Among many self-destructive narratives popular in our country, I find an anti-American and anti-West discourse the most unhelpful to the interests of the country. In a world where pragmatic politicians, worldly businessmen and informed intellectuals strive for connectivity and expanded relations with all centres of power to the benefit of their peoples and countries, some powerful sections in Pakistan weave narratives that would lead to isolation, putting Pakistan on the margins of global politics. Either these sections don’t understand that isolation is a punishment, for instance, take the case of Iran, or they have an agenda to weaken Pakistan.
Actually, no country, however resourceful it might be, would do well without positive engagement, first within its neighbourhood and then with the economic and technological centres of the world. Pakistan, having lived from crisis to crisis and in the present climate of insurgency and economic problems, needs the world, particularly the United States and the Western powers, more than they need it. This is in a comparative sense, but the fact is that they may benefit from Pakistan’s stability, peace and progress as much as we might from their markets, technology and knowledge. My argument is that we must strive for the best of relationships with our immediate neighbours and with the United States and the Western world in our own interest.
Thinking rationally and in view of what Pakistan has gained and can expect to gain from these powers, my position is rather unequivocal on developing deeper and wider relationships. I may not be able to make this point without dealing with a few fallacies that pervade the airwaves. First, relationships between states are built on a common ground and that is the prerogative of the leader or regime that negotiates the nature of ties, agreements or shapes strategic partnerships. In all three partnerships we had with the United States, there was enough of a common ground. Both of us protected and promoted our respective interests in the best way we understood.
Second, interstate relationships are neither a zero-sum game, nor dictated from one side for its exclusive gains. Never is influence over policy, or policies, one-way traffic. Read some history and you will find a lot of ‘reverse influence’ of Pakistan. Third, many a time, benefits and rewards of relationships, particularly in asymmetric equations, cannot be determined as equal; there is no way of even determining them. The best criterion then is to analyse whether we would have been better off not having that particular character of relationship at that time, or were the alternative options better.
Third, it is an absolute falsehood that Pakistan has failed to protect its vital national interest while having close relations with the United States. Consider economic development and military power in the formative years. Don’t forget either when or how we developed the ‘bomb’ capacity.
Having said that, let me deal with the most difficult thing — the loss and benefit calculus. There are always unintended consequences that unpredictable circumstances, personalised decision-making and interests of rulers produce. They are many in our case — a military dominant system, a destabilised Afghanistan and reactive violence against the American war in Afghanistan. In a complex world shaped by power, ambition and self-interest, relations between any two countries are never without problems. In a conflict zone shaped by intervention, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, relations become subjected to severe strains and they have often been between Islamabad and Washington. In tougher times, the two have resorted more to questioning trust and back-stabbing than critical self-analysis.
The two have shared interest in a peaceful Afghanistan, regional stability, trade and energy markets. Strategic dialogue and robust diplomacy will narrow perceptual and real concerns on these issues and shape a common agenda beyond 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2013.