Our Foreign Policy Failures

Foreign Policy

“Foreign policy is the system of activities evolved by communities for changing the behaviour of other states and for adjusting their own activities to the international environment.”  — George Modelski

Foreign policy is a behavioural pattern which the states adopt to conduct their diplomatic relations with other states in the global system. This policy, which is designed and redesigned by a process consisting of various interrelated stages, is formulated on the basis of various factors including country’s geographical location, its human resource, economy and, above all, well-defined national interests. This write-up is aimed at highlighting the causes behind Pakistan’s failure in the realm of foreign policy and also suggests the ways to put it on the right track so as to avoid any sort of isolation in the global community.

Pakistan’s foreign policy successes are miserably outnumbered by failures. Given the present state of affairs it appears that the incumbent Government of Pakistan doesn’t have a foreign policy and, as a result, a trend has developed to just react on international developments. At present, Pakistan is surrounded by estranged neighbours on all sides save China. Our foreign policy has gone through many stages; from the perception of a security-driven state to the era of alliances; from the period of bilateralism to the epoch of non-alignment; and from the age of nexus with superpower to the present state where our hegemonic neighbour openly threats to isolate us in the international comminute.

Causes of Failure

Since its inception, Pakistan has been mired in mighty internal as well as external challenges. Domestic political upheavals and regional confrontations kept the country’s political leadership exhausting their energies and thus due attention couldn’t be paid to formulating a robust foreign policy. Here is a brief analysis of the major causes of Pakistan’s foreign policy failures.

1. Civil-Military Tussle

Pakistan’s military has been playing the role of a guardian of country’s ideological boundaries. Hence, Pakistan’s history of state-building is marred by prolonged military rules and intermittently cut-short stints of civilian governments. Largely, it was the civil incompetence or leadership void which allowed military a space in politics. The embryonic democratic process is trying to find a place in the country’s complicated decision-making machinery where institutional roles collide and mandates overlap. Such interventionist approaches choke the space for alternative discourses and fresh thinking that are required in democracies. Thus, military establishment always seeks to have a greater say in country’s foreign policy making. So, a never-ending struggle between military and political elite is a major cause behind the incompetent foreign policy.

2. The Leadership Void

Pakistan’s institutional apparatus has failed to build capable leadership. According to Laurie J. Mullins, “Leadership is essentially a relationship through which one person influences the behaviour or actions of others. This means that the process of leadership cannot be separated from the activities of groups and with effective team building.” Pakistan has miserably failed to produce and nurture great leadership because those in power here use, abuse and exploit power to fulfil their personal interests. This leadership void always provides minions with opportunities to rise to the top. Currently, the absence of a full-time foreign minister is a clear picture of the leadership crisis in the country. It is due to this void that too many people are poking their noses in foreign policy, resulting in incoherence and inaction; the biggest cause of country’s failure in the realm of foreign policy.

3. Dependence on Western Hemisphere

The need for security compelled Pakistan to join the US camp but it injured her status in the regional context. By aligning itself with the United States, the country alienated many countries in the South Asian region. Pakistan’s relations with her immediate neighbours—Iran, Afghanistan and India—are deteriorating. Historically, in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s policymakers never attempted to deal with the state; rather they always tried to deal with Kabul on sub-state level; hence, the concept of strategic depth was the first priority of Pakistan.

In the context of Iran, Islamabad’s all-out support to Saudi Arabia and Taliban in Afghanistan has been the major impediment. Moreover, sectarian killings in Pakistan also fractured mutual trust. Pakistan is slowly losing the remaining ground or regional support base due to continued reluctance from abandoning its policy of securitising its borders rather than focus on regionalism. India, Afghanistan and Iran signed a trilateral trade agreement, excluding Pakistan, which must be a matter of concern. Moreover, the postponement of SAARC conference is another alarming situation and calls for an overhaul of foreign policy framework. In a comparative analysis, Pakistan’s leadership in its policymaking has not come out of its obsession with India, New Delhi’s diversification of its foreign policy during the last decade has brought remarkable diplomatic, economic and security gains for the country. Even Saudi Arabia, which Pakistan considers its closest ally, is deepening security and commercial ties with India. Hence, Pakistan’s growing economic dependence on just one country–China–will not serve the country’s interests in the long run.

4. Failure in Pursuing Interests through Lobbying

Pakistan has failed to pursue a lobbying to further her interests in the US, especially during the two diplomatic disasters when America refused to subsidize an F-16 deal and openly campaigned to induct India into the NSG. Furthermore, Pakistan has not fully fought its case regarding recent atrocities in Kashmir on all available international platforms. On the contrary, India has been investing huge sums on lobbying to turn US administration’s opinion against Pakistan. There is no one to underscore Pakistan’s efforts to make world a peaceful place. Neither any international conference was organized to bring those measures to light nor were US officials given any special briefing. This failed foreign policy has left Pakistan unable to fight its case before the world in spite of having laid thousands of lives in the war on terror.

The Way Forward

  1. According to the classical realism approach to foreign policy analysis, the role of national power, the character of states and their relationship with the domestic environment, overlooking any systemic factors or sources of explanations, reductionist explanations, and normative and moral precepts on statesmanship and leadership are not rare. In the above-given theoretical perspective, Islamabad needs to design its foreign policy according to the changing regional and global dynamics. Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi opines: “Pakistan needs smart diplomacy to deal with India, Iran and Afghanistan as well as to cope with the current trouble in its relations with the US. Smart diplomacy seeks to find alternative ways to deal with a situation when one option does not offer a credible opportunity. You do not wait for the situation to change on its own; you invoke different diplomatic options to create space for yourself. If India has a secured trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Iran, Pakistan should not view this as a threat. Instead it should quickly take practical step to obtain gas and electricity from Iran. If this economic connection is built, Iran will have greater interest in cultivating Pakistan because this economic relationship will not require the use of a land route of a third country.”
  2. According to Neoclassical realism, foreign policy means the array of the actions taken and strategies pursued by a given state toward other external states or actors in the system which, tightly or loosely, are related to it. Consequently, foreign policy analysis means an inquiry into the causes which led the state to a failed foreign policy. The elected government and the Opposition should rise above all their differences and huddle together to formulate a ‘Charter of Foreign Policy’ outlining the short-, medium -, and long term – foreign policy objectives to be achieved under the vigil of the Parliamentary Joint Committee. Civilian supremacy will ensure the promotion of national interests while functioning within the framework of accountability and transparency.
  3. The institutions may now take back seat. They should undertake their responsibilities within the ambit of the Constitution. Dominance of one institution over others becomes liability rather than an asset eventually. The track record of civilian rules in Pakistan for defending and promoting territorial integrity is impeccable.
  4. Pakistan’s diplomatic clout should hire lobbying groups to pursue and advance country’s interests.


Foreign policy is the advancing and pursuing of states’ ultimate interests. In international relations, what matters most is the interests of the states which need to be nurtured, devised, revamped and maintained according to the needs, and timely application of a robust foreign policy and other tools of diplomatic norms while being cognizant of the hard realities of relationships. By adopting a cogent and cohesive regional approach Pakistan can revive her relations with her neighbours and by applying pressure tactics could grab a strong position in the eye of the Western clout.

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