A negative global narrative combined with the increasing trust deficit with our partners and neighbours have compounded Pakistan’s foreign policy woes. At this point,harping on about balance, equality and mutual benefit in international relationships, as our national leaders tend to do, won’t dig the country out of the diplomatic hole it has dug itself into.
As an example, despite jumping on the ‘Global War on Terror (GWOT)’bandwagon early on and making self-proclaimed ‘significant’ contributions to the global effort, Pakistan’s anti-terrorism credentials persist continue to be questioned. This is reflected in the country’srecent re-inclusion on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) greylist.
Allegations that it distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists and groups has battered Pakistan’s international credibility and image.The Kargil debacle, the Bin Laden episode and the prominence of extremistIslamist groups in the country haven’t helped.Overall, national liabilities exceed assets leaving little room to manoeuvre in foreign policy.
Hybrid warfare, ill-intentions, malice, and machinations of external forces can’t just take the customary blame for the low grades earned on the foreign policy front.There is more to foreign policy than just harping on a just solution to the Kashmir issue.When the world isn’t buying your story, a course correction seems the only option.
Imran Khan’spromises of economic revival,better governance, and the use of diplomatic means to resolve issues may improve the country’s international standing in the long-term. But before that, Pakistan must take an honest, objective and unsentimental look at its foreign policy,particularly in the post-9/11 era.
A successful realism based foreign policy, generally speaking, is one that ensures the nation’s interests, namely, the security and the prosperity of its people. Additionally, foreign policy is sober, analytical and rooted in power capabilities. It doesn’t have unrealistic expectations of success beyond a country’s size and status.An influential foreign policy exercises restraint, minimises risks and maximises benefits. Emotion, morality, hopes, and prayers rarely play a role. Moreover, military strength, by itself, doesn’t guarantee a successful foreign policy.
Pakistan’s foreign policy, seemingly stuck in the Cold War time warp, remains mainly focused on state security and threat containment. In this context, the recent clamour for Pakistan to join the mythical China and Russia alliance — like the Western alliances that Pakistan was part of in the 1950-1960s — would be a regressive step
British Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury remarked in the 19th-century that “the only bond of union that endures” among nations is”the absence of all clashing interests”.His salient comment is as relevant today like in the past. Salisbury advocated quiet diplomacy devoid of jingoism, avoiding geopolitical controversies or upsetting the balance-of-interests and maintaining the balance of power. His prudence contributed immensely, to the Britain empires’arguably successful foreign policy, in a challenging period of history.
Pakistan’s foreign policy authorities can learn from Salisbury’swise advice. Today, Pakistan’s most important bilateral relationship, that with the US, has fallen victim to clashing interests in South Asia. Consequently, President Trump has Pakistan firmly in his crosshairs with his ham-handed yet effective”speak loudly and carry a big stick” diplomacy,a variant of President Theodore Roosevelt’s original doctrine.
Assigning blame in the strained Pakistan-US relationship is pointless. Each side can accuse the other of duplicity, but it is clear that the breakdown in relations hurts Pakistan far more than the US. Pakistan has found out to its detriment (FATF pressure, IMF bailout push back, cuts in security and military training aid) that opposing US policy in Afghanistan has negative consequences.
Pakistan’s foreign policy, seemingly stuck in the Cold War time warp, remains mainly focused on state security and threat containment.In this context, the recent clamour for Pakistan to join the mythical China and Russia alliance – like the Western alliances that Pakistan was part of in the 1950-1960s – would be a regressive step.Jumping from alliance to alliance is not a permanent cure for state ills and insecurities.
Modern diplomacy has also moved on from the Cold War era. Economic diplomacy and building trade and investment relationships hold centre-stage. Pakistan may do well to reshape its foreign policy accordingly to maximise its chances of success, in this new era of globalisation.
What’s more, a powerful military and nuclear-weapons capability have diminished the dangers to the Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Perhaps it is now time to focus on the other pillars of national interest, namely, the well-being of citizens by ensuring decent standards of living for its populace, maintaining internal cohesion and harmony and the preservation of regional peace and stability.A foreign policy solely based on meeting external threats doesn’t serve Pakistan’s national interests any longer (if it ever did at all).
Moreover, Pakistan should address endemic weaknesses to leverage its diplomatic potential. Firstly, the country has to break the begging bowl by building a self-reliant economy and improving its social statistics through investment in human development. Secondly, the country requires strong and autonomous democratic institutions to frame foreign policy without outside interference. Thirdly, the military has to remove its veto power to empower a foreign policy, outside the security prism, primarily focused on trade and investment.
Undoubtedly, economic fragility and external dependence constrain Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives. On the other hand, understanding the country’s limitations can form the basis for a smart foreign policy, with realism as its cornerstone. Resetting ties with partners, neighbours, even adversaries, based on a convergence of interests, could go a long way in restoring Pakistan’s international image.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, August 20th 2018.