ISOLATION is a word bandied about all too easily when it comes to discussing Pakistan`s place in the international community. In this century alone, seemingly every other year there has been alarmist rhetoric, by external rivals and internal political neophytes that Pakistan is on the verge of global isolation. Indeed, isolation and its more draconian cousin, containment, are issues that no country with a modicum of international trade linkages and an interest in being part of the modern world should ever take lightly. No country should want to be in the situation that, for example, North Korea is in, notwithstanding the ties that country has had to Pakistan over the years. Yet, hyperbole and overwrought commentary aside, there are clearly problems that Pakistan has to contend with on the external front.
The call by Sri Lanka to postpone the Saarc summit may have been a mere formality given the earlier withdrawals, but the very fact that the Sri Lankan government felt it necessary to state that the `prevailing environment in the region is not conducive` to holding the summit is telling. Moreover, the condemnation by Sri Lanka of `terrorism in all its forms and manifestations` should not go unnoticed. A change of government in Sri Lanka in January 2015 installed an India-leaning administration in that country, but Pakistan-Sri Lanka ties are decades old and military and diplomatic cooperation have historically been reliable. With Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and, of course, India already having declined to attend the November summit in Islamabad, five of seven countries in Pakistan`s immediate neighbourhood are unwilling to attend a symbolic conference in the nation`s capital. Surely, that must call for some serious debate a debate that goes beyond passionate denunciations of Indian machinations.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah has already made a sensible call for a joint session of parliament to discuss tensions with India and such a session can easily be expanded to discussing the overall regional security and diplomatic environment. Admittedly, joint sessions have not yielded substantive policy inputs in recent years, but they have become a symbol of democratic counsel, and command the attention of policymakers and sections of the public. If opposition politicians can resist grandstanding and unnecessary political attacks and the government can demonstrate a genuine interest in parliamentary debate, a joint session could help at least frame a debate about Pakistan`s foreign policy and national security policies more effectively. By any rational measure, Pakistan is far from isolated internationally. Yet, it is undeniable that countries with which Pakistan has had longstanding relationships relationships that are worth protecting and nurturing are increasingly uneasy with this country`s perceived policies. To the extent that Pakistan has legitimate interests to protect, it must do so robustly and without fear of outside opinion.
Surely, however, more effective diplomacy is called for.