In defence of the national interest

Published: October 22, 2013
The writer is a security and political analyst and works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

The writer is a security and political analyst and works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

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.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (4)

  • pakiindi
    Oct 22, 2013 - 8:49AM

    Put the whole thing in simple words. We should always remember which side of our toast is buttered.


  • nadeem
    Oct 22, 2013 - 9:30AM

    There is a difference between constructive engagement and becoming a client state with a mercenary army. For the past 36 years (at least), America has dealt directly with the army, paid directly to the army and received services directly from the army. In this master-slave relationship, the people of Pakistan have been completely cut out. Pretty much as in Egypt. This “special relationship” between the khakis and America saw us enter SEATO, CENTO, etc. in the 1950s; the coups of Ayub and Zia were made possible as a result of this comfy private relationship; and in the 1980’s again it was this military-to-America relationship that ensured our fall into the Afghan abyss. Lesson learnt: there can be no broad-based, constructive engagement possible with any world power unless the civilian elected representatives create and execute foreign policy (as opposed to foreign policy made in the GHQ that only caters to the army’s interests, not Pakistan’s)


  • Feroz
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:34AM

    Unlike every country Pakistan has based its foreign policy on trying to hurt Indian interests, without thinking of the consequences that it would be destroying itself and the future of its citizens. Pride has refused to allow it acknowledge its mistakes or correct its trajectory. Now for normalizing relations it wants concessions from India, after openly calling it an enemy state. Who will give concessions to a country that has only harmed its interests, hurled whatever it had and exhausted itself. Now Pakistan has only blanks to fire, the nuclear weapons more a liability than an asset. India has Pakistan in a very tight corner and needs to do nothing, except continue to focus on its own growth and leverage its non aligned status and soft power, to forge ahead.
    Any policy formed that does not give primacy to the welfare of citizens, their security and well being, cannot be in national interest. Pakistan’s pursuit of its national interests is diametrically opposed to the welfare of the lives of its citizens, in fact not bothered about loss of lives while chasing illusions. When the Military decides what is in national interest, benefits cannot flow to citizens. Today, citizens do not want to pay taxes because the State cannot guarantee their security or protect them from predators, how can loyalty be built. Regressive and opportunistic legislation has weakened the fabric of the nation, making it so weak it cannot repeal even one law. Talks with insurgents who want to impose their views and ideas on all citizens cannot work, only a wholesale cleanup of the terror network and infrastructure, alongside a change in World view and mindset can save Pakistan.


  • unbelievable
    Oct 23, 2013 - 7:26PM

    Take the time to list Pakistan’s friends and you may see how daunting Pakistan challenge to develop friends/relations in the region and the World. To my knowledge the only countries you have a positive trade balance with are the West which realistically shouldn’t be on your list of “friends”. Pakistan has a terrible reputation and one that much of the World perceive is well justified – and perception is a tough thing to overcome.


More in Opinion