The concept of “national interest” is one of the most important in domestic and international politics but in Pakistan it has always been used to promote the interest of powerful groups, resultantly after 73 years of the country’s independence the real interest of the people could never be served leaving entire society in conflict and crisis.
Although “national interest” is the most important concept in the context of a state’s existence and a government’s functioning yet in Pakistan successive governments and rulers have always ignored it. This is despite the fact that all governments, including military regimes, have always argued that the justification for their coming to power has been driven by serving national interest.
National interest is the most important concept in domestic and international politics but simultaneously it is the most elusive or hard to comprehend. This is because of the fact that the concept is abstract in nature and everyone has its own definition and explanation. Ideally, national interest shall reflect the interest of the most or at least the majority of the people and groups living within society. The government of the time must observe and articulate national interest and then formulate policies and strategies to realize that national interest. It is important to note that only a democratically and popularly elected government could genuinely observe, decipher and articulate national interest. Keeping this in view, if we look into the history of successive governments of Pakistan, then most of them could not do so. Resultantly, most of society remained underdeveloped and insecure in all respects. On the practical side, national interest of many states is defined and determined by the powerful group(s) of society. In this respect, we have the example of big corporations as well as Jewish lobbies in the United States. In Pakistan, the security establishment has been the sole determiner of national interest. If powerful groups in any state or society define and determine national interest its objectives can never be people-friendly. Powerful groups always have their organizational and institutional interests. The interests can never supplant the real national interest. The situation could be explained in another way. When powerful groups in a society have control over the determination of national interest, they often abuse or misuse the concept to serve their respective interests instead of the interest of the majority of the people living in the state.
Realistically speaking, national interest is the admixture of interest of the majority of the people and interest of the powerful groups of society. In developed and democratic countries, national interest is defined and determined in terms of interest of the majority of the people and the powerful groups of society. However, in underdeveloped countries, like Pakistan, national interest is practically and solely determined by powerful groups. Regarding the definition and determination of national interest, it may be good that it includes the interest of the majority of the people as well as the powerful groups.
The national interest also has a very important aspect and that is the principles of the concept. Insofar as the principles of national interest are concerned they mainly include national integrity, security and stability of the state and society, development of the state and society and welfare of the people. There can be no two opinions that these are the fundamental principles as well as objectives of national interest. It is interesting to note that all governments, including democratically and popularly elected governments as well as powerful groups, agree that national integrity, security and stability of the state and society, development of the state and society and welfare of the people are the key dynamics and principles of the national interest. Therefore, one can often hear most government bigwigs explaining national interest in these terms. However, it is the policies to pursue national interest that matter more than the principles. The policies to attain national interest must be framed in the light of the principles of the concept. However, in countries, like Pakistan, it is seldom the case. For a political analyst, it is important to look into the compatibility between the principles and policies of national interest. If, for instance, the security and stability is the key principle of national interest, then successive governments of a state must have pursued policies, like improving relations with all neighbouring countries and most important powers of the time to ensure security within the state. On the other hand, if development is the key principle of national interest, then the policies of successive or any single government could be gauged on the basis of policies, like maintaining high levels of GDP growth, increasing exports, importing latest technology, sending a large number of its people to developed countries to get latest education. In this context, it is easy to understand that successive governments in Pakistan could not pursue policies which could ensure the development of the state and its citizens. This is because most governments either pursued institutional, family or party interests instead of national interest defined in terms of interests of the majority of the people.
Regarding national interest, there are three main approaches that who must determine it. According to one approach, national interest must be defined and determined by the elected governments. There is some logic in that because people generally have little understanding of national interest and its articulation. Therefore, it is better that a popularly elected government must define and determine national interest as after all the government comprises representatives of the majority of the people. According to the second approach, the people must themselves define and articulate national interest. This may be possible in the highly developed countries of North America and Western Europe but not in countries, like Pakistan, where most people are illiterate or politically uneducated. The third approach regarding the determination of national interest is that it is the intelligentsia of the country and society must define and determine it. The intelligentsia includes university teachers, journalists, authors, researchers and those working in think tanks. Ideally, intelligentsia is the most important source of determination of national interest. In Pakistan, if we look into the nature of the intelligentsia, then it generally transpires that most of the members of the group either lack the qualification and knowledge to come up with explanations of key concepts, their indicators and determinants. Most of these are pseudo-intellectuals, who have got the jobs or enter into the field through corrupt practices.