THERE is a recurring theme in our media and elsewhere that Pakistan’s foreign policy needs reformulation. Hoping for the best for our country in the international arena is a natural yearning and when things do not seem to be going our way, there is a certain amount of frustration, leading to calls for making changes in foreign policy. Improvement is always possible and foreign policy needs to be periodically reassessed. But some of our critics do not see matters in perspective and lack an awareness of the hard realities in international relations.
One such ground reality is that no country can either separate itself from other countries of the world, nor shape the regionalor global environment according to its wishes. The foreign policy of a state can not be made in isolation. Apart from what we want, there has to be an understanding of what other countries want. States need to adjust themselves to and make the best of the existing circumstances. Pakistan’s foreign policy is also made in response to peculiar circumstances in which Pakistan is placed.
The objective of foreign policy is to promote national interests in the international arena. Governments come and go but national interests remain. Survival of the state –its independence and territorial integrity-is the top national interest. Another key national interest is economic welfare. There are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, only permanent interests. In Pakistan, there is much talk of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ in international relations, but these are illusions. It is convergence of interests that brings states closer to each other while divergence of interests sets them apart. Realistic thinking has to take precedence over romantic illusions. Foreign policy is a high-risk game and a bad decision can affect not only the present generation but also the generations to come.
It is a hard reality that we live in an imperfect world. The international system remains anarchic in which might is often right. This compels states to pursue a relentless quest for security and material benefits, which puts them in competition with each other. Cooperation between states is tactical and limited to a series of self-interested alliances. Power plays a crucial role in international politics and is a key determinant of a state’s ability to sustain a successful foreign policy. Power of a state comes from its capability, which is the outcome of geography, area, population, resources, economic development, technology, national cohesion and political stability. These factors generate military and economic power and detemine a country’s strength or weakness in the international arena. To be successful, the foreign policy of a state should be commensurate with power available to carry it out. While judging the success or failure of Pakistan’s foreign policy, we need to be aware of these realities.
The motivations of Pakistan’s foreign policy are similar to those of other states. Survival of Pakistan has been the overriding national interest, apart from economic welfare and, to some extent, ideology. The location of Pakistan has deeply affected its foreign policy. Pakistan inherited an adversarial relationship with its neighbour India who is several times bigger than Pakistan in size, population and resources. From the beginning, the perception of a grave security threat from India has influenced Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies. Pakistan’s search for an ‘equaliser’ vis-a-vis India forced it to look for friends and allies. This was essential because balance of power has always been the primary mechanism for ensuring peace in the world.
From the outset, India made sustained efforts to undo Pakistan. In the 1950s, Pakistan was militarily weak and very vulnerable: it was the quest for security that induced Pakistan to join the US-sponsored military pacts. At that time, the US was pursuing a global policy of containment of Soviet expansionism by building military alliances on the periphery of the Soviet bloc. Thus, a convergence of interests brought Pakistan and the USA together in military pacts. This alliance did secure significant military and economic aid for Pakistan, enabling it to repel Indian aggressin in the 1965 War. But Pakistan and the USA differed in their interpretation of obligations arising out of the military pacts. Pakistan expected that USA would stand by Pakistan in its disputes with India, whereas latter insisted that its commitment was confined to Communist aggression only.
Pakistan’s quest for security also brought it closer to China, which had its own misgivings about India. Though ideologically apart, Pakistan and China developed a very close relationship, since around 1960. It has stood the test of time and remains strong and multi-faceted fifty years later. Similarly, close relations with Muslim states like Saudi Arabia have been motivated by Pakistan’s search for security while they are also consistent with the ideological urges of the Pakistani people. Over the years, Pakistan has received considerable support from Muslim countries, including the oil-rich Gulf countries, which see Pakistan as a key ally in preserving their own security.
On the negative side, Pakistan’s membership of military pacts led to strains in relations with the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, new strains developed with Moscow due to Pakistan’s active help to the Afghan Mujahideen fighting against Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan saw the arrival of the Red Army in Afghanistan as a direct threat to its security. Since the US had its own global confrontation with the Soviet Union, it made a common cause with Pakistan. However, an alarming consequence of the Afghan jihad was the radicalisation and militarisation of Islamist extremists.
The tribal areas of Pakistan became the sanctuary of such extremists, including Al-Qaeda, culminating in the 9/11 attacks. That led to invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by the USA and UK, supported by NATO and other countries. Left with no other option, for its own survival, Pakistan was compelled to support the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. However, that fuelled more religious extremism and terrorism, and has become the most acute security threat for Pakistan. Such extremism has spread to other regions as well and produced the murderous group Daesh in the Middle East. A convergence of interests has induced Pakistan to join the international community in the current global war against Daesh and similar terrorism, consistent with the protection of Pakistan’s core national interests.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.