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Our foreign policy quagmire

So what has gone wrong? There we were patting ourselves on the back for successfully brokering talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban when the talks stood cancelled and the Afghan government turned on Pakistan. Again, there we were thinking we had salvaged Ufa’s diplomatic disaster and Sartaj Aziz would make it to New Delhi for the talks on terrorism when India sabotaged the talks by laying the APHC ban and the government in Pakistan came under heavy attack on the Ufa declaration yet again.

Meanwhile on the sidelines, great preparations for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) were going full steam ahead when India once again managed to instigate a successful sabotage of the event.

Pakistan has two major failings in the domain of foreign policy: One, we rarely seem to see the larger and more long-term picture (when we do it does stand us in good stead); and, two, we create precedence after precedence all of which come to haunt us at critical junctures.

We have been doing this since our disastrous adventure into Cento and Seato – which upset the nationalist Arab World, China and the emerging non-aligned states and won us no kudos from the US and its western allies. In fact, after the Sino-Indian conflict, India despite its closeness to the Soviet Union and its leadership role in the non-aligned movement (NAM), was getting more economic and military assistance from the US than Pakistan despite our membership of Cento and Seato! But history has never been our strong point as reflected in our constant rewriting of ‘history’ for our children!

So coming to the present, two events have once again reflected this dilemma in the foreign policy domain: the cancellation of the CPC, followed by the cancellation of the Pakistan-India National Security Advisers meeting in New Delhi. The scale of relevancy of the two events is of course entirely different but there is a pattern in our behaviour that links the two events.

ZAB’s decision to exit the Commonwealth, a colonial institutional hangover where the British Queen remains the head, defined a brief period where Pakistan was moving into evolving an independent structure within the foreign policy domain, but our retraction through pleading to get back in, revealed the lack of any long-term core foreign policy guiding principles. More disturbing, we take decisions that are not carefully thought out and which come to haunt us and weaken our foreign policy credibility.

In 2007, the Senate under Mohammad Mian Soomro allowed representatives from Occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature to attend the Commonwealth parliamentary association Asia-India region moot in Islamabad and that came to haunt and undermine our principled position on Kashmir and eventually compelled us to cancel the CPC under pressure from India, Bangladesh and Australia.

Even more critical has been the absurd drama over the dialogue with India, which began at Ufa, where a bizarre joint statement came into being in which the composite dialogue was abandoned and Pakistan accepted Indian diktat seeking the holding of a meeting of the national security advisers of Pakistan and India to discuss all issues relating to terrorism but with the word ‘Kashmir’ missing.

Absurdly, the joint declaration also mentioned micro details of the Mumbai issue to be discussed but nothing of RAW’s activities in Balochistan, Karachi and other parts of Pakistan! Of course such a lopsided joint declaration was bound to create major ripples in Pakistan and that is exactly what happened. So the groping-for-a-way-out PML-N government found a ready pretext to cancel the NSA meeting when the Modi government, either rather foolishly or out of an overdose of arrogance, insisted Sartaj Aziz could not meet the APHC leaders when he arrived in New Delhi for the NSA talks.

However, this hard posturing by India on the APHC meeting the Pakistani NSA was simply the result of a costly precedence set by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he became the first Pakistani leader who did not meet the APHC on his visit to India. So we land ourselves in these situations because we do not think of the repercussions of our actions in the long term.

Because we do not do any long-term policy analysis with proper discussion on unexpected fallouts of various policy options, we also seem unable to connect events to see the larger picture. Presently, we have seen the following simultaneous developments: Progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); the US first stating it would not pay CSF beyond 2015 and then declaring it was stopping CSF payments under the old hackneyed mantra of ‘do more’; Afghan rapprochement altering into outright Afghan hostility culminating in an attack on our border post; the cancellation of the CPC; the cancellation of the NSA talks. We need to connect these dots to understand the environment in which we must make our decisions.

Can we not see the bigger picture of a hostile US which has already destroyed the strong Arab states of the Middle East – we should really ask why the IS never mentions Israel – and has questionable designs in this region? Are we deliberately ignoring the strategic partnership, including on missile defence, between India and the US, which has also allowed India to gain ground and influence in Afghanistan?

Finally, just to see beyond our immediate region, we need to also pay greater attention to the resurgence of Japan as a military power. The Abe government is getting legislation through which will allow Japan to use its military force in support of allies overseas even if Japan itself is not under attack. This is a major shift in Japanese policy and comes at a time when not only is the Sino-Japanese territorial conflict becoming more accentuated, but when the US is challenging China in the South China Sea.

Pakistan has to realign its policies in the light of these global and regional alignments that are being created. For instance, the CPEC is a strategic goal but it will be subject to increasing pressures from external players strongly opposed to this project because it extends China’s reach into West Asia and beyond. We have to rethink our relations with our Arab neighbours, especially with the IS threat that is being extended across West Asia into our region. We cannot simply be the supplier of mercenary forces to protect monarchies.

Most critically, we have to have a rational approach to both Afghanistan and India – that is not strewn either with unrealistic euphoria or sudden despair, both of which lead to erratic behaviour premised on short-term gains which normally tend to translate into long-term losses.

With India, especially, we should not be in a hurry for rapprochement. Let the Modi government take a long, hard look at its negative policies and their regional repercussions. Meanwhile we should evolve a clearly stated position on our terms and conditions for any dialogue. Most importantly we need to get out of a psychological confidence deficit our ruling elite has thrust us in since 9/11 and which external powers continue to exploit.

The writer heads the think tank, Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad, and is also a PTI member of the National Assembly. The views are the writer’s own.

Email: callstr@hotmail.com

Shireen M Mazari, "Our foreign policy quagmire," The News. 2015-08-27.
Keywords: Political science , Social issues , Social crises , Social values , Afghan government , National security , APHC leaders , Foreign policy , National Assembly , Commonwealth , Policy , Sartaj Aziz , Mohammad Mian Soomro , Balochistan , APHC , CPC , US , PTI , 9/11