Sunday April 21, 2024

Whither human security?

By Raashid Wali Janjua
July 09, 2017

Human security, as defined by the UN Commission on Human Security, involves the protection of human lives to enhance liberties and ensure fulfillment. The primary referent in human security is the individual as opposed to the state in the case of national security.

The notion of human security has upended the traditional paradigm of national security, which considered external as well as internal threats by aggressive armies, insurgents, terrorists and organised crime to be the strands that weaved the leitmotif of security. The classic notion of national security, as defined by Walter Lippman in 1943, remains relevant even today. As per this definition, “a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war”.

In his book People, States, and Fear, Barry Buzan expands on the realist concept of security that relies on a struggle for power to include multiple dimensions. These elements include individual, economic, environmental, societal, and political security.

However, if considered individually, these dimensions cannot explain the concept of national security. This concept can only be understood by linking these dimensions within a complex web that constitutes Buzan’s national security problem. Out of the five elements of national security, the military, political, and economic dimensions were easily quantifiable while environmental and societal security produced problems of quantification. With the state as the main referent, all elements had to be subordinated to the larger notion of national security. As a result, all threats had to be securitised with reference to the state, even when they were related to individual security.

Human welfare and the public weal gradually emerged as the prime referents of human security that, in many ways, was considered to be superior to national security because a secure populace ensured a secure state. The concept of human security was expanded to include other dimensions by Dr Mahbubul Haq. He introduced the concept of human security in the UN Human Development in 1994 and included new dimensions of political, economic, food, health, environmental, personal and community security as its constituents.

It is ironic that the same country which produced one of the visionaries who introduced the concept of human security has lagged abysmally behind all universally acceptable human security indices. T V Paul writes that Pakistan slowly metamorphosed into a “national security state” owing to its peculiar historical and geographical compulsions. The impact of transforming from a colonial state to a security state was devastating on human security as all dimensions that catered to public weal were securitised. This led to the usurpation of individual freedoms and stunted economic egalitarianism and community welfare. An uneven economic development, as per the Harvard model in the Ayub era, resulted in the concentration of wealth and economic stratification. It also paved the way for the ultimate unravelling of the ‘Pakistan project’ as conceived by Quaid-e-Azam.

The disproportionate allocation of national resources towards conventional national security as originally conceived by Lippman and Buzan led the country into security alliances like Seato and Cento and costly wars with the neighbours in search of military solutions to intractable political problems. The country actually ended up dismembered and economically drained due to this security-centric paradigm. The chickens are now coming home to roost after decades of human security neglect.

What we now have is a polarised society, with vertical and horizontal inequalities being overseen by a dysfunctional state apparatus. What could be the biggest irony for a country where autocrats introduce a local government system only to be dismantled by a democratic government which does not want the power to be shared with people?

The only solution these democrats have for public administration is to revert back to an anachronistic system of district administrations led by DCs. Their predilection to devolve power to unelected DCs is in stark contrast to their reluctance to share power with elected local government officials. The result is a governance vacuum and chaos in cities and towns throughout the country.

A recent manifestation of the government’s dysfunction is the Ahmedpur Sharqia incident where an oil tanker with faulty tyres and brakes was allowed on the roads. There was no system of heavy vehicle inspection. There was no effective policing. There was no awareness among the people who thronged the site to collect oil. It was a manifestation of the state’s failure to educate the people about public safety and maintaining civic sense. It reflected the failure of the disaster management system as no one stepped in to deal with the disaster despite the presence of a slew of national and provincial disaster management departments. It was a scathing indictment of our healthcare system as southern Punjab lacked proper burn units.

The carnage at Ahmedpur Sharqia came on the heels of a series of terrorist attacks in Quetta and Parachinar. The country is effectively in the grips of internal and external violence that is threatening to rip apart the fabric of civic cohesion. Internally, politically-patronised organised crime deliberately seeks to keep the state weak in order to partake in the criminal spoils at the cost of hapless populace.

The pressure on public utilities, housing, and transport infrastructure calls for a human security-centric allocation of national resources and economic egalitarianism that should iron out the rough edges of economic angularities where people have become fed up of the traditional national security narrative.

However, the biggest question is: who would bell the cat of our internal and external woes? With hostile neighbours egging on international and regional terrorists to occupy ungoverned spaces left by a dysfunctional state and an unmanageable population at the mercy of crime syndicates in league with the misruling elite, who will step in to rescue the country? There are no placebo solutions out of this mess. Instead, there are only hard choices. The country is at war and some measures need to be taken on a war footing. These include the reorientation of our national security from a security-centric to human-centric approach.

We also need to recreate our public administration by empowering the local government and depoliticising the bureaucracy and the police. A few out-of-the-box diplomatic solutions – such as peace with India and all Middle Eastern countries – might be de rigueur at this stage. The time for placebos and fence-sitting solutions is over. We must either act now or perish.

The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust. Email: