Pakistan’s foreign policy trouble spots

Pakistan’s foreign relations have been uneven


Samran Ali October 11, 2018
Pakistan's foreign policy with India has centered on territorial and water issues. PHOTO: REUTERS

Foreign policy is closely linked with a state’s national power. The national power potential of a state can be realised by the quality of its government and prudence of policies. If the governance structure of a country is weak and inefficient, the foreign policy may not run well.

Pakistan’s foreign relations have been uneven, sometimes we have had a well-formulated policy, and sometimes an incoherent pursuit of policy objectives. The country has historically enjoyed cordial relations with states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran. But, at the same time, it had to change course at various crossroads of global politics.

Pakistan's foreign policy will be made at Foreign Office, says Qureshi

With India, Pakistan has core territorial and serious water issues coupled with alleged interference in each other’s affairs. Pakistan has been repeatedly saying that India is using Afghan territory to sponsor terrorism in Pakistan but has not been able to convince the world community of the veracity of its claims. A serving Indian Naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested in Pakistan who also confessed to have been a RAW agent and had carried out activities to destabilise the Pakistani state by terrorist activities. On the other hand, India has succeeded in creating a perception around the world as a result of terrorist events like the attack on Indian parliament in 2001, the Mumbai terrorists’ attack in 2008, and armed assaults in Uri and Pathankot a few years ago.

India is a huge market for Western consumer and military goods and services. At the same time, it has strategic significance for the US in its policy of containing China. This has created a sympathetic environment for India in the West. It has also created a sense of arrogance and pride in India. In recent years, Pakistan has approached India multiple times to revive the comprehensive dialogue process which was disrupted after the 2008 Mumbai attack. But it has met with a cold Indian response. The Indian response to any Pakistani talk offers in the last ten years has been to reject it on the pretext that Pakistan was sponsoring terrorism in India-occupied Kashmir and that India would consider resuming the dialogue when IOK becomes peaceful again.

The flurry of events after the new Pakistani government proposed a meeting of Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly is evidence of the Indian mindset. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ statement in response to the Pakistani proposal seems to have lacked seriousness. First, it accepted the idea of the meeting but a day later backtracked on the grounds of a postage stamp issued by the Pakistani government honouring the late Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani sometime ago. This was a flimsy reason as the postage stamp was issued before the present Imran Khan’s government came into power and a caretaker set-up had taken that decision.

As regards Afghanistan, it differs with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. The background of the Afghan Jihad against Soviet occupation and the recent War on Terror are issues on which Pakistan and Afghanistan see the developments differently. Pakistan, along with the United States and Saudi Arabia, had supported the Afghan Mujahideen during the Afghan Jihad but in the latter years, the Afghan government began to suspect that Pakistan was also backing the Afghan Taliban in the ongoing War on Terror. Pakistan believes that irrespective of issues of trust deficit, the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution and favours reconciliation between the Afghan government and the fighting groups.

‘Terror wave result of failed foreign policy’

Afghanistan has seen political instability and internal fighting for the last four decades. Afghan instability has also a spillover effect on Pakistan. Pakistan has experienced the proliferation of gun and violence as a result of internal instability in Afghanistan and suffered from acts of terrorism. In fact, Afghan policymakers in collusion with their Indian counterparts, particularly their intelligence agencies, have been jointly working to carry out terrorist activities inside Pakistan, as suspected by the Pakistani leadership.

The Pak-US relationship has seen both positive and negative phases in its diplomatic history. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location has been a major reason for cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. The US mainly sought Pakistani cooperation in promoting its interests against a third party. The Soviet Union was such a party during the Cold War and the Taliban after 9/11. The geo-strategic location of Pakistan was a major determinant in both cases. Factors other than its location have played only a minor role in the relations between the two countries.

The Afghan Jihad was an era of close cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. Both the US and Pakistan supported the Afghan Mujahideen in order to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the relationship saw a decline. But post- 9/11 Pak-US ties again saw an upward trajectory, whereby the US needed Pakistani support to support its fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan did support the US to the extent to which it had agreed initially but the United States expected more from Pakistan. The US developed the mantra of “do more” vis-à-vis Pakistan. As the war on terror in Afghanistan has prolonged and has reached a stalemate now over seventeen years, Pak-US ties have come to their lowest level ever. The US has stopped military assistance to Pakistan. It has also been blaming Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan. The Trump Administration’s 2017 South Asia Strategy clearly reflected this perspective.

The United States can also influence Pakistan’s dealings with international organisations. Pakistan could not get the support of the United States on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issue. United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned against the International Monetary Funds’ financing to Pakistan citing the likelihood of Pakistan using the funds for paying back the Chinese debts.

Another aspect of Pakistan’s relationships with India, Afghanistan and the US is a strong trilateral relationship between the latter three countries. US, India, and Afghanistan are closely aligned with one another albeit indirectly. India enjoys a close relationship with both the US and Afghanistan. Similarly, the US presence and long-term interests in Afghanistan make it a troublesome stakeholder in that country and decisions it takes with regard to its security. They share similar views on the War on Terror and blame Pakistan for backing terrorism in Afghanistan and India. Hence, they collude against Pakistan.

Their trilateral understanding of events makes it harder for Pakistan to convince any one of these three countries. To convince Afghanistan of its sincere intentions to resolve the Afghan issue would also require the United States to believe in the sincerity of its efforts. Similarly, Afghanistan is not likely to improve relations with Pakistan without the consent of India and the United States.

The nationalistic governments in both the US and India rely heavily on political rhetoric. They focus on strategy to make the outer world look evil to secure their respective political support base. India and Afghanistan will hold general elections in 2019 and later 2018, respectively. Anti-Pakistan rhetoric is likely to see a sharp rise in India. During this time any hope of even minimal engagements between Pakistan on the one hand and the US and India on the other may not materialise. Pakistan, meanwhile, can wait for the new administrations in India and Afghanistan to come into power and start fresh engagement with them.

Pakistan has also erred in leaving the space open for India to influence world opinion by not actively pursuing informal means of shaping opinion in the United States. Liberal use of funds in academic circles and think tanks in the Western capitals by India has given it the opportunity to build and spread its narrative. To counter this failing, Pakistan could engage and organise its huge diaspora in the Western countries in lobbying and soft image building.

The strengthening of domestic institutions, the social sector, and the economy will inject confidence in the diplomatic position of Pakistan. Reforms in these sectors will also bring political and social stability and make Pakistan more relevant and connected globally.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2018.

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COMMENTS (10)

Avtar | 3 years ago | Reply @Ahmad: Forget about countering Indian influence. Do create your own sphere of influence by your deeds and actions.
Engr.Amir Sultan Rana | 3 years ago | Reply Make a robust foreign policy. Include professionals who can accelerate our economy to next phase. Bring new measures and initiatives for boasting our economy at large. Have an aim of becoming global leader in financial market. Best of luck Pakistan.
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