It came as no surprise that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar began her career in her new post by establishing her credentials through a defiant statement in Lahore: “Pakistan is a sovereign state that wants friendly relations with all neighbouring countries, including India, but will not accept the hegemony of any country in the region”. She added in apparent hyperbole: “Pakistan’s role in the region is by no means inferior to India”. More symbolically, she said this after her return from the ASEAN regional forum, a platform where trading nations are seeking a new non-conflictual order of interstate relations. Khar was clearly responding to her American counterpart US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark in New Delhi earlier where Clinton had asked India to play the role of a leader in Asia. Pakistan’s relations with the US are now on a slippery slope and will nosedive if more diplomacy minus unrealistic defiance is not used. She said: “Outstanding issues with India cannot be settled overnight, the Kashmir issue is on the preferential agenda of Pakistan, which desires durable peace in the region”. The punchline was then delivered: “The international community must extend cooperation to Pakistan in recognition of the country’s role as a frontline ally in combating terror”. Does she know what the international community actually thinks of Pakistan?
What she may have meant was that China will stand behind Pakistan in its new isolationist posture: “China is a time-tested friend of Pakistan and Pakistan is proud of this friendship... Pakistan and the US do have a difference of opinion on certain operational matters, but we hope that the differences can be resolved amicably… Whatever the role of a country in the region, Pakistan’s importance cannot be diminished and the US acknowledges this fact”. It is just that the US is more diplomatic and Pakistan more unbuttoned.
The US, however, speaks through its acts and the last act that has upset Pakistani authorities is the way a champion of the Kashmir cause from Indian Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Fai, has been treated in Washington.
The issue of US assistance to Pakistan is also facing increasing problems, with regard to allegations on how the aid is spent — made worse by ‘leaks’ in the American press accusing Islamabad of diverting it for other uses. On the other hand, Pakistan keeps hounding accredited American diplomats in Pakistan for not displaying diplomatic number plates on their official vehicles, knowing full well that such display will expose them to target killers over whom Pakistan has no control. More reaction could follow when ‘Kashmir centres’ in Europe too are ‘examined’ by governments. Already some European newspapers have carried reports on their sources of funding. The remark about Indian hegemony was perhaps uncalled for after a very good beginning earlier in the month, with Pakistan’s commerce minister showing interest in expanding bilateral trade and even conceding that Pakistan should accord India the ‘most-favoured nation’ status in reciprocity. By using the ‘h’ word Pakistan, runs the risk of falling in with the plans of some in the US who want to set up India as a rival power to China in the region. So far, neither China nor India is willing to bite the bait.
But Pakistan is ‘path dependent’ when it comes to relations with India. Its history is dominated by the strategy of using ‘oceanic’ linkages to avoid ‘continental’ pressures. For most of the 20th century, it was America; now it seems to be China. What reflected well on the maturity of thinking in Pakistan was Islamabad’s ability to be friends with both the US and China; indeed it was Pakistan that brought the two major powers of the world together in the 1970s. Today, good relations are needed with the two superpowers plus the regional power, India. That is what the world wants and that is where lies the key to nuclear Pakistan’s national security. Ms Khar is to visit India in the coming week. We hope that the trade-related confidence-building measures being contemplated will be put in place without delay and that India — which has given a good account of its intent by not blaming the latest terrorist attacks in Mumbai on Pakistan — will act jointly with Pakistan to resolve the problem of cross-border terrorism too.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2011.
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