Comment: A new foreign policy paradigm

Updated Feb 02 2015


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L-R), US President Barack Obama.—Reuters/File
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L-R), US President Barack Obama.—Reuters/File

THE Pakistani Foreign Office’s reaction over President Obama’s recent visit to India as well as the emerging Indo-US entente reflects the desire to persist with an entrenched paradigm in Pakistan’s foreign policy while ignoring changes in the global environment. Since independence, Pakistan has sought parity with India and described resolution of the Kashmir dispute as the essential prerequisite for normal ties with its much larger neighbour. Pakistani analysts are now speaking of expanding security ties with China and Russia, ostensibly to counter a US-India axis.

Pakistan’s attitude towards India, and the world’s major powers, is shaped by ideology instead of being based on pragmatism. Pakistan sees India as an existential enemy, as it did soon after the bloody partition of 1947. Textbooks still tell Pakistani children that Hindu India threatens Islamic Pakistan and seeks to terminate its existence.

Also read: Unease about US-India deal

Seeking security against a much larger neighbour is a rational objective but seeking parity with it on a constant basis is not. The India-Pakistan equation should have changed fundamentally after both countries acquired nuclear weapons. Deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction usually freezes conflicts but that cannot happen if one side is ideologically committed to seeking resolution of disputes before anything else.

With nuclear weapons, Pakistan does not need to feel insecure about being militarily overrun by India. The notion of an existential threat to Pakistan is now only psycho-political and ideological. Pakistan has already fought four wars with India and lost half its territory in the process, the erstwhile East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971.

As for Jammu and Kashmir, one need not deny the sense of injustice felt by Pakistanis to point out that it might not be an issue that can be resolved in the foreseeable future. Jihadi militancy since 1989 has failed to wrest Kashmir for Pakistan from India as has war and military confrontation.

Any hope of effectively internationalising the Kashmir issue, too, should be realistically evaluated in Islamabad. The last effective UN resolution on Kashmir was passed by the Security Council in 1957, when the United Nations had 82 members. Last year, with 193 members, Pakistan’s prime minister was the only world leader who mentioned Jammu and Kashmir at the UN General Assembly.

For several decades, Pakistan was able to leverage its geographic location through alliance with the United States in a bipolar world. Ironically, India and not Pakistan was deemed to be America’s natural ally. A 1949 Pentagon report described India as “the natural political and economic center of South Asia” and the country with which the United States had greater congruence of interests. India, however, opted for non-alignment in the stand-off between the West and the Soviet bloc, arguing that it needed to benefit from both sides. Pakistan, a new state unsure of its future and searching for aid to bolster its economy and security, stepped in to become part of US-led military alliances.

The US-Pakistan relationship was transactional. Pakistan assisted the US in the Cold War and in return, the US provided much needed economic and military aid ($40 billion to date since 1950). American assistance convinced Pakistan’s leaders that external allies could compensate for Pakistan’s inherent difference in size with India.

Now, with the Soviet Union gone, the US has recalibrated its approach to South Asia, reverting to its original calculus that saw India as more important. Reacting to the Obama’s recent India visit, Pakistan’s Foreign Office complained that India-US partnership would alter South Asia’s “balance of power” and create a “regional imbalance”.

In actual fact, Pakistan’s old-school diplomats, politicians and military thinkers are upset that they cannot count on the United States as the equaliser in their quest for equivalence with India. China is already a close ally of Pakistan and cannot tip the balance in Pakistan’s favour on its own.

Why not change the goal from seeking parity with India to ensuring national security and economic development? All nations have sovereign equality in international law but realpolitik demands acknowledgement of the difference of size between nations.

Pakistan is India’s rival in real terms only as much as Belgium could rival France or Germany. India’s population is six times larger than Pakistan while its economy is 10 times bigger. Notwithstanding problems of poverty and corruption (which Pakistan also faces), India’s $2 trillion economy has managed consistent growth whereas Pakistan’s $245 billion economy has grown in spurts.

India is expanding by most measures of national power while Pakistan has been able to keep pace with it only in manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Pakistanis are often not told of the widening gap between the two countries in most fields including education, scientific research and innovation.

In the aftermath of the recent Obama visit, Pakistan’s ire is focused on US support for a permanent seat for India in the United Nations Security Council and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Pakistan cannot realistically expect either for itself but would like to deny them to India as well.

Instead of breeding competition with India in the national psyche, why not concentrate on addressing institutional weaknesses, eliminating terrorism, improving infrastructure and modernising the economy?

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His latest book is Magnificent Delusions-Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.

Published in Dawn February 2nd , 2015

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