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Foreign Policy Making Process in Pakistan

The task of foreign policy making is complicated and is best executed when professional diplomats are recruited and then assigned to design long-term foreign policy strategies and goals.

In a pioneering study of the foreign policy making process, Graham T. Ellison in 1970 laid claim to two models. Lambasting the Rational Actor Model (RAM) and with it the realist school of thought with its emphasis on heads of states or to use Morgenthau’s phrase ‘statesmen’ formulating foreign policy, Ellison showed how foreign policy making was a complicated task. In the initial instance, Ellison opened up the ‘black box’ of the state to argue that the state was in actuality an amalgam of institutions which are responsible for policy making. The leader or statesmen, in essence, is dependent on such institutions (specifically the bureaucracy and military) for the execution of foreign policy. In a nutshell, the statesman proclaims policy while the institutions of the state implement it.

The working of the state institutions was explained through two models: the organisational process model and the bureaucratic process model. RAM assumed that foreign policy was a rational exercise (rationality, in essence, being 100% achievable) and that a good foreign policy was a rational foreign policy. A rational foreign policy simply took account of a state’s national interest and objectives, outlined a plethora of options in order to deal with a foreign policy issue, engaged in cost-benefit analysis of each option in order to maximize the element of rationality and finally implemented the policy. This simple characterization of foreign policy was challenged by Ellison for he reasoned that bureaucracies, which implement foreign policy, do not always ensure comprehensive rationality but that bounded rationality is the essential element in foreign policy making. Allison applied his model to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and effectively demonstrated the utility of his model in explaining foreign policy making and out comes.

Ironically, Allison’s model was not applied to case studies from other states primarily due to methodological constraints (lack of access to official government documents and cabinet meetings, for example) but it remains a potentially useful theory in order to determine the processes through which foreign policy is made.

The military establishment’s role as the major formulator of Pakistan’s foreign policy gained impetus with the concretization of the alliance with the United States in the 1950s. Since the 1950s, the military has instituted major changes in the foreign policy making machinery of the Pakistani state, which has tended to undermine the role of the Foreign Office while exaggerating that of military officers and intelligence/security agencies. General Zia, for example, inducted several serving or retired military officers in the Foreign Office without them going through any competitive examination, a practice which was instituted during the time of Ayub Khan. Furthermore, General Zia’s decision to align with the United States against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan exalted the role of the security and intelligence agencies in the proclamation as well as the execution of foreign policy. The Foreign Office was further sidelined and in fact made useless when General Musharraf almost unilaterally decided to abandon the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and again join hands with the United States in its global War on Terror without consultation with the Foreign Office whatsoever! Furthermore, General Musharraf introduced the practice of having senior diplomatic appointments, especially those of out Heads of Mission, cleared by the intelligence agencies as well as his directive to Defence Attaches in our diplomatic missions to report regularly on their colleagues including the Ambassadors! Tariq Fatemi reasons that such measures had an adverse impact on the morale of our professional diplomats.
Pakistan’s foreign policy has been tainted with the problematic of ad hocism ‘or the tendency to take decisions to tide over an immediate exigency without any long-term planning.
Though the military establishment has been the most profound institution in foreign policy making, this does not imply that civilians or civilian leaders have been largely inconsequential in the proclamation and implementation of foreign policy. The role of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for example, was crucial in changing the general direction of Pakistan’s foreign policy both in the 1960s (when he was the Foreign Minister) and the 1970s as Prime Minister of Pakistan. During both decades, Bhutto orchestrated important developments in Pakistan’s foreign policy including alliance with China, the 1965 War with India as well as consolidating Pakistan’s relationship with the Muslim world. Similarly, Mohammad Khan Junejo under General Zia was instrumental in the signing of the Geneva Accords despite the reluctance of the all-powerful latter. That Junejo was able to convene an All Parties Conference on the issue and lead on this very important Afghanistan foreign policy front speaks volume of how the military establishment was undermined during this crucial time. During the 1990s, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was instrumental in laying the basis of peaceful relations with India through his Bus Diplomacy.

The task of foreign policy making is complicated and is best executed when professional diplomats are recruited and then assigned to design long-term foreign policy strategies and goals. Shahid Amin contends that Pakistan’s foreign policy has been tainted with the problematic of ad hocism ‘or the tendency to take decisions to tide over an immediate exigency without any long-term planning.’ Amin further contends that though a Research Wing has long been in existence at the Foreign Office it has rarely served its purpose and in fact is a ‘dumping ground for officers for whom no other posting could be found.’ Where does all of this leaves foreign policy decision making and the Pakistani state? Like other institutions of the state, the foreign policy machinery needs to be resuscitated with the best brains in the country so that its general health improves to provide long-term strength and stability to the Pakistani state.

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