Foreign policy in a shambles

Ali Ashraf Khan

SINCE the new government of Nawaz Sharif and his party has come into power in 2013 foreign policy of Pakistan has been suffering from the Prime Minister’s magnomania under which he did not appoint a full-fledged Foreign Minister but only one adviser and another special assistant on foreign affairs while keeping the decision making in that vital resort of policy making to himself. This does not mean that the performance of the advisers would be criticized; both are said to be experienced foreign policy experts and have done what was possible under the circumstances.
But the circumstances were unfavourable to say the least; they were working either without full power depending on the orders given by the Prime Minister in a fiefdom, or according to their capacity. Foreign policy planning is a specialised area of administration and the officer cadre is trained with years of research work and in-service training. And that over the period of three years adhocracy since 2013 has done considerable and visible damage to our foreign policy. In the modern world foreign policy is not and cannot be any more the personal initiative of a ruler.
While personal likes and dislikes as well as the personal charms of the actors of foreign policy might be helpful today the baseline of it is developed in a scientific way by foreign policy making bodies keeping in mind national interest and interlinking it with economic, social and security related goals of a country. This has not been the case in Pakistan for many reasons and the result was and is, among others, Pakistan’s unfavourable image abroad and our lagging behind in making our points recognized internationally. The first blow came when a famous foreign minister first played his game on Tashkent declaration and later when he assumed power after debacle of East Pakistan, he not only recruited his party jialas into civil services of Pakistan – the foreign service was also not spared. Hundreds of party jiyalas and jiyalis were thrust in different higher scales of services that was the major blow to our national interest and foreign policy.
Further examples are the unsuccessful Kashmir policy, the unsolved relationship with Afghanistan and other neighbours and our repeated dependence on the US despite the lessons that we should have learnt from their letting us down again and again. Another very current point is the unrealistic attitude towards China as an ‘all-weather friend’ that implies that China –as a friend- would put our national interest over and above their own in cases when the two are clashing. The list could be extended but let us rather look at the reasons for this debacle. From day one of our existence Pakistani rulers have understood the existence of Pakistan as their domain from where keep in power, to rule and to make money. Given their feudal and tribal and pseudo-religious character they were and are thinking in terms of personalized power with no real regard for or even understanding about ‘the nation’ comprising of not only the rulers but of all people including the poor and underdeveloped. Running the state as a personal feudal estate in the cloak of ‘democracy’ has naturally left much political space unoccupied that has been taken by the Pakistan military. Feeling responsible for not only the external security of the territorial integrity of Pakistan but also for our internal security much of foreign policy making has been monopolized by the military.
But policy matters are not to be commanded like a military division; it has to be a process of analysis and negotiation for which an army by definition is ill-equipped. So we have quite some foreign policy disasters (mis)managed by our military including the misguided operation Gibraltar that led to the 1965 war, including the botched policy towards East Pakistan that led to the break-up of Pakistan and why and how Ziaul Haq was eliminated. After the US abandoned Afghanistan Ziaul Haq perhaps was planning to get Kashmir liberated through “Operation Topac” which was not liked by the proverbial monkey, later the disastrous Kargil war was initiated where even the bodies of our soldiers were not claimed just to keep up an image that was already incredible at that time as well as the ill-conceived military strategies of ‘the defense of the East lies in the West’ and more recently the ‘strategic depth’ strategy that helped creating and developing the Taliban. Wasn’t all this was done to please US? These examples should suffice to drive the point home that Pakistan needs an integrated, based on scientific lines foreign policy. Integrated because foreign policy touches on all aspects of policy making: economic, social, external and internal security related; scientific because there are guidelines applied in international politics for evolving foreign policy. Pakistani universities do have departments and specialists on international relations and political science and while there is surely room for improvement among them they need to be heard and listened to.
There is also a need to first establish beyond doubt what our national interest is because that is what should guide policymaking. And this discussion cannot be held behind closed doors or in scientific conference rooms but it needs to be brought to the public. What is our national interest and how it differs from our personal one (a matter that the rulers of the PPP and PML-N governments never managed to understand) is a vital act of emancipation if we want not only to ensure the survival of our country but its prosperity and international respect. So it goes without any saying that what you sow, shall you reap. GOD Bless Pakistan and Humanity.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.

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