Explaining Pakistan’s strategic limitations

Structural issues facing Islamabad’s national security state

Pakistan adopted a military-centric national security approach to counter external, local, and regional threats to its security during the Cold War period. This approach was successful to some extent as the country was able to achieve a measure of military parity with India during this period. However, the end of the Cold War served to highlight its shortfalls and limitations. This approach has not only failed to achieve its strategic goals but also fuelled chronic internal and external security problems. On the Kashmir front, Pakistan was unable to find a military solution to the Kashmir conflict and its standing over Kashmir weakened at the international level. Moreover, Pakistan lost its position of strategic depth in Afghanistan after the dismissal of the Afghan Taliban regime in Kabul, following the US invasion in 2001.

Insecurity in Pakistan has deepened as a result of the activities of the homegrown militant groups, which the military used as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks. In 2013, Pakistan was ranked in the top 10 least secure countries on the Global Peace Index (GPI), ranking 157 out of 163 countries (Appendix 14). The security situation worsened to such an extent that General Ashfaq Kayani, the then COAS, acknowledged in his policy speech at the Kakul Military Academy, on Pakistan’s independence day in August 2013, that “no state can afford a parallel system or a militant force. The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it” (BBC News, Asia, 14 August 2012). This is an important admission by the military leadership that the internal security threat was greater than that of the external threat from India. The political leadership had already pointed out the danger of the internal security threat from home-grown terrorism. Earlier, in June 2009, President Zardari met with EU officials in Brussels, where he acknowledged that “India no longer poses a military threat to Islamabad, and that his people’s real enemy is terrorism” (Nelson, The Telegraph, South Asia, 24 June 2009).

Under Pakistan’s national security state, however, the country continued with its proxy war against India in Afghanistan and Kashmir in the post-Cold War era. Pakistan has been accused of being a state sponsor of terrorism due to its support of various militant groups such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. As a result, Pakistan has eroded much of its international support over Kashmir as well as being blamed for many of the wrongdoings and failures of NATO forces and the Afghan government in Afghanistan. In this process, Islamabad became more diplomatically isolated, and the strategic diplomatic space has shrunk for the country in the post-Cold War era.

In sum, Pakistan has gone from a country whose leaders were more worried about external security threats at the time of independence to one where internal security threats from home-grown terrorism and blowback from Pakistan’s covert involvement in external conflicts have compounded its security problems. Furthermore, the development of democracy in Pakistan has been impeded by the military's functional dominance over the civilian leadership in questions of national and international security. At the same time, the military has commanded the lion’s share of the Pakistani government’s expenditure, which has left relatively fewer financial resources to address chronic socio-economic problems. As a result, Pakistan has touched the lowest points, both on GPI and Human Development Index (HDI), in the post-Cold War era and was compared with least secure countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan.

 
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