Our Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani says no one and no institution should singly decide what Pakistan’s national interest is to be. In other words, a national consensus has to be developed on the subject before it becomes a policy plank. He has implied two conclusions to be drawn from his comment: first, that the current strategy will stay intact; and second, that those suggesting changes in it are speaking without the benefit of national consensus.
Pakistan’s Canada-based ex-ambassador Muhammad Yunus in his book Foreign Policy: A Theoretical Introduction (OUP, 2003) has told us how different scholars have avoided theorising about national interest. He quotes Raymond Aron as saying that “it is a formula vague to the point of being meaningless or a pseudo-theory”.
In Pakistan, it is the army that decides strategy. The other institutions, like the government, simply adjust to it. Should we change this pattern? The following points are worth pondering:
1) Because the army was always dominant, a kind of ‘consensual national interest’ became frozen over the national security state, which meant a challenge to India and all those elements — like the nuclear programme — that underpinned it.
2) Is Kashmir an object of national interest? On the ground, it has faded away but in abstraction, it is there as a device to derail discussion over more practical issues.
3) In today’s world, power rather than any morality drives foreign policy. If a state is strong it will be sovereign. It will also have two qualities that will make it a de facto ‘big power’: the ability to resist coercion and the ability to coerce other states. National interest lies in achieving either or both conditions.
4) It is not an unforgivable sin to be a weak state. What should be the national interest of weak states? Contrary to what the nation thinks, it should not be harmed by the power projection of states it cannot oppose or resist.
5) National interest lies in seeking alliances that may break the isolation that enables the enemy-state to successfully harm it.
6) National interest lies in attaining the ability to achieve internal reform in order to avoid foreign pressure of all sorts.
7) National interest lies in avoiding international isolation to prevent other states from getting together within the United Nations to use international law to harm it.
8) Embracing pragmatism in the conduct of the state to come close to a theoretical basis for the understanding of the conduct of a weak state.
9) Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore is the philosopher of the new ‘national interest’ theory that is related solely to the national economy. He symbolises the transition of the nation state to a market state.
10) The ‘market’ states in most of Southeast Asia and the Far East seem to conduct themselves ‘pragmatically’ in the realm of foreign policy, reflected in their abstention from pronouncing an aggressive strategy.
11) Should the common man be the one to decide national interest? What the common man thinks is shaped by the indoctrination of the state. Political theory, developed since the rejection of democracy by philosophers in Athens, recommends ‘indirect representative democracy’ that keeps the common man away from the formulation of strategy.
12) State indoctrination is not geared to the reality of relative power enjoyed by the state vis-à-vis other states but to the myth of its own greatness in the abstract.
13) National interest should not be conflated with nationalism, which is in the domain of emotions that incline the state to the risk of war. National interest should relate to the economic vision of the country and should be achieved with pragmatism.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2012.