A regional orientation

Published: April 1, 2012
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

Refocusing on foreign policy orientation is normal when something goes wrong, allies, partners and friends don’t come true to expectations or when some fundamental changes in the regional or global structure of relations occur. Pakistan has reviewed, revisited and rethought its foreign policy several times. But foreign policies are never — revolutionary, transformatively or fundamentally — changed. Fundamentals are primary interests of the state, depending on how governing elites determine what they are, which priorities they assign to them and what resources they mobilise to realise them.

A review of Pakistan’s foreign policy that was long overdue since the departure of Pervez Musharraf is finally underway. The fact that our foreign policy is going through this process at a critical juncture –– endgame in Afghanistan and problems in US-Pakistan ties –– is something to welcome. Additionally, the current review is apparently more inclusive than it was at any other point in our history. The military and its subsidiary institutions –– the Foreign Office, and more importantly, parliament, including opposition groups –– are involved in debating one critical aspect of our foreign policy, which is the nature of cooperation and overall relationship with the United States. Irrespective of the outcome, the process is very democratic, and being so we should expect better results than what would have been the case if one man, one group or one institution determined the path of our foreign policy.

There is one significant critique of Pakistan’s foreign policy which one cannot miss and this is that we have relied too heavily on the United States and Europe. We grew closer to distant countries to balance out our security relations with India or gain a leverage through foreign powers to confront the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We cannot deny that the climate of hostility with India has been a constant factor. The perceptions of threat — real or imagined — from across the two borders have largely determined our foreign policy options. But history does not move in endless circles.

Today, we need to rethink old threat perceptions and the new opportunities that a friendlier and more cooperative relationship with India and Afghanistan may offer us. Shifting focus on the region and reordering foreign policy options regarding these two neighbours does not mean ending our relationship with the rest of the world. I am merely raising the question of reorientation.

Let me define what this means and how it can be a substantive aspect of our foreign policy. It simply means restructuring our entire range of relationship with India, with or without a resolution for the Kashmir dispute. On our part, we must bury the past. I am sure that we will also find similar sentiment across the border. The shift from the past to a new common future in the region, geared in the direction of Afghanistan and Central Asia must be the number one foreign policy goal of Pakistan.

The time for this change is now; we have wasted too much time and energy and too many resources on hostility. Let us try friendship. For this to happen, we need political courage, a vision, new orientation and, of course, new social discourse on reconnecting with India, a country with whom we have thousands of bonds.

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

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Reader Comments (25)

  • adeel759
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:20AM

    The cure to Pakistan’s most ills lie in India. India can be largest economic, social, educational, developmental and political partner for Pakistan. Both the countries can benefit from each other. But for all this who is going to Bell The Cat (Pak Fauj’s unreal and unfounded obsession with India).


  • Max
    Apr 1, 2012 - 2:00AM

    Formal foreign policy-making models (Alison, Halperin, or Snyder) do not fit quite well to Pakistani situation as we are too focused on single issue context of our foreign relations. There is a dire need for paradigm shift both in our foreign policy apparatus and also commonly held perceptions (intensified by our chauvinistic nationalism).
    Professor Rais is correct to point out that it is the perceptions or according to Robert Jervis (another authority of international relations)it is the misperceptions that lead to crises/ and ultimately to war or war like situations. But we have a large number of key players with very high stakes who thrive on single issue foreign policy paradigms. Unfortunately they are on both sides of the divide line.


  • usmanx
    Apr 1, 2012 - 2:17AM


    Firstly, what you propose is difficult. pakistanis don’t just think of kashmir as another territory like hyderabad, junagadh, goa, minicoy, sikkim, mandavar, siachen (all invaded or stolen on one hypocritical pretext or another by India). Pakistanis think of Kashmiris as Pakistanis as brothers and cousins, people of the indus who are subjugated by a tyrannical force of 700,000 Indian soldiers.

    Secondly Let’s put aside Pakistan for a moment as an unreasonable and inherently evil entity. How are India’s relations with Sri Lanka who despise her for her interference. How about Nepal who have no-visa policy but 400 sq. km have been encroached by her more powerful southern neighbor. How about Bangladesh, although liberated by India (really bengali freedom-fighters) terminated its friendship treaty with India and constantly feels over-powered. How about China – who taught the Indians a lesson for the provocative forward policy (indians belived themselves to be the inheritors of its northern boundary imagined by her former masters (the british). How about Maldives where India sponsored a coup. Imagine the regional countries condition if Pakistan was not there to counter India’s hegemony. And what is your opinion of the fact that India at this very moment sits on our precious territory in Siachen?

    Third, Pakistan has not been as inflexible as you suggest. On many occassions it has agreed to the following: 1. Kashmir Plebiscite 2. Regional Plebiscite 3. Jammu and Ladakh 4. Partitioned Vale of Kashmir 4. Musharraf Formula 5. Independence 6. others
    Pakistan wants this to be multilateral, UN, OIC, global issue. India has defeated pakistan’s higher moral ground on kashmir with the simla agreement.

    It is India that has shown stubborness and poor neighborly behavior.
    Contrast how Pakistan dealt with Oman over Gwadar versus India dealings with Portugal over Goa.
    Contrast how Pakistan dealt with China on demarcation versus India.
    Contrast how Pakistan has not taken ONE inch of weaker neighbors versus India.

    Pakistan has many faults but this pattern of self-flagellation by our intellectuals is unwarranted.



  • ramanan
    Apr 1, 2012 - 4:56AM

    Pakistan has become too poisonous for India and Indians. I, in fact, shudder when
    Maulana Fazalur Rehman visits our Deobandi school, as he did recently. It is foolhardy for India to meddle with Pakistan either way. Recently, the sunnis in Hyderbad and Delhi protested against ahmedis being categorised as muslims. This arabization or pakistanization of muslims is what we can ill afford. I do not know if it would be good for you if you restructure your relationship with India, but it would be dangerous for India if we seek any rapproachment without first Pakistan changing its primary character, as an outpost of Islamofascism and wahhabism.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 5:17AM

    Rasul Bakhsh Sahib,It is late evening in USA and Dawn breaking in Pakistan,hope a new dawn breaks in your two nations too.Foreign policy is my forte after History,I remind you about me writing to you about Dara Sikokh,the unfortunate but a better intelletual copy of his grand father Akbar the great,If he had won,there would have been no English rule and I would not be writing to you,we would not be hostile to each other,battles decide not only of individual fate, but fate of nations also..But no use over split milk of 1657 near battle on the out skrits of Agra.It is my strong conviction,the relationship between USA and Pakistan will never be the same post May 2nd Abbotabad,OBL and 9/11 has changed US /Pakistan relation for good,in a way Pakistan can reorient its F.P. to her advantage,after ruining it for so long,they have great opportunity,no bad thing has happened till now,since 11/26.Time and tide waits for no one.It is vital for Pakistan to readjust her sail,not so much for India, her foreign policy is mostly reactive one to what Pakistan does,it will improve if Pakistan changes it will worsen if Pakistan does not change its unrelenting,unremmiting hostility,I’m not going to rehash all Pakistan has done,it is well known to People like you and it is totally counter productive exercise.Beside Excuse and finger pointing I never indulge in.Lot of good years have been wasted.I know why it has been like that,but saying begone be begone will not pay the rent.I know it is extremely difficult for ideology driven and theological mind set to change,but when it has no divident to show for 64 years,keep doing same and expect different result is lunacy.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 5:44AM

    Further to what I said,India was very weak in 60’s till 90’s,if at that juncture if Pakistan could not wrest Kashmir and when USA was in your corner,now USa is no longer in your corner,USA is disengaging from Pakistan to speak mildly,and I’m not going to gloat.India is now economicly much sounder,its economy is going to get more better,and Pakistan is not going great guns as it used to,it has now so many problem and distraction,again to speak very mildly,is a understatement,if by chance this present GOI is no longer in power by next election which is very likely as the Election in U.P, and Bihar,and surely they are going to be routed in Gujarat like Punjab,it is bad omen for Pakistan.All you need in the mix is some terrible act of terrorism,and you know it,I know it,and every body will know it,what will be the out come to Indo/Pak relation and diplomacy,it will be dead in cold water.Dead meat,Pakistan does not have luxurary of time this time around.Pakistan has said the right things for a while,the time is to act with decisive way and boldly but your govt is very weak and violence is not taking holiday,every day new killing.Does not help your cause.Even your capacity to create trouble in Kashmir is going no where,it is running out of steam.I can assure you,as USA always has been telling,you have zero threat from India,it is your addiction for causing trouble recently USA general said,the sad thing is he said it is not likely to change,USA has given up,If India too come to that conclusion,then things will rapidly go down hill.That will be a very sad day for Pakistan,like Two nation theory,Partition may turn out to be blessing in disguise for India.Good day.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 5:57AM

    @Max: You wrote well until the last line,this urge to blame India has to be resisted,there are no bad players who are ready to throw monkey wrench,do not bring some powerless people making noises it is not same as 60 hours of mahem in Mumbai by hard core terrorist.Name me one time when India intervaned in Pakistan,not once,it is always reactive in nature.I’m no apologist for India,india has poor leadership,they do not need to to do anything,pakistan is quite capable of sabotageing well..


  • Sanjay, Mumbai
    Apr 1, 2012 - 8:54AM

    We have choice of either to keep on bickering and pointing fingers at others. You have choice of choosing allies based on faith, based on short term political gains or dollar aid etc. India’s economic and political clout is a reality. Its for Pakistan to choose its path and friends. India would be more than willing to open up trade relationship with Pakistan , obviously not for altruistic reasons. But then Trade is done to benefit all trading partners. Even now, after so many decades if some Pakistani’s think India is there enemy, there’s no one in world who can change this thinking. As regards India’s relationship with other neighbours, all the observations made are just perceptions. In reality trade between India and other neighbours is growing. One may choose to look at darker side all the time..its you choice. Good Luck!


  • Ak
    Apr 1, 2012 - 9:14AM

    Well written but truth is not that black and white. You failed to mention many things and I will list out a few.

    Yes India has issues with China but do you also know that China is India’s biggest trading partner. Trade has grown 15 times over the last 10 years. Also unlike Pakistan, it doesn’t send armed marauders to India to kill and maim people in the name Jehad and vice versa.
    India sponsoring a coup in Maldives???? When did that happen? Last we checked India had excellent relations with that country.
    Srilanka – yes we had issues with each other but after having burnt its fingers the policy has been that of total non interference.
    Bangladesh – unfortunately due to it’s own political reasons the relationship goes up and down a bit. Currently the closeness has grown.
    Goa, Sikkim, Hyderabad is none of your business and you need to read a bit about this before commenting.
    With regards to Kashmir, Pakistan has unrealistic expectations which no major country in world buys it. You can keep dreaming on.

    Also what about Pakistan’s own relationship with its neighbors? Pakistan has wrecked a Afghanistan by you consistent support to various armed militias. Country tried the same in India – so two countries out of 4 that Pakistan has boundaries with have problems with the country. Major powers such as US and Russia has major disagreements with Pakistan and perhaps at no point in history the country has been so isolated and you seemed to suggest that everything is hunky and dory and whatever problems are there are the making of others!! Smell the coffee dude.


  • Feroz
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:27AM

    Brother, if you wear green colored glasses everything you see will be green. From what you write the World is a sad and cruel place where Pakistan is a victim and India is an oppressor. The World does not seem to share your concerns nor can it see things in the same light. Presidents and PM’s of every country are rushing to India to grab a piece of the pie. Yes brother, the World is made up of very dumb people – only Pakistan citizens are bright and principled.
    Let the US/NATO withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban share power there – they will teach you how to be a good and true Muslim.


  • wonderer
    Apr 1, 2012 - 12:42PM

    it is indeed heartening to see articles such as this one being written by knowledgeable Pakistani citizens. The ideas expressed here are bold and wise, but that does not mean they will be accepted in foreseeable future. The reason is the prevalence of baseless misconceptions on a broad scale visible even in comments here. The first need is for the people to be gradually introduced to TRUTH. The ill effects of misinformation and deliberate distortion of history carried on for a large space of time have to be negated.

    There are many ways of doing this, but any attempt by India or an Indian will be treated with utmost mistrust. There are many Pakistanis who can do this if they are not worried about being labeled as RAW or MOSAD agents (a very common practice). There should be a well thought out and detailed program for this purpose to be undertaken by the Government.

    One can find many video/audio files on the net where knowledgeable people like Ayesha Jalal, Najam Sethi, Nazir Naji and many others discuss the subject openly and point out various deliberate falsehoods. Efforts should be made to popularize such material besides the life and work of Dr. Abdus Salam and the book “Murder of History” by K.K. Aziz. Even songs like “Aaloo Andey” should be aired more freely. The help of media, particularly Urdu press should be obtained.

    As the thing stand at present any attempt to show friendship towards India will be resisted. Exposure to TRUTH about India will make the general public see the advantage of it, and thus accepted. Nothing will work without that.


  • Max
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:18PM

    Dig little deeper and you will find the answer.


  • mrk
    Apr 1, 2012 - 3:34PM

    The professor assumes 1) that Pakistan is the cause of instability in the relations with india and continues to be and 2) that policy shift is like pressing a button – India would happily take Pakistan in and treat it with respect or engage in economically beneficial relationship with Pakistan.
    These 2 assumptions are what underpin his argument here. And they are both flawed. There’s this percetption in Pak that Indians are somehow dying to be friends with Pak by seeing some soial activists from across the border. Thereality is totally the opposite. Perhaps we need to be more uptodate on India’s mainstream media as opposed to our own. And also figure out the basis of their $40 billion defense/offense budget (ten times that of Pak per year) to understand where we stand and where they do.

    Having said that, I think good relations with all the neighbors including India should be a policy we should try to pursue though we will not get a favorable response for sure in the long run. And proposals like making Kashmir the LOC as surfaced before are a right step in that direction.


  • Shankar
    Apr 1, 2012 - 4:29PM

    Usmanx: Please read my post as if it were written by one of your own countrymen. Then you will be able to look beyond the hatred and see the actual words. I’ve noticed that whenever India is mentioned, there is knee jerk blind hatred in Pakistanis which prevents them from seeing reality the way it really is or from even assessing what is being communicated in an objective manner.


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 5:37PM

    Foreign policy must have a realistic basis. Pakistan got entangled in Kashmir and then in Afghanistan.It helped itself in Kashmir by supporting US military pacts, and later China against India.Then it helped US in Afghanistan, first against Soviets and then against Afghan and Arab militants.

    How to get out of this quagmire ? Pakistan just does’t know.It all depends on US, and boredom of their public with this hopeless fighting.

    In both Kashmir and Afghanistan Pakistan got stuck with allies which sound fascinating from a romantic religious perspective. Militarily they have not been hefty partners.

    Pakistan’s intellectual establishment is not attuned to addressing strategic issues head on. Our retired diplomats write so inconclusively.

    Head or tail ? Pakistan is going to loose.


  • G. Din
    Apr 2, 2012 - 12:43AM

    “Head or tail ? Pakistan is going to loose. “
    That says it all.
    Why is Pakistan in a no-win situation? Because it fancied itself belonging to the Big Boys League. A puny mouse getting into a match played by elephants is not end up very well for the mouse. And, it is not!


  • Babloo
    Apr 2, 2012 - 1:25AM

    India needs to stay disengaged from Pakistan. The ideology on which the state is based will take it to its logical conclusion. Do not interfere or stand in the way as Pakistan hurls itself rapidly towards its destiny. Just watch and learn.


  • Deb
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:47AM


    Let’s keep aside the apportionment of blame between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and see who has lost more politically and economically by being obssesed with the Kashmir boggey.
    Any seasoned gambler will tell you that staking all you have for one final turn of dice is not a good idea.


  • usmanx
    Apr 2, 2012 - 5:28AM

    Indian wisdom = Head or Tail Pakistan Loose…

    If you Indians are going to show off western terms you recently learned on your H1b visa, could you at least get them right? what is tails you “loose”?

    Indian Wisdom = Big boy’s league, Puny Mouse

    Looks like the troll-brigade is out in force. Another comment section turned into a slum.


  • usmanx
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:45AM

    Presidents and PM’s of every country are rushing to India to grab a piece of the pie

    You don’t have to tell the descendants Ghauris, Ghazni, Mughals, Durranis, Suris, Lodhis, Abdalis, Khans, Talpuris and the pushtun soldiers of Babar’s armies about rushing to grab piece of Indian pie. Nobody is more aware of this pie than we. We have had her pie and we want it no more.



  • wonderer
    Apr 2, 2012 - 8:36AM


    Who are you? The cop on the beat?

    Just clean up the mess; will you?


  • usmanx
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:25PM

    who are you

    I am a Pakistani on a Pakistani newspaper discussing matters big and small about my country with my countrymen. who are YOU with westernized moniker “wonderer”, “cynical”, “Deb”, “cautious”, “cynical” , “armani” ?


  • Adeel Syed
    Apr 3, 2012 - 1:07AM

    Hate the fact that ET censors Pakistanis comments but hate-filled comments from Indians are allowed. Got two of my comments moderated. Hope this one is published.


  • usmanx
    Apr 3, 2012 - 5:11AM

    Adeel, the moderators are a blessing. if ET did not control comments we would have the same gaali-galoch as TOI, HT and the rest of it.

    Follow the following rules:

    Don’t swear
    Don’t be repetitive
    Don’t be sectarian
    Don’t advocate violence.

    You will be good.


  • Apr 3, 2012 - 9:52AM

    I’ve rebutted usmanx’s comments on my blog.


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