Foreign policy woes

Shahid M Amin

Two events took place in Islamabad this week which had a bearing on our foreign policy. Firstly, there was a conference of a selected group of Pakistani envoys to take stock of the current state of Pakistan’s relations with key countries. It concluded with a statement by the Prime Minister urging a policy of peace with neighbours and paying heed to international concerns about Pakistan. This was an implicit recognition that many countries have grievances with Pakistan, mainly on the issue of terrorism. While they recognise that Pakistan itself has suffered more from terrorism than other countries, and that the Pakistani army has undertaken a major offensive against terrorists, they remain concerned that some terrorists continue to use sanctuaries in Pakistan to carry out operations in other countries.
The second event was the conference of SAARC Interior Ministers about regional cooperation. What actually happened was a further aggravation of the already bitter relations between India and Pakistan, due to the positions taken by their respective Interior Ministers. Indian Interior Minister Rajnath Singh stated before arrival in Islamabad that he did not intend to have any bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders. Making such a public pronouncement seemed like a rebuff to Pakistan. More importantly, in his address to the conference, Singh made a barely concealed attack on Pakistan, insinuating that it was supporting terrorism. The Indian media next went to town claiming that his speech was not given live coverage by Pakistan, or was “censored.” This was simply untrue as the SAARC practice has always been that, apart from the opening session, other speeches are made in camera. Belatedly, India clarified the position but only after the atmosphere had been vitiated.
On the other hand, Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhri Nisar could be faulted for having been less than civil as host of the conference. His cursory handshake with his Indian counterpart was noticed by the media. He chose not to attend a lunch which he himself was hosting. The Indian Minister then decided to stay away from the lunch and shortly thereafter returned to India. Nisar’s publicised response to his Indian counterpart’s statement in the conference was harsh and combative. The irony is that just one day before, the Pakistan Prime Minister had given a very different policy guideline at the envoys’ conference. It seems that the Interior Minister is conducting a foreign policy of his own. On some previous occasions also, he had made very harsh criticism of some countries. Our government must speak with one voice and either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Office should make statements on foreign policy.
The foregoing is just the latest example of our foreign policy woes. There is a widely-shared impression that the absence of a full-fledged Foreign Minister is adversely affecting our foreign policy. We do have two Ministers looking after foreign affairs but that by itself creates confusion and internal tensions. There is another perception that Pakistan is isolated at present. Clearly, we have problems with several neighbours. In particular, the Pakistani people are bewildered as to why Afghanistan has become so estranged and why relations with Iran seem to have lost their traditional warmth. It seems that Indian influence in both these countries is increasing at our expense. Moreover, India has been wooing with some success our closest friends like Saudi Arabia and UAE. Relations with the USA have been on the downward slope, resulting in stoppage of some amount of financial support for our war on terror.
There is a long-standing impression that our Foreign Office is not fully in charge of making foreign policy and the army has a crucial say in matters affecting India, Afghanistan, China and the USA. In the recent past, our parliament has also got more involved in formulation of foreign policy. The government itself decided to pass the buck to parliament to decide our policy on the Yemen issue. That created tensions in our traditionally strong ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In nearly all countries, it is the executive that makes all foreign policy decisions and parliament only periodically reviews such decisions.
There is a more serious problem behind our predicament. It seems that many people do not understand that making of foreign policy is a very complex matter. It requires an understanding of international relations. That can only come through knowledge of the motivations behind the policies followed by other countries: their history, geography, resources, priorities and systems of government. This requires a certain academic background as well as living abroad to acquire a first-hand awareness of the realities in those countries. Only professional diplomats are in a position to do so. Diplomacy is a specialized subject, no less than medicine or engineering. One cannot expect a bureaucrat, a politician or a general to perform the task of a doctor or an engineer. If they do make such an attempt, the result will be disastrous. The same is the case when politicians, legislators or generals intrude into diplomacy. They tend to over-simplify issues and seek quick solutions to complex problems.
The international system is chaotic and it is often like the law of the jungle. Foreign policy is the pursuit of national interests in the international arena. Survival of the state, its independence, territorial integrity and economic welfare are the main national interests. States are constantly engaged in a struggle to advance their national interests, which often puts them in a competition with each other. Cooperation between states is limited to a series of selective, self-interested strategies. ‘Friendship’ between states takes place when there is a convergence of interests between them. ‘Enmity’ arises from a divergence of interests. There are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, only permanent interests. National power is key determinant of a state’s ability to sustain a successful foreign policy. Power is the external face of a state’s capability, which in turn comes from its size and resources, technology, organizational efficiency and political stability. To be successful, foreign policy must be commensurate with power available to carry it out. Policy-makers must be guided by hard-headed realism and not by emotions or illusions. This is framework in which foreign policy should be made and this job can best be done by professional diplomats.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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