Seeing beyond perceptions
Air Cdre Khalid Iqbal (R)
A mini Pakistan assembled at the National Defence University to conceptualize the contours of ‘Comprehensive National Security’. Participants of this five week intellectual activity were drawn from all parts of Pakistan; they represented all walks of life. A mix of over 50 parliamentarians, civil and military bureaucrats, advocates, technocrats, media men, prominent members of civil society and politicians interacted mutually with a resole to ‘Seeing Beyond Perceptions’. This select group cut across all ethnic, sectarian, social, gender and political strata. All federating units and even political parties not having seats in sitting assemblies were represented.
In the beginning it was a rowdy crowd, trapped in the shells of respective identities and perceptions engraved in stone. Learning process began with the exposure of participants to experts of all contributory fields of national security. Each discourse was followed by discussions in an environment that afforded complete freedom of expression. Participants spoke their heart out, at times breaching the limits of logic. Academic part was followed by visits to the three services headquarters, military industrial complex and provincial capitals. Hopping the air force planes, army aviation rotary aircraft, naval ships and submarines was an intriguing exposure. Joy ride of indigenously built tanks, APCs and planes infused a wave of confidence. At Services headquarters, workshop participants questioned the senior military leadership about their spending procedures, adequacy of ability to respond to the threats in the context of Abbotabad and Salalah attacks. Discussion about turbulent civil-military relations, especially in reference to Abbottabad attack and memo-gate were indeed lively interactions. Lack of inter-services coordination in the context of attack on Naval Base Mehran was also thrashed thread bare. High mark of this activity was an event when a politician mother and her son, a serving senior general, confronted each other on sticky issues impacting national security. At provincial headquarters, interactions with the governments broadened the horizon about the way our governments function, as well as the way these should function.
Marathon spree of visits was followed by group exercise ‘Qaumi Salamti’, encompassing evolving of ‘National Purpose’ , recasting of vital interests and formulation of strategy to tackle all major issues besetting our state, government and the society at large.
Somewhere midway the workshop crowd started transitioning into a team. Prejudices gave way to tolerance, unruly bunch became a decent team with collective approach and due regard to difference of opinion. Logic began to prevail; emotional outbursts gave way to candid debate and discussion. Going by the collective wisdom became a norm. It was indeed cathartic experience. Final conclusions of Exercise ‘Qaumi Salamti’ were prudent and interesting.
Paradoxically, a significant portion of threat to Pakistan emanates from the space that lies between the boundaries of national defence domain and the outer parameters of national security. This, however, does not mean that there is no significant military threat; furthermore, difficulties residing in the areas beyond the traditional defence domain are coming back in circles to further accentuate the military component of threat.
Major concerns to our national security radiate from: international isolation, poor governance, shaky economy, lack of control over non-state actors, an aura of insecurity amongst the general public, no-go areas in the context of imposition of state’s writ, penetration of foreign influence in our domestic media, lack of our outreach to international media, ability of foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate into our socio-political fabric etc. Ambiguities as to whose war are we fighting have resulted in a huge perceptional gap between the national policy (both political and military) and public opinion. This dichotomy has the potential of tearing apart the fabric of the state. This gap is being filled by the hostile states, both regional and extra regional, to create fissures and promote separatist trends.
From military perspective, the biggest challenge is to restore public confidence in the ability of the armed forces to provide security to the people in the wake of external threat. Abbottabad and Salalah incidents have eroded this confidence. Next challenge is to secure our strategic assets against a false flag operation by extra regional forces.
Though superior judiciary functions with moral ascendancy, its vital component, the bar, is yet to learn the ropes. For example some prominent defence lawyers in the memo-gate trial are resorting to sensationalize an issue of vital importance to pressurize the state institutions including the superior judiciary.
Our electronic media is yet to attain maturity, it continues to be speculative. It has failed to evolve a robust mechanism of self accountability. A section of electronic media has a tendency to breach the legitimate limits of media freedom and enter the domain of media terrorism. Some of the channels have foreign funding and hence they speak ‘His Master’s Voice’. Some anchors are entrenched moles; at appointed time, they twist the perspective of critical issues to suit the interests of those who make them under the table payments. Once again coverage of memo-gate in some of the talk shows is indicative of the monetary linkages of some of the channels and anchors. There is a need to appoint a Media Ombudsman to afford relief to the victims of media terrorism and scrutinize the funding sources. Moreover, our insignificant outreach to international print, electronic and social media is a major weakness, impacting on national security. Due to this limitation, it not possible to correct the distortions created by the international media, with impunity. Even the ability to exercise the right of reply is insignificant.
Maligning of our national institutions is being done as a campaign. Concerted effort is on to create rupture between the civilian and military components of national leadership with an objective to tarnish the image of state and paralyze the government. Army and ISI are special targets of vested interests aimed at demoralizing the troops as well as the public at large.
Pakistan is not a source scarce state; most of its vows emanate from poor governance. Economy can be re-railed by tapping natural resources, improving ‘Human Development Indicators’ and making a transition from traditional to knowledge economy.
Unrest in Baluchistan can be overcome through a dual strategy of mobilizing patriot Baluch leaders and ending the appeasement of trouble makers. Menace of mine laying by miscreants, especially in Bugti area, needs immediate attention.
Silver lining of the workshop was that Pakistan has a bright future. Challenges that we face today are of transient nature and can be overcome through national resolve and by following an approach of comprehensive national security.
Being amongst the participants of the workshop, I would be failing in my assessment if I do not acknowledge the effort that went into planning and execution of the workshop. All events were meticulously planned and executed with clock precision. Faculty restricted itself to providing enabling environment, thus allowing the participants a conducive setting for self learning and self appraisal. Hopefully, the workshop would significantly contribute towards dispelling negative perceptions about our state institutions, both civilian and military and towards cultivating sustained cordiality in Civil-Military relations.