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Cold War Relic

Pakistan’s foreign policy, founded on hostility towards India, has isolated it globally.

Written by Khaled Ahmed |
August 13, 2016 12:27:45 am
pakistan, indo pak, narendra modi, nawaz sharif, pathankot attack, pathankot air base attack, pathankot attack investigation, pathankot attack by pakistan, pathankot attack updates Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (Source: Reuters)

As Pakistan becomes increasingly isolated, regionally and globally, its foreign policy is under attack at home. “We find ourselves without friends,” the critics say, “and it is the result of the government’s foreign policy”. The government is being subjected to questioning even as posters on roads obliquely ask the army chief General Raheel Sharif to take over and set things right.

This is funny because Pakistan’s foreign policy hasn’t changed in decades. It is subordinated to the military strategy of fighting an India that is “not reconciled to the existence of Pakistan”. It worked in the 1950s when Pakistan joined the anti-communist alliances. It fought the 1965 war with India and used the American weapons that were actually meant to be deployed against communism. An American arms embargo followed, arousing the self-righteous rancour of Pakistani strategists.

The India-centric foreign policy started working again after 1979, when the Soviets attacked Afghanistan. But its effectiveness is petering out now. Pakistan’s partners never thought of India as an enemy but had requirements which only Pakistan could fulfill. America started normalising its relations with India after the Soviet bloc’s strength was broken; Saudi Arabia wants Pakistan to fight wars other than the ones against India.

Last month, the Jinnah Institute — Islamabad’s strategic think-tank, led by a high-ranking member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, Sherry Rehman — held a discussion titled, “Flawed Pakistan Foreign Policy”. Opening the discussion, Rehman stated, “The current state of affairs…forces Pakistan’s foreign policy to operate on the misguided assumption that other countries will act rationally, or even morally. That the powerful military has taken the opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum created by the foreign policy crisis does not inspire confidence, given the country’s experience with democracy”.

The military strategy of getting on board allies who have different targets has become outdated. Lack of congruence with their goals bred hatred against the very allies who had helped Pakistan with money and arms. After the Soviets quit Afghanistan, and al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan felt it was being asked to abandon its strategy of finding “equalisers” against India, such as the jihadis, because they killed Americans.

One expected that the other discussants in the Jinnah Institute debate would challenge the government further, but that didn’t happen. Najmuddin Shaikh, a former foreign secretary, took the discussion into an area where no one could blame either this government, or the one before it, for not trying. “Pakistan needs to recognise and exploit its geo-economic location as a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia and South Asia and West Asia. It should develop amicable relations with its neighbours in order to realise the economic advantages of its location,” Shaikh said. Indirectly accusing the military strategies, he added, “Implementing national pledges to prevent the use of Pakistani territory for hostile activities against its neighbours will resolve many problems that have strained relations within, and outside, the region.”

Ejaz Haider, editor of national security affairs at Capital TV, who writes on military strategy, was even more direct in his criticism. “The security calculus heavily influences foreign policy. That calculus… makes exercising non-military options difficult. This does not mean that security is not a dominant issue… but the problem relates to security strategies that narrow down foreign policy options. Two examples of this are bilateral trade with India and providing access to Afghanistan for the Indian market.”

Journalist Zahid Hussain, senior fellow at the Jinnah Institute, put the matter more bluntly. He said, “Like other matters of state, foreign policy management too suffers from multiple power centres running the show.The absence of any policy direction from the civilian leadership has allowed the military to expand its role in foreign policy matters..the military’s tunnel-vision has added to Pakistan’s regional alienation.”

On July 29, an all-parties (religious) conference called by Jamaat-e-Islami declared, “We assure the people of Kashmir that the people of Pakistan are with them in their freedom struggle. Therefore, our relations with the world community should be based on their support or opposition to the Kashmir cause”. That was actually an enunciation of strategic foundation of Pakistan’s foreign policy. On August 4, at the SAARC home ministers’ conference in Islamabad, three important states — India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan — accused Pakistan of “interference”.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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