FOREIGN policy is the external aspect of national policy. It covers the whole gamut of global, regional and neighbourhood developments, movements and strategies.
When national policy is substandard it puts a ceiling on the success of foreign policy no matter how good it is.
Similarly, given the external dependency of Pakistan’s national policy, it cannot achieve its goals without a prioritised and resourced foreign policy.
Some aspects of external policy are primarily dealt with by specialised ministries, departments and services.
But the Foreign Office should not be held responsible for the negative consequences of bad decisions it had no part in taking. This often happens and is always at the cost of the national interest.
This is obvious. Yet in practice it is usually ignored. Why? The main reason is the unwillingness of corrupt or weak governments to take any risks for good governance, including good foreign policy.
This is the soft state syndrome. It is often a prelude to a failing state. It precludes serving the national interest. Powerful vested interests define the national interest and make foreign policy. What is to be done?
If the political system is made participatory and inclusive it will eventually find the right answers. If it remains elitist, exclusive and exploitative it will not. Changing the system, however, involves risk-taking.
Pakistan has 10 major external relationships. Primarily: India, China, the US, and Afghanistan; and significantly: Iran, the GCC countries, Russia, the European Union (which still includes the UK,) the Central Asian states, and the UN.
India is Pakistan’s major adversary. China is Pakistan’s only strategic partner. The US is still the world’s mightiest and only comprehensive global power. Afghanistan is a force multiplier for Pakistan’s security or insecurity. Iran confronts Pakistan with critical choices.
Powerful vested interests define the national interest and make foreign policy. What is to be done?
The GCC countries are a major source of remittances and ‘brotherly’ assistance which almost always entails an embarrassing price.
Russia in partnership with China is a significant counterforce to the US and its alliance with India. Moreover, it has the potential to bring about a less imbalanced Russian policy towards India and Pakistan.
The EU is a major market and the Pakistani community in the UK (and the US) can be a foreign policy asset.
Central Asia can provide ‘strategic depth’ to Pakistan’s connectivity-based diplomacy. Improving cooperation with Russia can help here also.
The UN may seem irrelevant. It is not. It is where a country’s image, profile and voice are confirmed and contested. It is the forum in which the credibility of a foreign policy is measured. Its agencies, funds and organisations can be important knowledge-intensive and problem-solving assets.
Due to space limitations only Pakistan’s four ‘primary’ relationships will be very briefly commented on.
India: The core issues for Pakistan are progress towards a Kashmir settlement acceptable to opinion in the Valley and radically improving the horrendous human rights situation there. For India it is Pakistan’s use of “terrorist proxies”.
These core issues need to be addressed to the satisfaction of each other if dialogue is to be meaningful. Finding common ground for a negotiating process to be sustainable is a challenge.
Indian interference in Balochistan is a fact. However, the Balochistan ‘problem’ is not of India’s making. It is due to institutionalised bad governance and exploitation over decades.
Pakistan should continue to extend its hand of cooperation irrespective of a lack of response from India. It should keep the LoC quiet as best it can. It should build on the Kartarpur initiative. It should extend normal trading or MFN rights as promised. This is arguably a WTO obligation also.
Pakistan should offer travel, communications, confidence and security-building (including regular nuclear and water-management) discussions and proposals. Let India take its time to respond. Pakistan cannot lose by being consistent and reasonable.
Realistic rather than provocative narratives need to be developed. The people of both countries need to get to know each other more directly instead of through warped images.
Differences need to be contained, addressed and reduced through a realistic working relationship. This will enable South Asia to meet the survival challenges of the 21st century.
The leaders of both countries should make appropriate statements, stay in touch, and unfold a range of innovative initiatives. If India demurs, even after its elections, that is its problem.
China: The BRI and CPEC are golden opportunities for Pakistan. But they are not magic wands. Moreover, no other country is willing to invest on such a scale in Pakistan.
Pakistan needs to look after its own interests without making disconcerting public statements. It needs to assure the Chinese that it is a reliable economic and strategic partner.
Explore: The China agenda
Chinese concerns are growing. They need to be addressed. Chinese and Pakistani ‘dreams’ need to be integrated into a shared vision through mutually reinforcing policies. The BRI is the context for CPEC. Similarly, CPEC is the context for the transformation of Pakistan. Sensitive issues can be dealt with confidentially, judiciously and on the basis of complete mutual trust.
The US: It is a strategic ally of India. India is focused on Pakistan. The US is focused on China. America cannot be a strategic partner for Pakistan. But its friendship is beneficial while its hostility is harmful. Pakistan must work with the US for an Afghan settlement, in consultation with China.
Afghanistan: Pakistan cannot eliminate India from an Afghan settlement process. Nor should it try to. If Pakistan plays its cards right it will always have a stronger hand than India in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban despite their current military successes are not the future of Afghanistan. Unless they cooperate for a settlement they cannot become a 21st-century asset for Pakistan.
Explore: Balancing ties
India is justly regarded as a large neighbour with a small heart. Many Afghans see Pakistan similarly despite the massive Afghan goodwill accumulated during the Soviet occupation. Why?
Pakistan need not create a two-front situation for itself. Being large-hearted towards a smaller neighbour is actually good strategy. Specific issues are more easily resolved when the fundamentals are okay.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019