How to evolve a strategic mind?

Strategic mind reflects culture of country where priority is given to education, research, innovation, human security

Dr Moonis Ahmar June 06, 2021
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and can be reached at

No nation can progress unless it is equipped with a strategic mind capable of effectively dealing with crises and conflicts and geared towards seeking excellence in economic, human and social development. What is a strategic mind and how can it evolve in a society which is underdeveloped and socially backward? Why is there a dearth of strategic minds in Pakistan and how can the country strive for a strategic thought process which is clear, coherent, consistent and courageous, and can focus on dealing with issues which are critical in nature?

Strategic mind reflects culture of a country where priority is given to education, research, innovation, human security and vision for achieving good governance, rule of law and a quality life for citizens. If the leadership is honest, competent, clear-headed and focused, and believes in the ownership of resources, its decisions also reflect a strategic mindset.

There is a dearth of strategic minds in Pakistan because those at the helm of affairs lack competence, clarity, consistency, integrity, vision and courage to turn things around and pull the country from the vicious cycle of poverty, under-development, bad governance and ill-management of external relations. Some of the requisites for shaping a strategic mindset are: adequate knowledge of issues, clarity, creativity, coherence, consistency, courage, time management, risk taking and pragmatic thinking. Unfortunately, in 73 years of Pakistan’s history, national debacles like the Operation Gibraltar fiasco of 1965, the East Pakistan crisis and emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, involvement in the US-led Afghan war 1980-88, the Kargil crisis in 1999, Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2009, and India’s annexation of Jammu & Kashmir on August 5, 2019 were primarily the result of a lack of strategic mindset, statesmanship and tactical thinking. Domestic issues ranging from the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, military takeover in October 1958, failure of political parties to strengthen democracy, imposition of martial law in 1969, 1977 and 1999, worsening economy, bad governance, absence of rule of law as well as surge in religious extremism, militancy, violence and terrorism also reflect the absence of a strategic mindset and thought process.

What’s mentioned above proves that if there had been a leadership excelling in tact, wisdom, clarity, courage, integrity, innovation and vision, Pakistan would not have faced back-to-back national tragedies. Leadership qualities apart, people should also be educated, prudent and honest, and possess the qualities of intelligence, tactfulness, courage and good education.

Pakistan’s dilemma is four-fold when it comes to evolving a strategic mind.

First, feudal and tribal culture has not been eradicated — something which precludes efforts for inculcating enlightenment, innovation, intelligence, adherence to merit, quest for knowledge and wisdom. When the culture of over 220 million people of Pakistan is devoid of a forward-looking approach, wisdom, intelligence, integrity and pragmatism, it is impossible to evolve a strategic mind. When more than 25 million children are out of school and a majority of those who are enrolled at primary and secondary levels are not trained in terms of developing analytical approach and critical thinking how can one expect the country to evolve a culture where strategic mindset could prevail?

A society which is educated, enlightened, wise and follows work ethics of integrity, hard work, merit, intelligence, perseverance, planning and time management, its leadership cannot be incompetent, dishonest and unwise. Strategic mind is a reflection of strategic culture where shrewdness, tact, vision and intelligence shape decision-making on the various issues. Non-serious and irresponsible approach in a crisis situation, reflected in Pakistan since its inception, caused irreparable damage to the country’s national interests and security. Had that not been the case, Pakistan would not have lost East Pakistan, Kargil and Siachen; and India would not have dared cross the red line and annex Jammu & Kashmir two years ago. If the leadership thinks strategically and is equipped with enough wisdom, tact, courage, clarity and consistency, it cannot be harmed by its adversary. Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments failed to redeem a crisis situation which led the enemy to strike again and again. A strategic mind, before venturing into any adventure like Operation Gibraltar and Kargil, should have thought several times about the reaction from the other side. On both occasions, Pakistan suffered setbacks and humiliations because early warnings about negative ramifications of such misadventures were overlooked.

Second, the gap in perception and reality also led to strategic debacles. If the perception is devoid of wisdom and reality, the outcome is bound to be disastrous. Supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan till 9/11 reflected strategic imprudence on the part of the successive Pakistani regimes that failed to redeem the consequences of siding with those who were to be attacked by the US and its allies on allegations of hosting Al-Qaeda. Also, it was the gap in perception and reality which led to a serious economic crisis in Pakistan when the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the freezing of foreign current accounts in the wake of the nuclear tests of May 28, 1998. The perception which prevailed in the policymaking circles of Pakistan that people will accept that decision proved to be wrong as it led to a serious credibility crisis because the foreign currency account holders criticised the government for eroding their trust. Foreign currency accounts worth $14 billion were frozen because the government feared the flight of capital from the country due to possible sanctions by the West. The government breached the trust of account holders by spending their money to an extent that hardly $800 million were left.

Third, the culture of strategic mindset in Pakistan failed to evolve because no lessons were learned from the blunders of the past mentioned above, besides ‘Operation Gerimino’ of May 2, 2011 when US navy seals breached the sovereignty of Pakistan and killed global terrorist Osama bin Landen who was recovered from a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad. When the strategic thinking is devoid of prudence and rationality, the country continues to face such fiascos, also jeopardising national security.

Finally, strategic mindset cannot evolve unless there are institutions that focus on purposeful and meaningful study and research in the field of strategic studies so as to train a generation of strategic thinkers. Ironically, the Department of Strategic Studies is not to be found outside the capital city of Islamabad. Even those who graduate from departments of Strategic Studies in Quaid-e-Azam University and National Defense University, Islamabad or elsewhere are not enough in numbers to meet the demand of strategic thinkers shaping the policies in the realm of national security, economy and defence. Political leaders, like their state counterparts, also lack strategic mind and mainly focus on the dynamics of seeking power by manipulative means. Lack of professionalism, political wisdom, clarity and vision shaping the mindset of the majority of political parties and their leaders cannot be overlooked.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2021.

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