Examining Pakistan’s National Security Policy: Shifting Priorities Towards Economic Stability

In the inaugural National Security Policy (NSP) unveiled on Friday by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan underscores the paramount need to prevent war and safeguard the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty “at any expense,” employing all facets of national power.

In the inaugural National Security Policy (NSP) unveiled on Friday by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan underscores the paramount need to prevent war and safeguard the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty “at any expense,” employing all facets of national power.

To gain insight into the specifics of the National Security Policy, one must delve into the contents of the document itself. Presumably, it delineates the challenges and opportunities confronting Pakistan, accompanied by proposed strategies and actions designed to address them throughout the stipulated period (2022-2026).

The call for a more nuanced discussion that surpasses debates about the formulation process and focuses on the content and trajectory of the NSP is justified. A thorough analysis of the policy’s actual substance is vital for comprehending its implications for national security, development, and diplomatic relations. Pertinent questions may centre on how the NSP tackles current and emerging threats, fosters regional stability, and contributes to economic and social development.

What is the NSP?

The National Security Policy (NSP) of Pakistan is a comprehensive document spanning 113 pages, with a condensed 48-page version accessible to the public. This strategic framework is designed to guide the nation’s security endeavours for five years. Following this timeframe, a review will be conducted collaboratively by the National Security Adviser and the National Security Committee.

The released 48-page excerpt serves as a window into Pakistan’s overarching national security vision, offering insights into the country’s strategic direction and furnishing a framework for the implementation of national security interests. Essentially, this public version is a distilled representation of the broader NSP, providing citizens with an overview of the government’s approach to safeguarding the nation over the specified five-year span.

Section I: Policy Formulation Process

This section outlines the process through which the national security policy was developed, highlighting the key stakeholders involved and the methodologies used in crafting the document.

Section II: Conceptual Elements of Pakistan’s National Security Framework

This section delves into the foundational principles and conceptual frameworks that underpin Pakistan’s approach to national security.

Section III: National Cohesion

Focuses on preserving the country’s ideology and culture, ensuring unity and stability, and making public service responsive to the needs of citizens. This section addresses the social and cultural dimensions of national security.

Section IV: Economic Security and Emerging Technologies

Explores the economic dimensions of national security, likely addressing challenges and opportunities in economic development and the integration of emerging technologies.

Section V: Defence, Deterrence, Territorial Integrity, and Space & Cyber Security

Provides policy guidelines for defense and deterrence strategies, and territorial integrity, and addresses security concerns related to space and cyber domains.

Section VI: Internal Security

Examines challenges related to internal security, including terrorism, violent sub-nationalisms, extremism, sectarianism, and organized crime. This section likely outlines strategies for countering these threats within the country.

Section VII: Global Realignments, Diplomacy, and Key Relationships

Assesses global geopolitical shifts outlines Pakistan’s key bilateral and multilateral relationships and discusses the overall approach towards diplomacy in response to changing international dynamics.

Section VIII: Population & Migration, Health Security, Climate & Water Security, Food Security, and Gender Security

Focuses on a broad spectrum of security concerns, including population and migration, health security, climate and water security, food security, and gender security. This section likely addresses non-traditional security challenges.

The policy document places the safety, security, and dignity of citizens at its core, emphasizing the protection of Pakistan’s sovereignty through strategies that promote ‘national cohesion and harmony.’ This involves preserving territorial integrity, bolstering economic independence, and upholding the authority of the state. The document advocates for an “inclusive national discourse” rooted in the preservation of Pakistan’s Islamic character, acknowledging the pivotal role of the military in ensuring the unity and integrity of the country.

The inclusion of gender security in the NSP marks a significant milestone in Pakistan’s history, representing a departure from the traditional focus on territorial security. This move acknowledges and addresses structural violence, particularly issues related to gender inequality in workplaces and gender-based violence. These inclusions signify notable successes for a country that has historically defined national security predominantly in terms of territorial defence, and confronting internal and external threats.

The overarching objective is to establish a ‘Comprehensive National Security’ framework that addresses both traditional and non-traditional security threats under a unified doctrine. The ultimate aim is to guarantee the well-being, security, dignity, and prosperity of the people of Pakistan.

India-Pak Territorial Dispute

The fifth section of the NSP delves into various security aspects, including conventional military threats, maritime competition, deterrence in the South Asian region, and space and cyber security issues. It emphasizes the increasing role of military and law enforcement agencies in safeguarding the defence and territorial integrity of Pakistan.

Notably, the focal point of this section is India, with the document mentioning India 14 times. While there is one positive reference expressing a desire to improve relations with India, the majority of mentions adopt a negative tone. The document expresses concerns about alleged ceasefire violations by India and suggests a shift in attention towards the Line of Control and the Working Boundary.

In terms of maritime security, the document, without explicitly naming any country, critiques the self-proclaimed role of any single nation as a net security provider in the wider Indian Ocean. The expansion of India’s triad and investment in modern technologies is viewed as unsettling the regional balance.

The policy document, without explicitly naming India or Afghanistan, notes the rising prospects of violent conflict due to what it labels as a “regressive and dangerous ideology” in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood. The document does not rule out the possibility of the adversary using force as a deliberate policy choice and reaffirms the commitment to defending the territory in response to any such misadventure. I

In this scenario, there is an emphasis on strengthening Pakistan’s capabilities, including the deterrence regime and making strategic investments in the modernization of the armed forces.

This section of the NSP underscores the geopolitical challenges faced by Pakistan, particularly in its relations with India, and emphasizes the need for a robust defence strategy, including deterrence capabilities and modernization efforts in response to perceived threats in the region.

Foreign Policy and Kashmir

The section on foreign policy in the National Security Policy (NSP) acknowledges the dynamic nature of the geopolitical landscape, emphasizing the need for Pakistan to adopt a flexible approach in a world marked by great power competition and evolving partnerships. The document advocates for leveraging political relations to achieve economic gains, recognizing Pakistan’s geo-economic location as a hub for regional and global economic interests. However, this is contingent upon Pakistan proving itself as a responsible state.

The NSP outlines Pakistan’s willingness to foster mutually beneficial relationships with major powers and its commitment to the normalization of relations with neighbours, including India. Despite expressing a desire for normalization, the document raises the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, attributing frozen bilateral ties to India’s alleged “hegemonic designs.”

It underscores the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as a vital national security interest for Pakistan and affirms continued support for the people of Kashmir until they achieve the right to self-determination. The document also expresses concerns about India’s arms build-up and access to advanced technologies, particularly its inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) despite not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Pakistan’s Adaptation to Modern Threats

The NSP is forthright in acknowledging the present and future threats facing Pakistan in its regional context. Notably, it introduces a comprehensive approach to national defence by explicitly recognizing five domains of war: land, air, sea, cyber, and space. This inclusion reflects an awareness of the evolving nature of warfare, particularly the challenges posed by cross-domain coercion, including information-based cyber attacks.

The NSP underscores the importance of indigenization in Pakistan’s defence production and the modernization of its armed forces, responding to the evolving threat spectrum, particularly from India. The document points to the influence of militarized Hindutva ideology in India and its potential impact on regional security. There is a specific focus on considering the Indian Ocean region as a contested space and safeguarding Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The NSP emphasizes the need to protect freedom of navigation, strengthen sea lines of communication, and enhance surveillance capabilities to counter multi-directional challenges, including cyber intrusions, to maritime security.

Regarding India’s nuclear and conventional modernization efforts, the NSP reiterates Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining full spectrum deterrence to uphold the strategic balance in the region. Given India’s investments in disruptive technologies, the NSP highlights the imperative for Pakistan to enhance its cybersecurity infrastructure, securing networks to minimize cyber intrusion and surveillance.

The policy also addresses the concept of hybrid warfare, emphasizing the necessity for a whole-of-nation approach to neutralize threats. It references India’s alleged attempts to undermine Pakistan’s security and stability, highlighting the significance of countering such threats through collaborative efforts.

Notes on Economy

The drafting team, led by National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf, brings an academic perspective to the traditionally military-dominated security establishment in Pakistan. Emphasizing economic revival as a top priority, Dr Yusuf acknowledges the imperative to bridge the gap between national aspirations and practical realities. While economic reforms take a central role in the vision statement, the NSP consistently underscores that the geo-economic vision complements the focus on geo-strategy. This signals a shift in prioritizing economic stabilization to address the country’s deteriorating fiscal situation without compromising broader strategic and security goals.

The NSP maintains a core focus on Pakistan’s geographical location, describing it as a nexus of historic convergence and regional hotspots, presenting unique opportunities amid global power competition. This implies a continuation of Pakistan’s pragmatic policies, leveraging regional fault lines and engaging in great power politics.

To tackle long-standing economic challenges, the NSP advocates for microeconomic stability, with a particular emphasis on implementing the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This phase, recently inaugurated during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing, envisions an agricultural “revolution” and the establishment of more special economic zones across the country.

The plan includes improving connectivity to the North and West while attributing challenges in Eastward connectivity projects to India. The NSP positions India as a hindrance to Pakistan’s economic ties in the East, leading to discussions within Pakistan’s policy circles about potentially delinking economic relations with India from broader strategic issues.

As Pakistan faces economic isolation within South and Central Asia, along with minimal regional trade, the NSP reflects an opportunistic approach to navigating these economic challenges.

Domestic and Homeland Security

The internal security section of the National Security Policy (NSP) addresses critical challenges to the state’s authority in Pakistan, including sub-nationalist movements, sectarianism, and terrorism. The primary policy objective outlined in this section is to prevent the emergence of alternative centres of power and ensure the state’s writ across all regions of the country.

While the document timely recognizes the destabilizing impact of terrorism on state stability and national harmony, the proposed solutions are criticized as lacking depth and effectiveness. The NSP aims to tackle grievances by addressing structural deficiencies and a sense of deprivation in recruitment areas, coupled with the promotion of a “pluralistic anti-terror narrative.” However, the document downplays the challenge of sub-national movements, dismissing them as “fringe” elements exploited by “hostile intelligence agencies.” Socio-economic disparity is identified as a contributing factor to sub-national aspirations, and the NSP outlines a four-pronged strategy: distinguishing reconcilables from irreconcilables, cutting off recruitment, constricting financial sources, and implementing targeted socio-economic policies.

In dealing with violent extremist ideologies, the document advocates for promoting a “united narrative” and expanding de-radicalization programs. However, mainstreaming individuals who have been ideologically steeped in extremism for an extended period poses a significant challenge. The NSP recognizes the complexity of this task, acknowledging the difficulty in integrating individuals who have been trained under extremist ideologies for decades.


The public debate in Pakistan surrounding the National Security Policy (NSP) conveys the inherent tension between the executive branch’s authority to formulate policies and the desire for inclusivity and consensus-building in decision-making processes. It’s not uncommon for national security policies to be a subject of intense scrutiny and discussion due to their far-reaching implications on the country’s security, development, and international relations.

The criticism regarding the perceived lack of inclusivity in the formulation process underscores the importance of engaging a diverse range of stakeholders in shaping policies, especially those with broad implications for the nation. While the executive branch may have the legal authority to create policies without mandatory consensus, the inclusion of various perspectives can enhance the robustness and effectiveness of the policy. Inclusive processes can ensure that a broader array of concerns and insights are considered, potentially leading to more comprehensive and well-rounded policies.

It’s worth noting that the distinction between policies and laws is crucial. Policies provide a framework for government actions and decisions but do not have the same binding force as laws. However, the impact of policies on the country’s direction and governance cannot be understated. Even though policies may not be legally binding, they often guide the government’s actions and set the tone for its priorities.

In summary, while the NSP acknowledges the multifaceted nature of internal security challenges, including terrorism and sub-national movements, concerns arise about the efficacy of the proposed solutions. The document emphasizes addressing socio-economic disparities and promoting a unified narrative but faces scepticism regarding the feasibility of mainstreaming individuals with deep-rooted extremist ideologies.