Pakistan’s National Security Document, January 2022

Muhammad-Najm Akbar

Pakistan had released its national security document in January 2022. Pakistan’s decision to abstain from the General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine was the first major foreign policy action since the publication of this document. Pakistan aligned with three other nuclear powers in the region, China, India, and the Russian Federation against the aggressed nonnuclear state. The public or secret segments of the national security document steered this decision. Pakistan’s refusal to condemn an aggressor at the UN explains how her independent foreign policy posture aligns with a newfound sense of national interest. Pakistan’s foreign and defense doctrine had viewed and projected herself as a victim of aggression in 1948, 1965, and 1971. In 1979, she had interpreted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan similarly and valiantly assumed the role of frontline state in the jihad that ensued.

Consistently, Pakistan had projected herself as a strong and yet vulnerable, small to mid-size, peace-loving state in the neighborhood of, in its perception, an aggressor state. Since the late-90s, the security environment in South Asia has undergone a radical change. Both India and Pakistan have become de facto nuclear powers. Pakistan’s foremost foreign policy action since the issuance of its national security document reflects a major change in her role as a member of the UN and the international community. Pakistan now indicates that she is no longer in the woeful category of teeny-weeny nonnuclear states like Ukraine, Moldova, Sweden, and Finland threatened by a neighboring nuclear power.  Although she does not enjoy a security status similar to the arc of NATO members along the Russian Federation’s western frontier, she feels secure within the regional nuclear club. She doesn’t have to stand with a nonnuclear, aggressed country like Ukraine against a fellow nuclear state, Russian Federation.

Pakistan’s decision to abstain at the Emergency Session has marked a major departure from her historical commitment to the UN Charter. Since its inception, Pakistan has upheld sovereignty and inviolability of territorial integrity of the UN member states, regardless of their nuclear or nonnuclear status, standing with the victims of aggression.

Her muscular and reinvigorated sense of political and international independence suggests that Pakistan doesn’t have to be consistent with its historical commitment to the UN Charter anymore. She has also discovered that the “excitement,” of visiting a regional nuclear power at the peak of its aggression against a nonnuclear neighbor, might bring monstrous rewards. This could easily compensate her for any possible economic or political downturn that disappointment in the  European Union or Pakistan’s other erstwhile Western partners might trigger, factually or rhetorically. After all, this camp includes three other nuclear powers who, as Pakistan would assert, have a history of double standards and only selectively abide by the UN Charter.

At the moment, unless Pakistan’s establishment steamrolls it, political stakeholders outside the government have failed to process this three-sixty U-turn in Pakistan’s stance on the UN Charter.  They had already dissociated themselves from the national security document affirming that there had been neither a meaningful consultation nor approval of the parliament for this crucial initiative of the government. The establishment, presumably, had supported the move.

Looking at the document from the perspective of this newly instituted, pragmatic, and bold reversal of Pakistan’s commitment to the UN Charter, the public segment of the document makes interesting reading. It is a succinct summary of the challenges the country faces in pursuit of the fundamental role of governance, offering physical and economic security to its citizens. The government chose to keep secret the concrete steps Pakistan will take to overcome the challenges outlined in the write-up. The enunciated challenges, therefore, constitute the core of the document.

The document recognizes the need to address a wide range of issues such as external imbalance, and vertical and horizontal inequalities. UN estimates Pakistan’s current population to be 225 million.[1]  The document states that it has grown at 2.4% over the last two decades. Over half the population is below the age of 30 years. Approximately 2 million Pakistanis enter the workforce annually. The job market, education, technology, and innovation, with the existing jobs likely to become obsolete in 3 decades, have yet to be fully synchronous. Urban migration exacerbates the ordeal. In another two decades, nearly 50% of Pakistan will live in major cities. Agricultural Pakistan ranks third in the list of countries facing acute water shortages. In a little over a decade, between 2009-2021, water availability per capita has declined from 1500 cubic meters to 908 cubic meters.

The document is thus a comprehensive statement of Pakistan’s economic and security needs. It emphasizes human security as much as the security of Pakistan’s largely undefined and porous frontiers. It also pivots to the forefront the internal challenges to Pakistan’s security as much as the external threats that ring the alarm bells for the decision-makers in Pakistan.

Peace in the region is indispensable to the objectives Pakistan seeks to achieve. Regional trade and economies of scale are essential to realizing the dreams of Pakistan’s growing younger demographics. Unfortunately, the policy does not trace the path that Pakistan will take to move out of her conflict-ridden past and present dilemmas. It also does not sketch the paradigm it would follow towards a promising future. Pakistan’s U-turn on the UN Charter will pose additional tests for its standing in the world.

Pakistan exists at the crossroads of a region that is home to six de jure or de facto nuclear states. Pakistan, India, and China are immediate neighbors and in the larger context Russian Federation, North Korea, and Israel are part of the regional conundrum. The current geopolitical situation between the three immediate neighbors reflects a high degree of antagonism. Tensions of the military crises of Doklam (2017) and Galwan Valley (May 2020) constrain Indo-China relations. The protracted conflict between India and Pakistan perpetually redefines the most immediate reasons. Indian parliament’s abolition of Article 370 of her constitution had triggered the current stalemate. Pakistan perceives this constitutional amendment of August 2019 as contravening the Shimla Agreement of 1972 which forbids both countries from unilaterally altering the status of the line of control. 

Notably, the India-Pakistan dimension of the geographically contiguous nuclear troika is most incendiary. Unlike the India-China relationship, only outright hostility and acrimony define Pakistan-India rapport. China-India relationship, like US-China and unlike Pakistan-India, has a strong socio-economic aspect. Like the United States and China, the Indo-China relationship integrates a resilient, non-military component of socioeconomic equations. The United States and China count amongst each other’s top trading partners despite worrisome signals that swarm the strategic scenarios. The latest annual report of the United States Trade Representative covering updated statistics up to 2020 shows China as the third biggest destination of US exports, after Canada and Mexico. Simultaneously, China remained the biggest exporter to the United States. In 2020, at $ 435 billion, Chinese exports to the United States were the highest of the top exporters. [2] China is also the second-largest holder of the United States securities, just behind Japan.[3]  

India imports a lot more from China than it exports.[4] In 2021, India-China trade volume was $125.7 billion, a 43.3 percent upsurge over 2020. India imported goods worth $97.5 billion from China in 2021, 46.1 percent higher than $66.7 billion in 2020. Indian exports to China amounted to $28.1 billion in 2021, 34.9 percent higher than $20.9 billion in 2020, and 56.5 percent higher than in 2019. Occasional cloudburst of nationalistic fervor over the military crises of 2017 and 2020 failed to dent Indian traders’ resolve to capitalize on the advantageous exchange of trading goods between the two countries.

The Indo-Pakistan equation, to the contrary, lacks any cushion of a socioeconomic matrix. The nascent degrees of socioeconomic collaboration become the first victims of upheavals in the permanently devastating strains over territorial and political disputes. Policy statements of Pakistani leadership project a sound understanding of these realities. They tend to convey a comprehensive cognition of prospects that retarded or absent growth of the socioeconomic relationship between the nuclear neighbors obstructs. The Chief of Army Staff eloquently articulated this strategic and political realization in a keynote address he delivered last year.[5] How much that approach would finally define the hidden segments of the document only time will tell.

The public document and its first major implementation at the UN, fail to foretell a bright tomorrow. While the document depicts the awful strategic, socioeconomic and political constraints all over, it does not reveal a cohesive strategy to meet those challenges. The future dictates a path different from what the policymakers have offered at the moment.  


[1] UNFPA Pakistan Dashboard

[2] US Trade Representative Report, 2021, Annex 1, 185-195. 

[3] Statista.com

[4] Karunjit Singh, The Indian Express, January 26, 2022.

[5] Dawn, https://www.dawn.com/news/1613207, last accessed February 14, 2022.

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Najm Akbar

I have remained focused on the interface of history and policymaking while pursuing graduate studies in history at Fresno State, developing on three years of my education at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (MA 1995, MALD 2011). While teaching Urdu between 2005-2018, or holding diplomatic assignments between 1981-2002, the intersection between these two processes has been the mainspring of my personal, professional and intellectual pursuits. This platform would continue that endeavor.

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