M Ibrahim Tariq
TERRORISM is not a new phenomenon to our country; despite vehement resolve, operations and encounters, it does still exist. The frequency of such attacks and presence of terrorist sanctuaries may have decreased overtime, but terrorism does still succeed in maligning the country’s reputation, especially at a time when it is at peak to improve its global image. Some call this an intelligence failure, others think it was a negligence of civil armed forces, some just call this Afghanistan’s hypocrisy, while a majority blames the Indian intelligence for funding such groups to assist this maligning process. This leaves us with a series of unanswered questions: If the hypocrite Afghanistan fell prey to India, what made it do so? If India supports such groups in its territory, why does it do so? What might serve as an answer to my questions, is our foreign policy. However, what restrains us from knowing our answers, is the question, what is our foreign policy?
If we step back in time, conflicts have existed ever since civilisations came into existence. Until 1914, state conflicts were generally limited to two or three belligerents, while collective wars were out of question: the reason being a traditional agrarian structure of states which limited them from mobilising a large proportion of labour force for conflicts, except seasonally due to agricultural commitments. Foreign policies of states in this era were generally isolationist in nature, with states worrying about their own sphere of influence. Modernity soon pushed states into adopting a high-productivity, industrialised approach towards their economies; given their fresh ability to mass mobilise, inter-state conflicts transform into full fledge world wars, and so did the isolationist pattern of foreign policy.
After 1914, states began to form alliances, confidently pursuing a “Zero-Sum” policy, making whatever gained by one side to be lost by the other, ignorant of death-toll or economic repercussions for the enemy; resultantly, the 1914-1945 period is often referred to as total war. Besides two full fledge world wars, states tested everything ranging from aerial bombings to chemical weapons; it was the macabre atom bomb incident of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that finally gave the concept of total war a halt, and birth to a new era we are a part of.
All states have national interests while devising these policies; they have two options to defend their interests: to have a straightforward policy that lays down the do’s and don’ts while creating a room for negotiation at the same time to overcome conflicts, or otherwise, indulge in a proxy wars which involve neither entity directly but promise immense damage. The former naturally serves as a wiser long-term approach towards interacting and solving disputes with other states irrespective of their nuclear status. The latter leads states to a complete state of confusion, resulting in numerous human and financial damages to state, sometimes recurring for several decades.
It is undeniable that our governments have had a half-hearted will to devise a strong foreign policy based on national interests while maintaining negotiability. While the policies have been unclear, our involvement in proxies like “Good and Bad Taliban”, irrespective of whether retaliatory or not, is an open secret. Our policies are spontaneous in nature and are rarely long-term; we must not forget that through such short-sighted and spontaneous policies, like in case of US under Trump, countries lose their integrity and move into isolation often even losing their world power statuses. Our foreign policy has remained spontaneous since several decades, which is undoubtedly a reason towards our isolation and hence recurring of menace of terrorism.
While we take China as a messiah for its cooperation towards our economy, it is about time we realise that no two nations have same national interests: while they might extend support, it is a state itself that has to realise its interests and devise a policy to defend them internationally. While what should be the ingredients of Pakistan’s foreign policy is well-debated, it is important to look into how a strong foreign policy may be formed. Powerful states usually have a five-step approach towards decision making: they assess international and domestic political environment, set and prioritise goals which may include conflicts with other states, determine their policy options which may be available to fulfil those goals, have a decisive cabinet with authority to formalise policy, and lastly, have a foreign minister who implements the policy formalised by the state.
While countries encourage and fund over hundred think-tanks with policy experts to assess international and domestic political environment, and devise strong and sustainable policies, such organisations barely have presence in Pakistan, and if thinking of ones like Gallup, our policies remain indifferent to their surveys; disregard for such institutions is prime reason towards spontaneity and fluctuation of our policies, and must be addressed. However, a matter of much more gravity is the absence of a full-time sitting foreign minister, which greatly disallows steady implementation of a policy. A nuclear-state without a seasoned foreign minister is undoubtedly deemed to face a foreign policy failure. With the foreign policy lingering in spontaneity, the ambition to mend ties with our neighbours seems to be a far-fetched idea. Proxy wars have damaged nations way beyond their comprehension; it is a staunch foreign policy that mends damages, not their intelligence agencies or civil armed forces. While intelligence agencies may be successful in reporting the presence of terrorists within certain areas, no such agency to date, has had a 100% accuracy and/or detection rate. Moreover, for civil armed forces looking after a city of 5 million as in case of Lahore, deterring a single suicide bomber who is meant to detonate despite all odds, is naturally impossible.
Istanbul Police, despite being amongst the world’s top-ranked forces, was unsuccessful in preventing several attacks in the recent past: it undoubtedly is Turkey’s foreign policy that pushed it towards where it stands today, and not any of its other institutions. There should be no doubt that having a steady clear-cut foreign policy should be every nuclear state’s (like ours) top-most priority. I only hope we waste no time in devising an efficient policy that aptly inculcates our national interests, with saving precious human lives being one, if not the very first. total war: an unrestricted war in terms of the weaponry used, the combatants or territory involved, the objectives pursued.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Qatar.
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