The Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD), recently held in the federal capital, successfully projected Pakistan’s “new strategic direction based on a comprehensive security framework” encompassing regional connectivity and development partnerships across the region. The conclave was important for charting a new path for the realization of Pakistan’s regional and global aspirations for peace and development.
The main message from the Islamabad conference was that Pakistan has moved on from the traditional notion of “national security”, based on conventional and nuclear fire-power, and embraced a more comprehensive – and modern – idea of security comprising economic progress, technological advancement, regional connectivity, knowledge sharing and political stability.
Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa articulated the new concept of national security in these words, “The contemporary concept of national security is not only about protecting a country from internal and external threats but also providing a conducive environment in which aspirations of human security, national progress and development could be realised.”
In a globalized world marked by fast-paced technological and socio-economic changes, national security is no longer an exclusive domain of the armed forces. National security in the age of globalisation, information and connectivity is premised on a nuanced interplay of a variety of internal and external factors, including internal peace, stability and developmental orientation as well as global and regional environments.
The Islamabad moot raised Pakistan’s national security discourse to a new level which is in line with the demands of the twenty-first century. The new security narrative, which is inclusive in its scope and thrust, is aimed at ensuring lasting peace within and outside, non-interference in the internal affairs of neighboring countries and promoting intra-regional trade and connectivity for the benefit of all.
The element of economic connectivity in the region is pivotal to Pakistan’s new security doctrine. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the core of Pakistan’s economic growth plans, and it is now looking to connect the project to Central and Western Asia as an energy and trade corridor connecting the entire region. The expansion of the CPEC to the West will also energize the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade, besides opening new windows of opportunity in the Further West.
Pakistan’s new security doctrine, based on the notion of a comprehensive regional economic growth strategy, should be helpful in changing its image in the outside world – from that of a terror-stricken country to one planning to transform itself into a hub of economic activities and an engine of growth for the whole region.
Pakistan’s new security doctrine has come at an opportune time. It should persuade the big powers, especially the US, to realign their perspectives with regard to the issues of peace and security in South Asia and surrounding regions. The aggressive Hindu nationalist BJP government, which has been trying to push on with its expansionist designs in the region with the illegal annexation of occupied Kashmir, first suffered a serious setback at the hands of China in Ladakh and then was rebuffed by Nepal when it encroached upon the latter’s border territory. India’s relations with Sri Lanka too are going through a rocky phase. It is also no secret that New Delhi has left no stone unturned to keep the pot boiling in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan has chosen the path of peace, reconciliation and good neighborliness as evidenced by its positive role in furthering the peace process in Afghanistan and reaching out to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in a bid to make South Asia a zone of stability and prosperity for all. Over the last two years, the prime minister of Pakistan has offered a hand of friendship to India several times but to little success. Pakistan is all for turning the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) into a vehicle for regional cooperation for growth but New Delhi has remained unresponsive.
Islamabad wants to be no part of the US-China rivalry for global supremacy. While maintaining and building its good neighborly ties with China, it has constantly strived to nurture a working relationship with Washington. By contrast, New Delhi has become a close ally of America in support of its China-containment policy. To this end, India has joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad), which includes Australia, Japan and the United States. Pushing its global agenda, India has portrayed itself as a counterweight to China in the region.
By adopting a new security paradigm, Pakistan has broadcast its message to the world loud and clear that it wishes to be no part of the New Cold War heating up in the Indo-Pacific region. The CPEC is a game-changer for Pakistan and it wants a regime of peace and stability in the region to pursue its plans of economic transformation undisturbed. As articulated time and again by its leadership, Pakistan is also in favour of widening the scope of the CPEC to include neighbouring countries. Such a development will be a win-win situation for all and usher in a new era of peace and cooperative development for all regional states.
This is the vision projected by the Islamabad Security Dialogue.