Diplomatic Footprints
By Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry
Sang-e-Meel, Lahore
ISBN: 978-9693533682
654pp.

After 37 years of a distinguished career in the foreign service of Pakistan, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry became director general of the International Strategic Studies Institute (ISSI), which publishes research papers and books for national and international policymakers and academics.

This academic and research quality and style are reflected in Chaudhry’s impressive scholarly treatise Diplomatic Footprints: A Memoir, which encompasses his experience and observations over decades as a diplomat in Pakistan and around the world.

Chaudhry holds a master’s degree in international relations from Tufts University, Massachusetts, and a First Class First Bachelor of science from the University of the Punjab. His broad exposure to diplomacy includes postings as deputy representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, ambassadorship to the Netherlands and spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

His last diplomatic assignment was as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, but he was abruptly replaced by Ali Jehangir Siddiqui in March 2018 during Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s tenure as prime minister.

Former diplomat Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry’s memoir provides a full background of almost all foreign affairs issues relating to Pakistan

Except for the first chapter, describing Chaudhry’s early life and academics, and some brief personal references in other pages (including his fight with cancer), the book largely covers the author’s experiences during various government postings and foreign affairs events.

In fact, Chaudhry provides comprehensive background dynamics of almost all foreign affairs issues relating to Pakistan and the South Asian region, thus making Diplomatic Footprints a valuable source of information for laypersons, career diplomats, policymakers and journalists.

For instance, he recalls a conversation with former prime minister Abbasi during the latter’s visit to New York:

“‘Aizaz sahib, will the US be punishing us?’

“I was taken aback by the question for a moment, and took a few moments before responding that I did not think we could evaluate the relationship in such stark terms. Interstate relations, as I have learnt, are normally found in shades of grey. Sometimes darker and other times brighter, depending on divergence or convergence of respective national interests. I told the prime minister that, while the US no longer regarded Pakistan as its main ally in South Asia, it knew well that Pakistan was a large and resourceful country and cannot be ‘punished’, unless we ourselves chose to give in.

“‘Yes, yes, but what would the US do to punish Pakistan?’”

Foreign policy, understandably, is a key component of Diplomatic Footprints, and Chaudhry writes: “The foremost criticism of our foreign policy that I have come across is that Pakistan does not have an independent foreign policy. It is argued that the military and intelligence run the foreign policy: that the Foreign Ministry is just a show-piece, reduced to preparing briefing notes, gliding through protocol and going through the motions of diplomatic demarches.

“A related prong of this critique is that Pakistan’s foreign policy is heavily influenced by the foreign powers. I have always challenged the validity of this two-pronged thesis … I learnt early on that, in the US, inputs for foreign policy making come from all relevant actors, which are then synthesised in the National Security Council.

“The State Department of course provides its inputs, but equally important feedback emanates from the US Congress, Pentagon, CIA and other relevant stakeholders. In the end, once decisions have been made, this consensus-based model allows for a more streamlined implementation process. By and large the same process holds true for most countries.”

Another serious charge frequently levelled by Western leaders against Pakistan is about its playing a “double game” — joining the global ‘war against terror’ and, at the same time, allowing terrorists to enjoy safe haven on Pakistan’s soil.

Addressing the second criticism of external forces, Chaudhry says: “about the extraordinary influence of some foreign powers on our foreign policy, I believe they assert their role only because we let them. If our leadership puts its foot down on critical issues of national interest, I have observed foreign powers adjust and adapt their approach accordingly.”

To support his argument, Chaudhry cites the example of when Pakistan’s parliament resolved to maintain ‘neutrality’ in the Saudi-Iran tussle. “There was a fierce reaction from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Our civil and military leaders, emboldened by the broad public support for our stance, took [a] united stand in vocalising [the] parliament’s decision. As a result, the governments of the Arab countries of the Gulf relented and, in fact, showed respect for our decision, despite their annoyance.”

Quoting another instance, Chaudhry writes: “the US wanted to place certain restrictions on our nuclear programme prior to the visit of our prime minister to Washington in 2015. Despite US officials engaging in tough negotiations and holding our feet to the fire through pressure tactics, our government did not succumb and compromise, feeling secure in the knowledge that there was a nationwide consensus on maintaining a robust nuclear capability and deterrence against Indian aggression … We did not compromise on our national interests and yet the US government respected our views and the visit still received a green light. The larger point I am making here is that a nation is as strong and sovereign as is its resolve.”

Chaudhry believes that if a nation is united and its leadership has the support of the masses, it is less susceptible to exploitation by foreign powers. On the contrary, if a country is politically divided, economically weak and socially chaotic, then “of course, foreign powers will circle around like vultures. If a nation resorts to begging for resources, it must know that beggars can never be choosers.”

The relationship with India is elaborately discussed with historical references to Partition, Kashmir and the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, among many other disputes and issues, such as the role of religious segments during the freedom movement and later.

In the epilogue, titled ‘Reflections’, Chaudhry enumerates the major foreign policy issues that confront Pakistan. The one that has evoked considerable interest from the international community is Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Chaudhry claims that two negative narratives about our nuclear capabilities have been “concocted”, and are often raised during international discourse.

One is that Pakistan’s nuclear assets could fall in the wrong hands, especially terrorists and extremists. The second is that Pakistan has a rapidly growing nuclear weapons programme, that its long-range missiles are a threat to US allies in the West and that short-range battlefield weapons or tactical nuclear weapons have lowered the threshold of a nuclear confrontation.

Pakistan adopted the Export Control Act of 2004 and instituted several strict measures to ensure no dual-use technology would enter or leave Pakistan without government authorisation. Chaudhry writes: “Nuclear security was accorded a high priority, and a robust command and control system was instituted. As it is, Pakistan’s record on both nuclear safety and nuclear security is unblemished, thanks to the stringent security measures instituted by the Strategic Plans Division.”

Another set of foreign policy challenges for Pakistan emerged when the country allied with the US in its global ‘war on terror’. This cooperation came under severe scrutiny when the Americans conducted a secret operation on Pakistani soil to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May 2011.

The Americans accused Pakistan of either being complicit in hiding Bin Laden, or simply incompetent for being unable to find him living close to the Pakistan Military Academy. Chaudhry states that Pakistan was “deeply disappointed” about the US not taking Pakistan into confidence, and for violating Pakistan’s territorial integrity.

Secondly, even if it was intelligence failure on our part, the same can be said about many countries — including the US, as what happened on 9/11 was a “massive intelligence failure.”

“Third and most importantly, when considering that Pakistan had helped capture hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives and even handed them over to the US, it is odd to think that Pakistan would not cooperate in trying to capture Bin Laden… A related issue has been the American demand to release Shakil Afridi who helped the US in capturing Bin Laden.”

Another serious charge frequently levelled by Western leaders against Pakistan is about its playing a “double game” — joining the global ‘war against terror’ and, at the same time, allowing terrorists to enjoy safe haven on Pakistan’s soil.

“This allegation is drenched in irony,” he writes. “On the one hand, Pakistan is a partner in the global war against terrorism because we sided with the international community while, on the other hand, Pakistan is accused of harbouring terrorists on its soil. A good starting point to analyse this charge is to first acknowledge that the roots of terrorism in Pakistan … are indeed a fallout from Afghanistan during the 1980s. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Americans quickly followed suit. The mujahideen stayed back.”

The other foreign and security policy challenges for our policymakers have been addressing the instability in Afghanistan, and the competition between the US and China “which intensifies with every passing year.”

Last but not the least, Pakistan’s relations with the Muslim world are a “set of foreign policy challenges and opportunities”, and Chaudhry writes that “With the winds of change sweeping the Middle East, the question of recognition of Israel has also resurfaced.”

Chaudhry discusses all this and more — including the Pakistani diaspora and how to build a soft image of the country — in lucid detail but, although the text of his book is well organised and error-free, Diplomatic Footprints could have been more compact in writing.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator and can be reached at mehwer@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 15th, 2022

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