensus, allow political participation, and grant citizenship rights. It is really the consent of the governed that determines the degree to which a state can be ‘weak’ or ‘strong’, and not the coercive means available to a particular regime. The issue of democratic development or the broader questions of national integration and human rights cannot be divorced from the holistic perspective of national security that must involve both territorial defence as well as the larger issues of societal security, i.e., respect for human rights and the political representation of all groups. The author is a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.