National honour and foreign policy

Published: March 31, 2012
The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore [email protected]

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Our foreign policy is now being handled by our parliament after the elected government couldn’t wrest its control from the army. The parliament is dying to agree with the army but has no clue about how foreign policy should be shaped and is being led by the nose by the GHQ.

We live under representative democracy, so we are saved from ‘direct democracy’ where passions compel citizens to commit blunders. But parliament is still close to popular passions routinely considered anathema to foreign policy.

The direct democracy of Athens was dismissed by Aristotle as the worst kind of government because it was ruled by passions and controlled by moneylenders. (Aristotle’s abomination of moneylending predates Islam’s own). It was the directly participating public of Athens that killed Socrates and made democracy a cuss word. Aristotle also dismisses timocracy.

Timocracy (from Greek ‘time’ pronounced ‘teemay’ meaning ‘honour’) is rule by the military. Timocracy comes about when people, instead of concerning themselves with virtue, get obsessed with the seeking of honour. The primary means of attaining honour is on the battlefield.

In their internal behaviour, states have governance in accordance with laws, judicial institutions and enforcement mechanisms. In international affairs there is no governance. States, therefore, formulate ‘policy’ to engage outside their borders. Governance and policy are the two differentiating markers.

Because there is no fixed law and no enforcement mechanism, international affairs remain amoral. It is an arena where states pursue their self-interest and refuse to be challenged on the basis of morality. Treaty law which could be seen as a parallel of national statutes cannot be enforced except through ‘realpolitik’.

‘Governance’ is inflexible by reason of its fixation in the legal codes; ‘policy’ is flexible because of its operation in an essentially ‘lawless’ environment. The best foreign policy — in absolute terms — is endlessly flexible and manoeuvrable. But elements of inflexibility are introduced into it by nationalism and ideology. For this reason, there is always a gap between what the people want and what the state needs to do in the realm of international affairs.

People seek moral answers and want the state to behave with honour; the state would prefer to seek its self-interest without reference to morality and honour. The people want a static policy; the state wants to keep it flexible to the point of ‘unprincipledness’.

States that follow nationalism and ideology have elements of fixity in foreign policy. If foreign policy is allowed to become completely subservient to inflexible principles of nationalism, it begins to incline to isolationism. Nationalism is ‘delusional’ because it is created out of a rewriting of history in order to invoke a collective sense of honour and dignity.

Nationalism is highly emotive and cannot bear analysis. In moments of high collective emotion, states deprive themselves of flexibility of response in foreign policy.

After 2001, Pakistan’s pursuit of wisdom rather than honour can be called a ‘save-your-ass’ policy. It has not found favour with the people but its consequences were positive in economic terms. Based on opportunism rather than honour, the economy threw up indicators that couldn’t be matched in the past.

The elected governments in Pakistan have favoured a ‘flexible’ foreign policy. The army has judged acts of ‘pragmatism’ of the elected governments on the criterion of nationalism and ideology and punished them. Now when the army seeks to change the honour-based paradigm to a wisdom-based one — in respect of the Nato supply route — the public opinion leans on nationalism and opposes it by siding with non-state actors.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Khan Jr
    Mar 31, 2012 - 11:34PM

    And just who are responsible for brainwashing and drip feeding the public with a highly emotive version of nationalism? Yes, it is the very same people who are fear being hoisted on their own petard and are now seeking to hide behind parliamentary ‘decision making’.


  • Falcon
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:20AM

    Interesting point of view. But disagree with your thesis:
    1. Nationalism is more than just a curse that comes out of delusional re-writing of history. Its a feeling of belong to a land that demands higher responsibility towards your nation.

    Foreign policy can not be amoral just like businesses can not be completely amoral. This is a very flawed philosophy. Infact, it is amoral foreign policy that has given birth to colonialism and imperialism. In essence, it has a deeper underlying meaning, which is all good things of morality can be avoided when it comes to human beings other than those living in our own land.

    Positive economic indicators post 2001 are also the very cause of overly negative economic indicators after 2008. Let’s learn to look at a bigger picture for once!


  • Cynical
    Apr 1, 2012 - 3:15AM

    How about substituting ‘nationalism’ with ‘patriotism’?
    The former is zingoistic the later is not.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 4:01AM

    The Army desperately wants the money from NATO supplies that it has gotten so used to having via the National Logistics Cell. Post-Salala it sought to push the unpopular decision of opening up NATO routes to the parliament so it could preserve its image as the saviour of the nation’s honour.

    But for all our strategic depth — strategically deep thinking has never been a strong suit of our military and here it miscalculated. It didn’t factor in the decades of anti-US propaganda it has been feeding the masses — the parliament is much more subject to popular sentiment which has now caused grid-lock in the PCNS. After Salala, we rushed to foist the ghairat flag by putting relations with US on hold and stopping NATO supplies. Now the ghairat brigades will make it very hard for the military and the parliament to restore status quo even if it is in Pakistan’s interest. It must really hurt our generals to see the hundreds of millions of NATO supply revenues go to Russia and the Central Asian countries.


  • Harry Stone
    Apr 1, 2012 - 5:02AM


    Before this is over it will unfortunately hurt more than just the generals.


  • Ashvinn
    Apr 1, 2012 - 7:34AM

    Do not ride a tiger unless you know how to get down.


  • Feroz
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:02AM

    Parliament need not oblige the same forces that whipped up peoples emotions and created a diplomatic logjam. Do not open the NATO route and if the Army wants it get it in writing. Any diplomatic suggestions the Army makes must also be taken in writing. This is the best chance for Parliament to take back the nation from usurpers. Those who run with the Hare and hunt with the Hound has to be put in their place if this nation state has to survive and prosper.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 11:26AM

    The formulation of foreign policy is not an emotional undertaking but a prudent approach to secure the national interests. Army has its perception of national interests and it strictly acted to secure the advantageous position. The decision is now to be taken by the Parliament and that is why nation is awaiting what the elected represented have to say? While the US transgressions are the extreme acts of brutality and arrogance but still we need to understand that what our stakes are? Pakistan is a declared ally of US/NATO for war against terrorism. The extremists hurt more Pakistan than US and it is no time to be bravado but prudent.


  • Ali q
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:28AM

    I think…you ignore the fact that Pakistan has suffered substantially in their support for American foreign policy. 2000s backlash for supporting Americans was minimal, however it is stronger now for a reason. NATO/US has performed miserably in Afghanistan and both Afghanistan/PKistan have had to bear the brunt of it. Implicit in the flexibility you call for is a flexibility for continued loss of Pakistani (not American) civilian life.


  • wonderer
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:17PM

    Pakistan will have a NEW foreign policy only when there is a NEW Pakistan.

    A NEW Pakistan will be possible only when there are NEW Pakistanis.

    How to make NEW Pakistanis?

    That is the million dollar question.

    Concentrate on that question if you want CHANGE.


  • A S
    Apr 1, 2012 - 2:13PM

    For Heaven’s sake, can someone tell us as to where on our planet Earth will one see “Democracy” in practice.
    To achieve “Democracy” is the total responsibility of the masses. The masses show total apathy of their responsibility to achieve “Democracy”. Hence no “Democracy”.
    Never. Not until the masses will see the sense in bringing about the rule of “Democracy” through their organisation for participation in those matters that affect them.
    Anyone fromany where who tells us that they have “Democracy” is a fraudster.
    “Democracy”is by the people, of the people for the people. No where in the world are people at large organised as the foregoing. So no Democrcay. No where in the world. Full Stop..


  • MarkH
    Apr 1, 2012 - 3:00PM

    Pakistan, in terms of governing has put themselves into a corner so deep they can’t win with any choice they make. They appear to be trying to get some sort of special, uneven, gain from the reopening.of the supply route. But in reality, they’re running damage control. Not truly negotiating. They want to please the extremists out of fear, the people because they talk big and the world because of its worsening image by the day.
    The biggest problem they actually have: it’s a supply route being the offer but all of what they want in return that would pacify the anti-West people of their own creation is not anywhere near an equal trade.
    Lack of foresight, impulsive emotional claims and feeding anti-West sentiments has dug a very big hole. Though that’s interesting in itself as I can’t think of a single move they can make that won’t be painful.


  • Zulfiqar Khan
    Apr 1, 2012 - 6:34PM

    The policy makers are now caught in thier web they weaved to trap civilian governments. I rewriting of history is now haunting the writers of history.


  • Arindom
    Apr 2, 2012 - 1:49AM

    There is one ‘fatal flaw’ in democracy – that is ‘democracy of the mob’.
    If the majority (i.e. the mob) holds a certain view – that becomes the democratic and (legal) view. Classic example is a lynch mob. The majority ( by democratic means) decides to hang somebody – that becomes the legal judgement and execution.


  • anonymus
    Apr 2, 2012 - 4:00AM

    @A S:
    so you want gunman rule


  • Harry Stone
    Apr 2, 2012 - 5:17AM


    The nations that make up the so called developed world are all democracies. There is a reason for that but that is a different topic. They also have the rule of law. Those laws do in fact protect the minority point of view as well as minorities. This is the significant difference between the devloped nations and the second teir devloping nations.


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