Can foreign policy work this way?

Published: March 24, 2012
Foreign policy is conducted through diplomacy, not through legislation; and diplomacy is the art of the possible with exclusive focus on such tangible objectives as the national interest.

Foreign policy is conducted through diplomacy, not through legislation; and diplomacy is the art of the possible with exclusive focus on such tangible objectives as the national interest.

The American reaction to the report of Pakistan’s parliamentary committee on foreign policy continues to be exaggeratedly normal — that of deference to the sovereignty of Pakistan, who is entitled to shape its foreign policy the way it likes. Washington says it will wait till the process of the review is complete in Islamabad. It is already focusing on the more pragmatic aspects of the ‘guidelines’: it would resume talks about the possible reopening of the Nato and US supply routes to Afghanistan. Chances are that if Pakistan negotiates the reopening with more pragmatism and less offended honour, the Americans will be inclined to apologise for the Salala mishap too. Foreign policy is conducted through diplomacy, not through legislation; and diplomacy is the art of the possible with exclusive focus on such tangible objectives as the national interest. Some ‘culpable’ pragmatism is shown by the parliamentary committee in its conditionalities for the resumption of the Nato supply route, which should have been left to the intimacy of dialogue of the diplomats of the two sides. Since the government wanted to duck the consequences of its actions in the realm of foreign policy — which is not in its hands — it got parliament to spell out the unsavoury details that it knew would be attacked by a public aroused against the US. The ‘flexibility’ manifested by the parliamentary committee in these conditionalities came from a GHQ briefing which now must get a taste of what happens if the nitty-gritty of foreign policy is thrown open to the man in the street.

Angry reaction is already in evidence. Respectable opinion-makers condemn the ‘worldliness’ of material demands when national honour was at stake. It is being said that Nato supplies simply could not be the subject of discussion in line with the public sentiment that Nato gets guns through the route to kill our brethren in a war which is not ‘our war’. The GHQ had seemed less pragmatic than the PPP government in the conduct of foreign policy with America, but it now seems it has been trumped by what the more angry elements feel about it. The GHQ had a taste of it when it took a tough stand on the Raymond Davis case and then used it, not to end the relationship with the US but to recondition it. Unfortunately, the forthcoming parliamentary discussion will rob the guideline of whatever little flexibility it still retained.

References to international law abound in the ‘guideline’ — on both the Salala affair and the drones — but that is what the parliamentarians on the committee were told to say. Opinion differs on it and both sides make reference to international law. Since the breakdown of the League of Nations and the acceptance of the ‘optional clause’ in the charter of the International Court of Justice, nations have learned to keep foreign policy flexible. The best foreign policy is the most flexible one, especially for the not-so-powerful states that cannot force their will on other states; but the world has seen that even a superpower may be embarrassed by a ‘fixed’ foreign policy, thereby curtailing its room for manoeuvre. An apt remark on what has happened goes along these lines: In our effort to overcome certain imbalances that have arisen due to tension between state organs, we may end up in a deeper crisis. The real crisis was not our relations with the US but the PPP government’s relations with the GHQ, whose mind is not very clear about whether the relations with the US should be ‘transactional’ — a word much used by those who write on behalf of the army — or ‘honour-bound’.

What kind of satisfaction does Pakistan want? If the masses are consulted, they want the US to be revenged upon for what has happened at Abbottabad and Salala and earlier at the hands of Raymond Davis, who was humiliatingly let of on ‘diyat’. In short, in line with the way the Defence of Pakistan Council wants to conduct itself with regard to Nato supplies, they want war with the US as it leaves Afghanistan, so that the textbooks record that we defeated the US the way we defeated the Soviet Union.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Babur Chughtai
    Mar 25, 2012 - 1:57AM

    Who wrote this editorial: a Pakistani newspaper or the Pentagon?


  • Kamran
    Mar 25, 2012 - 3:31AM

    We simply don’t need ur apologies US …


  • Feroz
    Mar 25, 2012 - 6:15AM

    The guidelines approved by Parliament is a feeble attempt of the Establishment to fire their guns after resting them on the shoulders of the peoples representatives. When everyone and their father in law knows who makes Foreign and Security policy, why this charade of deceit. How can the country ever win global respect if Institutions use and abuse themselves this way. So policy will be made elsewhere and the can will be held by Parliamentarians. However hard I wrack my brains cannot think of a similar parallel anywhere on Earth.


  • Realist
    Mar 25, 2012 - 6:16AM

    One of the lessons from the History of the Peloponnesian War is: the strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.
    The Melian dialogue, contained in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, is an account of the confrontation between the people of Melos, a small island in the southern Aegean Sea, and the Athenians in 416–415 BC. Melos was a neutral island, lying just east of Sparta; the Athenians wanted to conquer the island to intimidate the Spartans. In general, “the Dialogue is formally not about the morality of the eventual execution, but about the Melian response to the Athenians’ first demand, that Melos should submit.” The Athenians counter that gods and men alike respect strength over moral arguments; the strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.
    The struggle and love-hate relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is not different.


  • MarkH
    Mar 25, 2012 - 9:30AM

    Why have you been obsessing over it, if you don’t want it? Is that like when people don’t want the US’s money and help but immediately start complaining when they don’t get it? Or when the people wanting them to leave the region start making accusations of betrayal and abandonment at the mere mentioning of them leaving from a credible source?


  • Mar 25, 2012 - 10:03AM

    US must leave this region, SInce fake 9/11 incident US have made the world more unsafe and waged a war against Islam and its followers


  • Dee Cee
    Mar 25, 2012 - 11:53AM

    @Realist: Although there is a strong grain of reality in your argument, I would say that we need to understand the issue from morality perspective as well. USA, howsoever, it may want, cannot fire a single drone inside Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. These countries do not have as much strength as Pakistan does, but the moral argument of territorial sovereignty is more respected in their case. Why? Primarily because Pakistan’s case is severely weakened by the presence of extremist individuals and groups on Pakistani soil and Pakistan’s inability to cleanse them single-handedly. Elements in Pakistan do violate Pakistani sovereignty and frequently have demonstrated that they have the power to violate the sovereignty of others. I would say that Iraq reduced the credibility of US actions considerably, but, in Pakistan’s case, the moral argument still trumps the nominal sovereignty argument put forward to the US. Now, the parliamentary review was a great thing, however, it needed to bring out key policy objectives on part of Pakistan. Drones are a symptom of a disease, the disease is trans-national extremism carried out by non-state actors in Pakistan. If Pakistan manages to contain/cleanse its territories of such elements, US loses ALL arguments for ANY violation of sovereignty. A token declaration against extremism or the balancing act of Musharraf won’t do. A clear cut policy with execution by the army will win Pakistan universal accolades and diplomatic credits, and will actually help Pakistan “defeat” USA.


  • huzaifa
    Mar 25, 2012 - 4:03PM

    ET !
    An excellent phrase worth quoting, “Foreign policy is conducted through diplomacy, not through legislation; and diplomacy is the art of the possible with exclusive focus on such tangible objectives as the national interest”. The National objectives are not laid keeping in view 1 year or six months ahead but for us it should be at least 5 years to start with( great nations like china and US plan 50 to 100 years ahead normally). What should be the aim of our foreign policy now after Salallah, I am the most aggrieved on shahdats of our 24 soldiers, but i know that revenge on the battle field is not possible, so we should extract such settlement out of US that we as nation{ not apolitical party or person) should be benefited to the maximum. This will be our sweet revenge and the blood of Salallah shaheeds will not go waist. Now another part is that the divide between our institutions is making mockery out of us. We are not in doubt about the caliber and integrity of our leaders, they definitely won’t think beyond their personal interests and inter party rivalries, then who will make policies for the country???……… I think only God has the Answer.


  • Realist
    Mar 25, 2012 - 5:31PM

    @ Dee Cee. A well articulate argument – only a diplomat would offer that. Let’s stand in Pakistan’s shoes and validate your suggestions. Pakistan suffers a geographical curse – it’s relations with the U.S. have vacillated from a strongest non-NATO ally to that of present lowest ebb due to this. Pakistan is a land-bridge to great powers that seek access to the Indian Ocean or resource rich Central Asia. The Talibinsation of Pakistan is a fallout of its policy to offer bulwark against Communism. It was trapped between hard surface and a rock. It had no option except serving the U.S. bid to Central Asia twice – a Faustian Bargain.
    What is the way out? It is an amendment to the “truth” Thucydides offered. The weak (Pakistan) must work inwards to improve its law and order and economic profile. The strong (U.S.) must shed its hubris and genuinely help Pak overcome the difficult patch.
    Can the U.S. shed its trends of regional selectivity? Think long term, the current “permanent” friends can be long-term adversaries. The ICBMs and massive military infrastructure may contain China, but may ultimately threaten the Dee Cee :)


  • V. C. Bhutani
    Mar 25, 2012 - 5:58PM

    I am afraid most of the comments have been written in a sense of unreality, as indeed the editorial is as well. There is no realization in all this that for an age Pakistan has been using terror as an instrument of its foreign policy. That is the crux of the question. Unless terror goes out of Pakistan’s foreign policy, there will be no victory for Pakistan, not over the terrorists and certainly never over the US. In any case, forget about the victory over the US: a State has not arisen for more than a hundred years that can think in terms of defeating the US. The parliamentary review should have concentrated on the question of advancing Pakistan–US relations along lines that will conduce to the good of both. There should not have been the overly populist efforts to compel the US to offer an apology for this or an apology for that. It is all right to talk of putting an end to US drone attacks but someone in Pakistan should have remembered that if Pakistan does not attend to controlling its terrorists, then the US has no choice but to do it on its own. Why is this being made the subject of a national grievance – by Pakistan’s government, Pakistan’s army, Pakistan’s parliament, and Pakistan’s press – leading Pakistan’s people to feel aggrieved at US behaviour? This has been tantamount to misguiding people. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 25 Mar 2012, 1828 IST


  • Realist
    Mar 25, 2012 - 6:27PM

    @Bhutani. There is inherent “errroism” in defining terrorism. Pakistan’s so-called use of terrorism as an instrument of policy is like India’s use of terrorism in Occupied Kashmir as an instrument of Domestic Policy.
    The Rambo III was dedicated to the terrorists of today!
    No sane country would support terrorists to kill its own citizens – its not rationally possible. Pakistan is no exception.


  • Harry Stone
    Mar 26, 2012 - 6:03AM

    One can only hope PAK would go to war with the US… This would solve a lot of the world’s security problems.


  • Nasir
    Mar 26, 2012 - 11:07AM

    @Harry Stone:
    O yea… just like they solved the security problems in Afghanistan.


  • Harry Stone
    Mar 26, 2012 - 11:18PM


    Did I miss an attack on the US from Afghanistan?


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