The leaders of Pakistan, a country that remains in perpetual internal and external crises, need to be more introspective and analyse rationally how they can maximise its positives and minimise its predicaments.
What then are Pakistan’s positives? Its geography is certainly a geo-strategic asset but regrettably has turned into being the central source of instability. This rare asset that would be the envy of many countries has become its greatest liability.
Apart from CPEC where China and Pakistan plan to profit from the latter’s centrality, this option due to strained relations remains closed to India and Afghanistan. For this predicament, Pakistan may be only partly responsible but is one of its worst sufferers. The prevailing logic is that India is an enemy country and its policies are extremely hostile towards us. How can we even think of providing transit facility that will give India such an advantage when they are brutalising the Kashmiris, purusing hostile activities against us in Afghanistan and globally? There is no denying that this is true. But the counter question is: have our policies gained any traction internationally to lessen these negatives? Are we not divorced from the reality in failing to grasp where we stand today? Can we afford to remain in a state of inertia; an unwillingness to adapt to the changed global and regional environment?
Former PM Nawaz Sharif has been advocating a conciliatory approach towards India and his recent statement reaffirms both his personal and his party’s commitment to this policy. The PPP, the ANP, the MQM and even several regional parties hold similar views.
This raises the thorny question: how long will we remain restrained in taking the initiative of opening borders? And adopt policies that supposedly will be beneficial to us in the form of additional transit tariffs, reduce Afghan and Indian hostility and enhance mutual dependence and regional connectivity? In the long-term this policy shift should further facilitate in connecting us to Central Asian states and beyond. More importantly, with easing of tension between India and Pakistan, there could be relatively better prospects of engaging seriously on Kashmir and other bilateral issues.
We have the example of China-India or China-US relations that despite their deep political differences and strategic rivalry, they have been able to engage in flourishing trade and other activities with each other. According to latest statistics, the bilateral trade between China and India exceeded $70 billion last year and is continuously on an upward trajectory. Similarly, China remains the single largest trade partner of the US.
It is likely that improved relations with India and Afghanistan would have a salutary impact on Pakistan-US relations. The opposite is equally true that strained relations with Afghanistan and India will continue to bedevil the confidence level between the US and Pakistan as these relationships are interlinked. Relations with the US would greatly influence how the military deals with the question of Haqqani network and the Taliban Shura. Due to the protracted security situation in the region, the army has remained the principal architect of our policies towards the US, India and Afghanistan. Understandably, it has viewed these relationships through a one-dimensional security oriented lens. Whereas, in the present circumstances, a more holistic approach with a long-term perspective towards foreign and security policies for the region is necessary. This would be possible if the political government takes military leadership and all stakeholders into confidence and assumes its responsibility of formulating and conducting foreign policy.
First and foremost, a critical and objective analysis of the gains and pitfalls of supporting any militant organisation whether these are orientated towards India or Afghanistan should be undertaken. This assessment is more in our national interest and less to satisfy Washington or New Delhi. For after all, these organisations have spread their militant agenda in society with serious repercussions on the country’s security.
Moreover, the European Union and many countries of the world equally disapprove of Pakistan’s linkages with these groups. Even our close allies do not approve of it, and they are only being discreet by not openly discussing it. A soiled image has largely offset the credit and support that Pakistan richly deserved for having made such enormous sacrifices as a front-line state. Its highly successful campaign in fighting militancy is also overlooked. We have been lamenting over Pakistan being ignored but the irony is instead of being noticed and recognised we have been put shamefully on ‘notice’. The sad part is that Trump’s hardline tactics towards Pakistan are generally supported across the political spectrum in the US. There are few takers for the Pakistani position, despite its enormous sacrifices and major role in supporting the US effort in Afghanistan. Even Secretary Mattis acknowledged “Pakistan has lost more troops in total than all of Nato coalition combined in the fight against them.”
Despite these remarks, the US is likely to continue behaving like a hegemonic power and would want all mutual issues be resolved in its favour. Pakistan will relent only to an extent keeping its interests in view. If this is unacceptable and no median approach is found, the relationship will remain rocky and unpredictable.
These challenges are not peculiar to Pakistan. History is replete with examples where countries have pursued contradictory policies that have harmed them but later recovered. But the ability to damage control the fallout of inappropriate policies depends on the country’s intrinsic strength. Unfortunately, Pakistan internally is at its lowest nadir. The ruling party is locked in salvaging the reputation of its top leadership. The opposition is equally in disarray. Whether it is the PPP or the PTI their role presently is to act as a spoiler rather than as the nation’s stabiliser. If there is any characteristic positive or inspiring of their leadership either that is lost to scandals or mutual recrimination. Parliament too has fallen prey to the indifference of the political parties. In these circumstances raising relevant issues and promoting the right candidates for elections would rest largely on the media and civil society.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2018.