During the Cold War, when the world stood divided between socialist and capitalist camps, foreign policy of any country was reflective of its internal policies. Theoretically, countries having pro-people, welfare-oriented policies were considered socialists whereas those subscribing to unbridled capitalism were in Western or capitalist camp. There were also non-aligned countries, but from those, India and Pakistan were not only close to the Soviet camp, they also intertwined in defence pacts with the West, and still enjoyed the status of being members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Pakistan’s economic malaise and political instability owe their origin to the flawed policies of our inept past rulers who tied our national interests with the US and the West. The threat to Pakistan’s security from India may have been a genuine reason for joining defence pacts, as described in the introductory paragraph, but the Pakistanis had fully comprehended the meaninglessness of these pacts during 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars.
It is the indisputable prerogative of the elected government to frame foreign policy of the country, but incompetence of the political leadership and unending wrangling between political parties provided space to the military to have a major say in these decisions. However, since 2008 elections, when transition from a quasi-democracy to democracy started, the influence of military over civilian government in policymaking has abated significantly. At present, an elected government is in the driving seat.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia’s $1.5 billion ‘gift’, Pakistan’s bonhomie with Bahrain as well as reversal of Syrian policy have given rise to many questions. Certainly, it is present government’s own initiative. Nevertheless, our foreign policy has been, and still is, vulnerable to manipulations because of internal political and economic instability.
The foundations of Pakistan’s foreign policy were laid by the civil and military bureaucracy in 1950s, when Pakistan joined defence pacts with the West and bilateral agreement with the US. Though, these pacts were exposed when it was transpired that the West would help only if there is a communist aggression. However, all military and elected governments in the past wished to curry favour with the US. On the contrary, people of Pakistan always opposed these policies, be it Suez crisis of 1950s, Arab-Israel war of 1960s or attack on Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11 events. The relations between Pakistan and the US became tense after Kerry Lugar Bill, Abbottabad and Salalah incidents.
In fact Pakistan’s global isolation started when it joined the Baghdad Pact. The Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya etc., were unhappy with Pakistan; non-aligned nations were suspicious of our role; the socialist bloc considered Pakistan their enemy, and the US-led Western powers thought of Pakistan no more than a pawn on their international political chessboard. In 1980, late General Zia-ul-Haq, exploiting the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with a view to curry favour with the Western countries, wished to foster the same relationship with them that had existed in the 1950s and early 1960s. In early 1980s, Pakistan became the frontline state; and as a result of Afghan War, Pakistan suffered in playing host to 3.5 million Afghan refugees, terrorist acts from Peshawar to Karachi, and faced the menace of drugs and Kalashnikov culture.
After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and end of Cold War, the US and the West ditched Pakistan, as their priorities changed with the new geopolitical scenario. Hence, it became imperative also for us to review our own priorities and goals in a different international landscape. But from 1988 to 1999, the PPP and the PML-N governments continued to appease the West by succumbing to their pressure. After 9/11, Musharraf was coerced into cooperating with the US in its War on Terror. This time the war was against those who had fought the Soviet forces shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan Army, fighting the US proxy war.
It is an undeniable truth that the foreign policy that is framed by keeping in view the peoples’ aspirations, only can withstand the pressure and influence exerted by external interests. Quaid-i-Azam had envisioned a foreign policy for Pakistan that would safeguard our national security, independence, and promote the wellbeing of the people. He had great hopes that Pakistan would play a major role in international affairs and for world peace. But the irresponsible policies of successive governments brought about economic and political instability.
Here, the question arises whether Pakistan can afford to review its foreign policy at this stage? The answer is in the affirmative, provided the rulers are willing to bring about a fundamental change in the system, to ensure socio-economic justice in the society, and implementing the provisions of the constitution in letter and spirit.
In Pakistan, the question is often raised whether the military has the right to give its assessment of threats to internal and external security? In the US, Britain and even in India political leaderships take decisions on the basis of the information provided by intelligence agencies and advice of military leadership. Of course, career diplomats also contribute towards formulation of foreign policy. It is a matter of record that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in principle agreed to withdraw from Siachen. An agreement to that effect was about to be inked when the army prevailed upon the prime minister and convinced him that India would lose strategic advantage, and Indian forces would be vulnerable if India withdrew from Siachen. It means that military in other countries has a say in matters of foreign policy, especially when related to matters of security.