An Agonizing Reappraisal

Foreign policy of a nation is always predicated on where you want to go as a sovereign nation and an independent state. This is the basic determinant of a country’s foreign policy. In our case, at the time of our independence, like Alice in Wonderland, we just did not know which way to go and this turned out to be the first ‘dilemma’ of our foreign policy. In June 1949, our acceptance of Stalin’s invitation to our prime minister to visit Moscow was quickly matched with a similar invitation for Liaquat Ali Khan to visit Washington.

Thanks to the old imperial connections at the civil-military level, we immediately got sucked into the Cold War struggle. In the process, we have encountered unbroken series of endemic crises and challenges that perhaps no other country in the world has ever experienced. We still have not been able to come out of our ‘dilemma’ and are living with one crisis after another. Even today, we are living in a hostile environment. No wonder, the outgoing year was no different from all the previous years of our independent statehood in terms of challenges to our foreign policy.

For any country, it is important who its neighbours are, as their attitude, irrespective of their size or power, has a direct bearing on its personality and character, and on issues of its security, development and resource allocation. We could not change our geography nor choose our neighbours. We had to live with geopolitical realities no matter how challenging they were. In doing so, our sole consideration had to be how to safeguard and preserve our independence and territorial integrity. Geography thus placed on Pakistan the onerous responsibility of consistent vigilance and careful conduct of its relations not only with its immediate neighbours but also with the rest of the world.

Pakistan’s strategic location was pivotal to the global dynamics of the Cold War era and remains crucial even to the post-9/11 ‘great game’ in the name of global ‘war on terror.’ Indeed, the events of 9/11 represented a critical threshold in Pakistan’s foreign policy. In the blinking of an eye, we again became a pivotal player in a US-led long war in our region. It was the beginning of another painful chapter in our turbulent political history. The sum-total of Pakistan’s post-9/11 foreign policy was its new identity on the global radar screen as the “hotbed” of religion-based extremism and terrorism, and its frontline role in the global ‘war on terror’.
This sordid reality has seriously hurt Pakistan, domestically as well as externally, limiting its policy options. Its negative global image has not only made it the focus of world attention and anxiety but also forced it to make difficult choices in its perennial struggle for security and survival as an independent state. Today, we are the only country in the world waging a full-scale war on its own soil and against its own people. We have staked everything in this war and are constantly facing the brunt with more nearly 60,000 Pakistani civilians and security personnel having lost their lives in terrorist attacks in the last few years. The gruesome Peshawar tragedy was the limit any nation could take.

Foreign policy of a country, and the way it is made and pursued is inextricably linked to its domestic policies, governance issues and socio-economic and political situation. A country’s standing in the comity of nations always corresponds directly to its political, social, economic and strategic strength. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. And domestically, the tally of our woes includes loss of half the country, leadership miscarriages, governance failures, politico-economic debacles, societal disarrays and militant religious perversities. This is the sum-total of our post-independence history. It is against this dreary backdrop that we enter the year 2015.

For nearly seventy years now, we have followed a foreign policy that we thought was based on globally recognized principles of inter-state relations and which in our view responded realistically to the exceptional challenges of our times. But never did we realise that for a perilously located country, domestically as unstable and unpredictable as ours, there could be not many choices in terms of external relations. Our domestic failures have not only seriously constricted our foreign policy options but also exacerbated Pakistan’s external image and standing. No doubt, we have survived these crises and challenges but at what cost?
It is time we did some soul-searching no matter how agonizing it may be to look upon ourselves and see what we have done to our country in our own lifetime. Foreign policy of a nation is nothing but an external reflection of what you are from within. And domestically, we present a pathetic picture. Whether we accept it or not, in other countries, Pakistan’s name today instantly raises fear and concern. Terrorism is our sole identity now. We are seen both as the problem and the key to its solution. We have become a suicidal nation and are killing ourselves. We are not even ashamed of what we have done to ourselves. No wonder, the world now calls us the “most dangerous place” on earth.
It’s no longer important what our foreign policy is or who our friends are. To the world, we are a mastless country looted and plundered by its own rulers, left with no dignity or pride. Economically, we are no more than a ‘basket’ case with our Marco Polo rulers never tired of going around the world with a begging bowl. Despite our vast human and material resources, our vulnerable rulers have followed policies that have kept the country hostage to external influence and control. With our continued political instability and precarious extremism-led violence, we remain unable to harness the unique asset of our location for our economic growth.
Pakistan’s biggest challenge now is to convert its pivotal location into an asset rather than a liability. And to be treated with respect and dignity by others, Pakistan has to be stable politically and strong economically so that it can be self-reliant and immune to external constraints and exploitation. There is no foreign policy worth its name in the absence of good governance. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. And our challenges today are domestic, rooted in governance failures. Even our external difficulties are extension of our domestic failures.  Remedies to our problems are also at home, not anywhere else.
For us at this critical phase in our history, it is not important what we are required to do for other’s interests; it is what we ought to do to serve our own national interests. To be at peace with others, we must be at peace with ourselves. Peace, as we know by now, is much more than the absence of war. It has come to mean more than the end of a military conflict; it now means peace and harmony within nations. It is this peace and harmony that we as a nation need in Pakistan. To have a foreign policy of our own, we need good governance.

But in our country, there is so much aridity of it. The foremost priority for us therefore is to fix the fundamentals of our governance. We also need to change world’s perception of our country, which surely has many reasons and assets other than terrorism and violence to be recognised as a responsible member of the international community. We must free ourselves of the forces of extremism, obscurantism, intolerance, militancy and violence.

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