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
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.