Pakistan has been in want of a pragmatic and well-articulated foreign policy since 2008. What is more worrying is that the PML-N-led incumbent democratic dispensation displayed an outright reluctance to appoint a competent and astute person as a full-time foreign minister for nearly four years.
Because of Pakistan’s chronic foreign policy crisis, the world is rather unwilling to appreciate the invaluable sacrifices rendered by the country during the course of the costly war on terror. This unfavourable situation has immensely helped India in turning Islamabad’s regional enemies into its friends, and bank on them to clandestinely orchestrate terrorism and insurgency deep inside Pakistan. This can be called a diplomatic masterstroke by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; he has somehow succeeded to isolate Pakistan regionally, and he has made the US stop providing military assistance to Pakistan.
Being a responsible nuclear power with a moderately growing economy, Pakistan pressingly needs to adopt a coherent and robust foreign policy in order to maximise its security and economic interests in the region. If the present leadership further remains indifferent to its external affairs, Pakistan’s regional competitors and foes will find more and more space to systematically isolate and encircle Islamabad in a turbulent South Asia.
In effectively formulating a country’s foreign policy, both military and political leaderships are required to hold extensive deliberations on all possible pros and cons. In Pakistan, however, the military leadership appears to be largely calling the shots with regard to crafting and executing the foreign policy. Resultantly, there has been, to a great extent, a militarised policy, especially with country’s two western neighbours. Such a policy can hardly be reflective of the country’s public opinion — that is oft-disregarded.
There is no denying the fact that domestic policies and developments of a country leave lasting impacts on the timely formulation and execution of its foreign policy. Pakistan’s internal political, socioeconomic and security conditions are rather precarious: the economy is burdened with ever-increasing debt and stagnation; the democratic order is under threat, and the monster of terrorism and militancy continues to haunt the nation. Such obstructive conditions have hindered the leadership from seriously removing the ingrained structural flaws in the country’s foreign policy.
In today’s globalised world, an industrialised and robust economy helps a nation play a dominating role in regional as well as global matters. For instance, the Great Britain dominated the politics of European continent till 1933 because of its highly-industrialised economy and an invincible naval prowess. At present, the US is playing the overarching role of the global hegemon owing to its industrialised economy and military potence. And China’s rapid rise as a superpower is also due to its industrialised economy and modernised defence sector.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is heavily reliant on its export of agri-products. Such dependence on agriculture and the dearth of industrialised production has brought about a deep-rooted imbalance in the country’s international trade. The export of Al-Khalid tanks and JF-17 Thunder aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria has proved too inadequate to turn the balance of trade in Pakistan’s favour.
What is vividly clear from today’s highly anarchic world is that spiralling insecurity is the major bugbear for almost all countries, especially the developing nations. So, if Islamabad aspires to play a stronger role in regional and global affairs, it must work on industrialising its agricultural-dominated economy and substantially increase its arms production and exports to developing countries.
Given its potential resources and its significant geo-strategic location, Pakistan should have been a mighty economic and military power in South Asia. Unfortunately, it currently does not have working relations with all of its neighbouring countries except China. Such regional aloofness is partly due to a leadership crisis and partly to India’s attempts at isolating Islamabad regionally. Our leaders must not forget that the country cannot prosper economically and become powerful militarily in Asia unless it has effective ties with its immediate neighbours.
Because of our ill-conceived regional policy and sluggishness of the democratic leadership, Afghanistan and Iran have either partially or completely jumped on the Indian bandwagon. This has provided India with an opportunity to count on some underdeveloped areas of Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan and eastern provinces of war-ravaged Afghanistan to foment and finance terrorism in Pakistan. What Islamabad should be aware of is that India will probably bank on Iran’s geo-economically important Chabahar Port to outshine Pakistan’s deep sea Gwadar Port and Chinese-funded CPEC.
Arguably, without an all-out Afghan and Iranian military and intelligence coordination, Pakistan may not fully succeed against the battle-hardened and regionally-funded terrorists and militants. Islamabad also needs the strategically important Wakhan Corridor to access the energy-rich Central Asian region in order to import oil, gas and coal. And Pakistan’s growing economy also direly needs Iran’s growing market and its vast energy resources to export agriculture products and meet its ever-growing energy needs.
Though Islamabad appears to have abandoned the disruptive policy of strategic depth toward Afghanistan largely due to the American pressure both Kabul and Washington are still suspicious of Islamabad harbouring some operatives of the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban in Quetta and Peshawar. Such a policy has, so far, backfired as seen from Indo-Afghan sheltering of Pakistani terrorists and insurgents on the Afghan soil.
Pakistan should work with China to make Iran and Afghanistan major stakeholders in CPEC by including them in this grand regional economic connectivity project. Having its own economic stakes, Kabul would surely agree to establish a strategic partnership with Islamabad, allowing the Pakistan Army to train and militarily assist the chronically-underequipped, under-trained and underfunded Afghan Army. Moreover, we will also be able to rely on our economic relations with Iran to prevent Iranian territory from being used for fuelling insurgency and sectarianism in Balochistan.
This diplomatic and military masterstroke will immensely help Pakistan take strategically-important Afghanistan and energy-rich Iran away from the disruptive Indian influence in the region. To attain this objective, the civilian and military leadership should work in tandem with each other so as to provide a clear-cut direction to the country’s currently flawed foreign policy.
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