On Friday, the release of Pakistan’s first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) should have been a pleasant surprise for Indian observers. That neighbouring country plans to prioritise a raft of socio-economic, financial, and governing reforms to bolster its geo-economic goal of advancing regional connectivity projects. These ambitions contrast with what some might have expected to have either been a purely traditional approach to security or one that’s supposedly obsessed with India.
Many Indian observers were sceptical after Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Chief Of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa jointly unveiled their country’s geo-economic grand strategy during last March’s inaugural Islamabad Security Dialogue. The prevailing opinion in India was that Pakistan wasn’t truly serious about transitioning from geopolitics to geo-economics. The newly published NSP should put all those doubts to rest.
The 62-page document deserves to be read in full by all interested observers. However, it can be summarised as the syncretism of economic, traditional, and human security into a completely new paradigm for enabling the government to fulfil its vision of becoming an Islamic welfare state. This comprehensive national security concept is extremely flexible and focuses mainly on internal reforms aimed at sustainably stabilising the country and ensuring its people’s long-term prosperity.
There are, of course, some passages about India, including some critical ones and reaffirmations of Pakistan’s stance towards the Kashmir Conflict, but those were to be expected. They do not, however, form the fundamental basis of its NSP. The authors also twice mentioned that they have no plans to become embroiled in an arms race. The focus is almost exclusively on the earlier mentioned cross-sectoral reforms and geo-economic connectivity projects.
The document declares that Pakistan “envisions itself as a melting pot of global economic interests offering economic bases to partner countries for development partnerships”. It reaffirms that the country “does not subscribe to ‘camp politics’” either. The takeaway from these two crucial passages is that Pakistan aspires to actively multi-align between the most important international actors in the increasingly bi-multipolar world order. Geo-economics, not geopolitics, will be the driving force.
Quite clearly, the Pakistani Establishment’s perceptions of national and regional security are veritably changing, which should attract the attention of all interested Indian observers. This is especially the case concerning what was written about the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia. It’s proclaimed that “Pakistan’s geo-economic pivot is focused on enhancing trade and economic ties through connectivity that links Central Asia to our warm waters.”
In that same paragraph, the authors write that “Pakistan is committed to reimagining its partnership with Russia in energy, defence cooperation, and investment. The relationship is already witnessing a positive trajectory, and Pakistan will continue to strive to maximise mutual gains.” Although not stated, the vehicle for achieving both is February 2021’s agreement to build a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway, which Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov implied interest in later that summer.
Russia’s “Greater Eurasian Partnership” (GEP) envisions the Kremlin to achieve mutually beneficial relations with all of the supercontinent’s many actors, especially former rivals like Pakistan. The end to which it aims is to sustainably balance all sides’ interests, principally through economic means, to deter any party from unilaterally disrupting the state of affairs due to the shared costs that they’d also experience. In other words, it’s a variation of the Neo-Liberal paradigm of International Relations.
This complements Pakistan’s geo-economically driven NSP and the driving motivations behind China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which aspires to create what it describes as a community of common destiny for basically achieving the same structural outcome. The convergence between the Russian, Pakistani, and Chinese grand strategies – which physically merge in Central Asia — will powerfully reverberate throughout Eurasia. This actually presents some opportunities for India, though.
First, Pakistan’s geo-economic grand strategy is predicated on improving its people’s living standards and developing its continually struggling economy. The stabler its internal situation becomes, the more predictable of a partner it’ll be, as is the norm for any country and isn’t exclusive to Pakistan. This is in India’s interests, the broader region’s, and the entire world’s. Everyone wins when people are lifted out of poverty, and their country eventually stabilises as a result. There’s no zero-sum game.
Second, Russia has the potential to play a much more significant economic, financial, and investment role in Pakistan in the coming future if the Kremlin has the will to do so. Their converging grand strategies raise optimism about this prediction, but both sides need to finalise the Establishment of joint financial infrastructure to facilitate this. A greater Russian geo-economic role in Pakistan could enhance its partner’s balancing capabilities and reduce perceived dependence on China.
Third, if Pakistan has decided to embark on this ambitious path of far-reaching reforms and regional connectivity, it’s in India’s interests that it does so in as close of coordination as possible with Russia than with China or the US. The first is India’s rival, while the second, despite being a newfound military-strategic partner, isn’t trusted after recently disrespecting the South Asian state across the past 18 months in a variety of ways beyond the scope of this present piece to detail.
Fourth, Russia’s potentially expanded geo-economic role in implementing Pakistan’s NSP aligns with the Eurasian Great Power’s return to South Asia in recent years. Unlike during the Old Cold War, Russia isn’t siding with any party against the other but aspires to work equally, though India always remains its special and privileged strategic partner. India trusts that Russia will use its new regional influence to help all parties balance between the New Cold War’s US and Chinese superpowers.
And fifth, the aforesaid policy could be tangibly practised in the coming future if Russia helps Pakistan revive the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) “in an equitable manner” like the latter’s NSP says that Islamabad remains committed to doing. Moscow isn’t interested in getting embroiled in both sides’ blame game over that bloc’s dysfunction in recent years but could encourage its revival to bolster its members’ balancing capabilities in the bi-multipolar world order.
The most important takeaway from all of this for Indian observers is that the Pakistani Establishment is truly revolutionising its perception of national and regional security, as evidenced by the plethora of details to this effect contained within its first-ever NSP. That country’s ambitious reforms and regional connectivity plans, particularly PAKAFUZ and the stated desire to reimagine relations with Russia, will contribute to regional stability upon their implementation and should therefore be supported.