Jean-Paul Sartre once famously said, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is other people), and same is true for the present-day Pakistan. Slowly but steadily, Pakistan is being isolated on global stage and is losing its old friends. In order to fulfil their nefarious designs, foreign powers are carrying out covert operations in the country but still no one pays heed to its plight rather it is accused of harbouring terrorists on its soil. Adding fuel to the fire of external intrigues is the current course of Pakistan’s foreign policy which is exactly opposite to what the founding father, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had envisaged. The Quaid wanted to develop not just amicable but friendly relations with all of Pakistan’s neighbours, and the world at large.
At present, Pakistan is at a crossroads and perhaps there was never such pressing need to reorient country’s foreign policy as it is today. At present, foreign policy is not working well and achieving its desired objectives is becoming more and more difficult with every passing day. A cursory look at the present state of affairs reveals that Pakistan’s relations with neighbours are strained; dialogue process with India is stalled, Afghanistan is openly blaming Pakistan for all its woes and Iran is wary of us especially due to the stagnant IP project. Moreover, India, Iran and Afghanistan have recently concluded agreements to build Chabahar port which is seen as a rival to Pakistan’s Gwadar.
Here is a brief analysis of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours along with a look at the causes which call for a serious rethink in foreign policy.
Indian government and foreign policy czars have launched a vigorous campaign to isolate Pakistan in the global arena. Modi has opted for a policy of “Bagal Mein Churi, Muh Mein Ram” (A honey tongue, a heart of gall). Despite Pakistan’s overtures to bring an enduring peace into the region, warmongers in Indian government like Manohar Parrikar are openly threatening a war with Pakistan, using the Pathankot attack as a pretext — despite the fact that India’s own intelligence agencies have exonerated Pakistan of any charge of involvement in the attack. The Pak-India peace process advances with the pace the latter decides. Issue of Kashmir has been pushed to backburner owing to Indian pressure. India has been successful in wooing Pakistan’s friends. In short, Pakistan is losing ground to India on many fronts.
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Our western neighbour, Afghanistan, has become ever more wary of Pakistan in recent years. What needs to be acknowledged is that Pakistan is a key to Afghanistan’s peace and past, present and future of both countries are tied together. Pakistan has launched all-out efforts to bring peace into Afghanistan. For instance, Pakistan initiated and spearheaded the dialogue process in order to find a peaceful settlement to Afghan conflict. Even so that first round of talks was held in Murree. Unfortunately, all overtures made by Pakistan have proved futile as Afghans are getting closer with India and President Ghani is getting influence by the pro-India lobby in Afghanistan and the massive amounts of money being pumped into his country by the Indians in the form of development projects.
Although Iran deal offered great opportunities for Pakistan to improve its ties with its south-western neighbour, yet it could not capitalize on those. On the contrary, India has forged a tripartite economic alliance with Afghanistan and Iran. This alliance is centred on the issue of Chabahar port so that significance of Gwadar Port, against backdrop of CPEC, can be downplayed.
Relations with Russia
Another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been wasted by Pakistan only due to slackness and ineptness of its foreign office is that of developing cordial ties with Russia. In the wake of growing Russia-West antagonism and the pressing sanctions imposed by the EU, we could have improved our links with Russia but we have miserably failed. Resource-rich Russia has the potential to help Pakistan in freeing itself from the clutches of energy crisis. Moreover, Russian weaponry could have become a good alternative to precarious American defence deals but Pakistan is failing on this front too.
In case of Middle East, our failure becomes even more glaring. India is making great headways in improving its ties with the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. A flurry of Modi’s visits to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar should have rung the alarm bells, but unfortunately there is a deafening silence on the part of foreign office.
How to reorient foreign policy?
Firstly, Pakistan needs to do some introspection and put its own house in order before aspiring to play a leading role in the region. Incompetent orator can’t complain uninterested audience as he is the one who has not the ability to attract masses. In a similar fashion, a weak nation with dilapidated economy and staggering security can’t demand equal treatment with stable, responsible and strong nations.
After that corruption should be curtailed. Policy of running with hares and hunting with hounds should also be done away with. Pakistan has to earn trust of international community by washing off its image of a failed state and a banana republic. Once, it is strong and stable internally, it can present its case from a better position and can play an active role. China, for instance, adopted ‘look inwards’ approach for decades before shifting to ‘look outwards’ policy very recently and Pakistan should follow the course.
Secondly, government should diversify its foreign policy objectives. Pakistan can’t progress unless it breaks the shackles of being a ‘security state’. Our security concerns are genuine and we should pursue arms and weapon trade but not at the cost of neglecting common market trade. Guns are bought with money and states earn money by attracting foreign investment and beefing up exports. Pakistan, regrettably, buys guns with money it borrows. Such approach kick-starts such a vicious cycle by which a state becomes solely dependent on others and can’t enjoy any respectable bargaining position. Recent F-16 fiasco is relevant scenario where US Congress debarred US government from providing Pakistan with money by which it wished to buy fighter jets from US.
We should promote trade linkages of all sorts with our trading partners. ‘Trade not aid’ should be our guiding principle. Domestic and cottage industry should be facilitated to export their products. Government should also pay attention to value added products as balance of trade heavily inclines toward such states which add value to the raw material. Tourism is another industry that brings valuable capital to the country. It also creates people-to-people linkages which help in improving country’s image abroad. Recent energy deals with Central Asian nations, Qatar, China and Russia are right steps in right directions.
Thirdly, Pakistan should diversify its partners, or in other words, it should learn to juggle. Our experience with USA should teach us a lesson — with some slight modification to the words of Lord Palmerston — ‘There is no eternal ally and there is no perpetual enemy. Only interests are eternal and perpetual.’ We have learnt that USA has befriended Pakistan only when it needed it. We should also accept that China has its own interests when it comes to Pakistan and this is the reason China is willing to invest billions of dollars here. But we can’t depend solely on China to relieve Pakistan of all its ills. International relations are not a zero-sum game where one has to be one’s friend or other’s enemy. Pakistan can keep strong relations with China and Saudi Arabia and at the same time improve relations with India and Iran. Pakistan should focus on Russia, Iran and Central Asia for its energy needs. We have to pay more attention to ASEAN states as they offer a promising future in digital age.
Last but not least, special attention should be paid to capitalize geo-strategic location of Pakistan. Pakistan is a connecting state not only for East and West but also for North and South. It opens a window of opportunity for China and Central Asian countries in North by connecting them with Indian Ocean. Moreover, it connects South Asia with Iran, Middle East and Central Asia. Pakistan should redefine its role as transit economy for the region. Projects like TAPI, CASA-1000 and CPEC are good omens but they should be emulated in other areas too. Pakistan should increase similar linkages with South Asian nations as well as Iran. This is an age of regional connectivity and no country can survive in isolation. Pakistan should internalize this lesson in its foreign policy.
In short, domestically strong Pakistan with all-encompassing foreign policy objectives and aptly connected with regional neighbours with sincere overtures for friendship toward them can turn present nightmarish situation of Pakistan’s global standing into a respectable position in the comity of nations.