(Asad Ali, )

Pakistan is a prison of its geography and history at a same time. Indeed foreign policy is an aspect of national policy. If national governance is paralyzed foreign policy cannot procure good outcomes. This is because no coherent political framework for a successful foreign policy will be available. This is the norm in Pakistan. Pakistan foreign policy involves a long tale of fiascos and sad state of affairs. As long as Pakistan’s military-intelligence giant (the ‘deep state or more conveniently the security state) dwarfs civil and political society in terms of per-capita resource allocations, strategic perceptions, and policy influence, the national perspective will remain distorted. This negatively impacts on foreign policy.

Those who contemplate this state of affairs as a given that cannot be changed are on a fallacious path. Those who regard mere national survival as national resilience are equally misconstrued. Low expectation is a curse. The dominance of institutional or more preferably personal agendas over national agendas has ensured national humiliation and isolation. The importance of Pakistan is a function of its size, potential and location. The success of its foreign policy is a function of how it utilizes these assets. Pakistan has a population of over 200 million which makes it a significant country. But its economy is externally dependent, fragile and its social indices are woeful.

The potential of Pakistan is overwhelmingly enormous. But it has been persistently wasted and is becoming irrelevant. Similarly, Pakistan’s location is strategically important. But if this is not made an asset it becomes a liability. Pakistan has five neighbours: China, India, Iran, Afghanistan and the US which is a global neighbour. Except for China, Pakistan has relations ranging from unsatisfactory to dangerous with the other four. Chinese factor involves the mountain ranges; otherwise the results would have been otherwise. Pakistan is an important strategic partner for China. But an ungovernable Pakistan will not be able to maintain this partnership. CPEC is seen as a ‘soft option’ to industrialize and modernize without the leadership having to provide good governance, human resource development, political reform and capacity building.

India is the perennial enemy. But Pakistan seems to believe that merely blaming a blameworthy India, instead of maximizing its longer-term foreign policy options through development, is good enough policy. Both India and Kashmir are inherently longer-term challenges for Pakistan. There are no short-term solutions. Moreover, there are no zero-sum solutions that favour Pakistan. However, a warp and dishonest leadership will never speak this truth because it has not got the moral standing to inform the people about diplomatic, economic and military realities. It prefers to dupe them, rather than develop the country to a point where it can negotiate with India and solicit international support for its stand on a more equal and effective basis. Should India remain hubris and obdurate towards a more internationally credible Pakistan the world would increasingly take note of it. But this requires an order of commitment and confidence that the leadership of Pakistan does not have. This year, being an election year a decrepit political system is unlikely to produce any leadership or policy improvement.

Afghanistan is a foreign policy fiasco. President Ashraf Ghani made a courageous and even visionary attempt to reorient Pak-Afghan relations in a positive direction. He was vulnerable at home. He needed a sustained positive response from Pakistan to overcome deep domestic opposition to Pakistan. India — a long-standing friend of the Kabul regime — was appalled at Ghani’s initiative towards Pakistan, which included initiating security and political cooperation. But Pakistan was unable or unwilling to fulfil its promises to Ghani leaving him totally exposed to the fierce criticism of his bitter rivals who are in an unstable political and governmental alliance with him. He has never forgiven Pakistan for his humiliation, and a full-blown blame game now rages between Kabul and Islamabad. The prime beneficiary is India which is now more firmly entrenched in Kabul than ever. We must rethink our foreign policy beginning with an honest question: are we providing others with a rationale for hostility? Pakistan’s perceived links with militant groups and the Afghan Taliban are unfortunate. Pakistan seems completely unable or unwilling to learn that the Afghan Taliban can never be a policy asset for it. Or maybe power centres have become too indulged with them to allow a realistic Afghanistan policy. Today, there is an alliance of the US, Afghanistan and India against Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan’s standing throughout Afghanistan is at its lowest ebb ever. Pakistan, whatever its reservations, has no option, but to substantially improve its relations with Kabul for sustainability in Afghanistan.

The stand-off with Trump’s America is also pretty much the worst ever. The Modi-Trump joint statement of last June, the Trump Afghanistan and South Asia policy statement in August and his December National Security Strategy specifically target Pakistan and elevate India in the strategic calculus of the US. There is no countervailing pro-Pakistan lobby in the congress. A viable non-strategic relationship with the US is an imperative. Rhetorical defiance is mere deception.
Pakistan’s fragile economy, the falling rupee and rising external debt will require it to stand again, cap in hand, at the doors of US-dominated international financial institutions. Can CPEC deliver Pakistan from this beggary? It can help to a great extent provided Pakistan can succour itself through decent governance and an independent and balanced foreign policy.

Iran sees Pakistan as directly and indirectly under the thumb of its enemies: Saudi Arabia and the US. It views Pakistan as an untrustworthy neighbour and a nemesis in Afghanistan. Accordingly, it is providing India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Developing confidence and cooperation between Iran and Pakistan is essential. At one end is the dangerous security environment with the Afghan war radiating instability in the region and beyond that militant groups posing a danger inside Pakistan. And at the other is China’s ambitious strategic outreach, the opening up of Central Asia, and a globalised economy that is fostering trade, investment and regional economic cooperation. In between, the emerging geopolitics cuts through both worlds.
There are thus exceptional threats and opportunities for Pakistan. We have not seen the present level of Indian hostility since perhaps the days of the Indian National Congress’s opposition to the idea of Pakistan.

Can we redefine a foreign policy that’s write now in a catch-22 situation?

Yes, security should be given priority for any country that has not found stable deterrence, but exclusive focus on security comes at a price. We must rethink our foreign policy beginning with a thorough introspection. There are serious internal security challenges and genuine complications in relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. Pakistan cannot befriend them, but have we even made a bid to do so? The reality is that the old paradigm of relating to these countries and the new world of economic opportunities has mismatched.

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03 Apr, 2018 Views: 548


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